Are we better off miserable?

Russia’s great composer Tchaikovsky illustrated two real points with his final work, the Pathetique Symphony. One, you can be popular being miserable if you do it well enough and, two, it’s easier that way to be soulful – rather than just bombastic. Yet there is a third pitfall awaiting all those who complain that news and news media is depressing and demand more cheer or ‘good news’. Simply, we often agree on what’s gloomy and miserable, so reporters from Syria or Yemen can take a sombre stance with confidence that we won’t complain. But all too often one person’s, or one group’s, or one country’s, good news is someone else’s bad news.

Sometimes, as with sports results, it’s as simple as India rather than Pakistan winning the cricket world cup – obviously good news for Indians and bad news for Pakistanis. In other cases it gets more complicated: do we believe the scientists who tell us that chlorinated chicken is not only 20 per cent cheaper, but it’s safe to eat and so we can happily join the Americans in eating it and save 20 per cent per bird – good news of course? Or do we keep wondering who funds the scientific research and get ourselves miserable over possible conflicts of interest? There are cases, like alarms about fracking or population growth, where we do look quizzically at claims of bad news but at least in those cases we can relax and think ‘Well, if they’re wrong it’ll be fine after all’ whereas if the good news turns out wrong we know we might be really stuffed…

So, next time you complain the news is depressing, just think about what you wish for.

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