It’s a cliché, to be sure, but it’s still worth remembering as often as possible: these are the good old days. Booming stock markets, low unemployment, almost no one in foxholes or gulags, live photos from the surface of Mars — it doesn’t get much better than this.

But it does, of course, or at least we expect it will, and that’s the other thing that’s truly astonishing. For 99.9% of human existence, people couldn’t assume things would be better tomorrow than today. They could hope for a better kill when they went hunting, hope for a good rain to grow the crops, hope to have a child who’d survive and grow strong and protect them as they aged. But things improved so slowly as, I should think, to be imperceptible most of the time. And there must have been vast stretches of time when nothing improved at all. Even vast stretches of recorded history.

Only very recently have we gained some measure of control over events and begun to point them in a generally positive direction. We can reasonably expect our lives to be longer and more comfortable with each passing year.

Ho-hum. But in fact this is an astonishing thing that applies to only one of the millions of species on the planet, and that has applied, in the main, only in the last few moments of Time.

Philosophers will argue whether this has made us any happier. But I think it clearly has decreased the proportion of time we’re unhappy, which amounts to much the same thing. Air conditioning and aspirin, not to mention Prozac or running hot and cold water, are simple examples of recent developments that have taken huge bites out of the collective discomfort. So while our highs may be no more high than they ever were, our lows are fewer and less persistent.

Can you imagine a summer without ice? This describes 99.9% of all the summers humans have ever experienced. Now many of us have ice-in-the-door. ‘Nuff said. Enjoy.

 

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