Maybe you’re having trouble thinking of reasons to give thanks.
After all, how can Americans be thankful with crime escalating all around them?
They can be thankful that it’s not, actually.
Violent crime has been dropping most years for two decades now. Same with property crimes, high school dropout rates, teen pregnancy, drunken driving deaths and auto thefts.
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In Kansas City, the number of homicides, though nothing to hail, is nonetheless on pace this year to be the lowest in a couple of generations.
Believe it or not, good trends are out there for the harvesting this Thanksgiving.
In the tributaries across Missouri, generous rains over the past year brought a rebound in waterfowl numbers. And there’s good news out of Kansas, where about 8,000 jobs were created just in October. That’s more than in the previous nine months combined.
It’s sprinkled throughout the metro, where more single-family residential permits were issued last month — 465 houses across eight counties — than in any month since 2007.
Or would you rather be bummed?
“We seem pitched to always look for the negative,” said Milton Horne, a professor of religion at William Jewell College. “We’ve probably inherited from our evolutionary ancestors this tendency to be on watch for things that are bad because those things can hurt us.”
Survival of the fittest, he and others said, has morphed in modern culture. We’re drawn to news and entertainment accentuating the awful and are quicker to believe bad news than good.
Headlines of the last few months have rightly chronicled a world in discord. Tragedy and turmoil in Ferguson, Mo. Voter discontent loud and clear in the midterm elections. Chaos overseas.
But even in that span, rays of hope might have escaped your notice:
▪ The Census Bureau released data showing the U.S. high school dropout rate at a record low.
Just 7 percent of the nation’s young adults ages 18 to 24 had not completed high school as of 2013. That’s down from 12 percent in 2000.
▪ As a result of the Nov. 4 elections, the number of women in the U.S. House and Senate will climb past 100 for the first time.
▪ The Kansas City Area Development Council recently celebrated its best job recruitment year in history, bringing to the region 3,286 jobs representing an annual payroll of $150 million.
▪ After years of observing sharp declines in the population of monarch butterflies, ecologists nationwide were encouraged to see heavier migrations in the creatures’ autumn journey to Mexico.
Experts attribute the signs of a monarch turnaround to favorable weather and human resolve to plant milkweed where the butterflies breed.
▪ New medications are curing 90 percent of patients diagnosed with hepatitis C, traditionally a killer of 15,000 Americans each year. Prior treatments helped but couldn’t cure most people with the liver-damaging virus.
▪ In West Africa, the number of new cases of Ebola infections has declined so dramatically that some treatment facilities now sit nearly empty in locales where the epidemic began.
Web pages and social media sites dedicated to the positive are springing up. Readers looking for alternatives to the Internet’s usual servings of news and commentary meant to inflame can go to Global Good News, DailyGood or Sunny Skyz.
Sunny Skyz was founded in early 2012 by a Baltimore man, Chris Filippou, after he heard three depressing stories in a row flowing one day from his car radio.
“The sun was shining bright in the sky,” he said, and that was his inspiration for the website’s name and feel-good stories.
“A lot of these sites got started when the recession got deep,” said GoodNewsNetwork.org founder Geri Weis-Corbley, a Virginia mom who left TV journalism a quarter century ago to raise kids. In 1997, she launched her site singling out silver linings. Now it has a half million unique visitors a month.
She has noticed that her Web traffic jumps when terrible stuff dominates the news.
“It’s like people really need that dose of what I call vitamin G,” she said. “They need that balance.”
When Wall Street crashed six years ago, “my traffic zoomed like never since 9/11,” when she says many of her fans first visited the website. (Did we mention that the Dow Jones now is back to posting all-time highs?)
Said Weis-Corbley: “My mission is to prove that good news sells.”
That would appear to be a hard sell.
The old knock on local TV news — “If it bleeds, it leads” — is no mere concoction, said Jim Naureckas of the journalism watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
“If you view the news strictly as a business, stations want to put out there the things that attract the most eyeballs,” he said. “It’s unlikely to think of news directors all across the country as having it wrong.”
And yet some of the most watched news events of the last five years ended happily, argues Weis-Corbley.
“For the people who say the media don’t love good news, let’s not forget the ‘Miracle on the Hudson,’” she said, referring to the 2009 landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River with no loss of life to 155 aboard.
“Remember the Chilean mine rescue (in 2010)? That was a huge story.”
Airline safety, by the way, has endured a dreadful 2014 in the skies over Ukraine and the Indian Ocean. But it’s OK to be thankful that 2013 witnessed the lowest number of aviation fatalities around the globe, 265, since the end of World War II.
Fatalities on U.S. roadways are sharply down from 1970s levels. That’s despite more vehicles on the road and the recent scandals over faulty ignition switches and exploding air bags.
Annual deaths attributed to drunken driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, have been cut in half since 1982.
If Americans well understand that their cars are safer, the Gallup Poll finds most still doubt that public safety also has improved.
Decreases in U.S. crime rates since the mid-1990s are stunning. In 1994, the violent crime rate was about 80 victimizations per 1,000 people. That fell to an estimated 23 per 1,000 in 2013, Gallup recently reported.
The trend may shock in this age of 24-hour news coverage of mass shootings, said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project.
Another shocker: Between 2008 and last year, more than 30 U.S. states cut their prison populations and experienced less crime, Pew reported earlier this month.
“Crime is falling fastest in the states with the biggest decreases in imprisonment rates,” said Gelb, crediting state sentencing reforms, diversion options of lower-level offenders and better accountability of parolees released into community programs. “That surprises everyone I tell.”
Pew’s findings are mixed for Kansas and Missouri, where crime rates fell during the five-year period while imprisonment rates ticked up.
Closer to home, reasons to be thankful fly out of the latest rankings on charitable giving among the nation’s 700 largest community foundations.
The 2013 Columbus Survey ranked the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation fourth in the country in total assets (more than $2.1 billion), third overall in grants given ($229 million) and second in charitable gifts ($433 million).
“We do have a reputation nationally of being a generous community,” said foundation CEO Deborah L. Wilkerson. “Despite the recession and recent hard times, we’re seeing higher levels of giving.”
Positive trends do play tricks on what scholars call our “negativity bias.” Many scientists and a glut of books on happiness contend the brain is wired to doubt the good, to naturally be on guard against threats. They say looking on the bright side requires training.
In a William Jewell course called the Economics of Well-Being, Horne compares the quest for happiness to a diverse investment portfolio, except money isn’t much of the mix.
“Let’s talk about other kinds of capital,” he tells his students.
There’s capital in family relationships, in connecting with nature and community, and he says all that can build a fortune in gratitude.
“Those are the things Thanksgiving’s about,” Horne said. “It’s not a year-end reckoning of good news we’ve got on one side of the ledger and bad news on the other.”
But admit it, KC. You’ll whisper a prayer of thanks for the Royals being on the pennant-winning side of the ledger.