Mind & Body

Four Reasons Why Right Now Is the Best Time to Be Human

With all the talk about how crime, corruption, and kids these days are worse than ever, it's easy to forget how far we've come. In fact, it might surprise you to know that in many, many ways, humans right now are better than they ever have been. From our quality of life to our raw strength and speed, our species just keeps improving. High five yourself! You are the pinnacle of your species!

We're Living Longer

Today, we take our rising life expectancy for granted. But until the mid 19th century, there was no such trend — for centuries, people lived an average of 30 to 40 years. Since 1840, life expectancy at birth has risen about three months each year. That means a girl born in Sweden in 1840 might live to the age of 45, but a girl born in 2014 might live to be 83. If this trend continues, by the end of this century, babies born in the U.S. can expect to live for 100 years.

You can thank declining child mortality, better and vaccines, or improved nutrition and sanitation, but our lengthening lifespans don't seem to be due to any one variable. The trend also continues despite economics — people in rich and poor countries alike are living longer. Compared to your 18th-century ancestors, you've got double the years to enjoy life.

We're Stronger and Faster

Olympic athletes have been competing in many of the same events for more than 100 years. But at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, 65 Olympic records were broken — not to mention 19 world records. In 1908, the men's world record for the marathon went to 22-year-old Johnny Hayes, who ran it in 2 hours and 55 minutes. Today, the record is nearly an hour faster at just under 2 hours, 3 minutes; Hayes would barely qualify for the Boston Marathon today.

This isn't necessarily because new generations are evolving to be super-athletes, but it may be due in no small part to our brains. Sports science has helped us develop more efficient technique, technology has improved the equipment we use and the clothes we wear, and — perhaps most inspiring of all — every time one human proves it's possible, a new crop of athletes works even harder to see what the human body can accomplish.

We're Reading More

During the Enlightenment, more people learned to read and write than ever before. Then, around the turn of the 20th century, literacy rates worldwide began to skyrocket. In 1900, just over 20 percent of the world population could read or write. In 2014, that number is 85 percent. That's huge, because literacy does more for society than just improve book sales. The more people can read and write, the less inequality they experience, the more science and technology progresses, and the more society improves as a whole. Heck, we have entire businesses dedicated to helping us absorb more books in less time.

We're Safer

Despite what the media may tell you, murder in most of the world is happening less often than it has in centuries. Across Europe, for example, homicide rates decreased dramatically over the last 1,000 years and have remained low for the past 50. Japan, too, has seen a marked decrease in murders since the turn of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the United States isn't in the same boat. American homicide rates have risen and fallen for much of the century, although they've been on a decline since around the year 2000.

But what about war? Both the annual number of war deaths by country and absolute number of war deaths worldwide has been declining since World War II. That's despite the fact that actual armed conflicts are increasing in number. Wars are getting smaller, and fewer people are dying as a result.

So take a victory lap, human. You deserve it. Just keep the ball moving for the next generation to top yours.

Looking for more reasons to be happy? Listen to our conversation about the psychology of happiness on the Curiosity Podcast. Stream or download the episode using the player below, or find it everywhere podcasts are found, including iTunes, Stitcher, and Gretta.

Why Are Olympic Records Always Broken?

Written by Ashley Hamer September 17, 2017

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