HAPPY New Year! Welcome to 2019 and another January of good intentions – a chance in that post-Christmas haze to reset the dial, take stock of what you’ve done over the last twelve months, and give yourself a set of resolutions that may or may not peter out within the fortnight.

The focus of these resolutions is often on physical health. That excess of eating and drinking over the festive season leads to many a diet, a month off the booze and a determination to get fit. Gym membership always spikes in January – owners craftily signing people up to 12-month contracts knowing full well most people will only go a handful of times (you’re much better trying something free and fun like Parkrun).

But new year can be an opportunity to reflect, too, on how you think and see the world. The daily onslaught of negative headlines, whether it is Brexit this or Donald Trump that, terrorist shootings here, or global-warming everywhere, can be draining. A recent poll asked people in thirty countries whether they thought the world was getting better, worse or staying about the same. In every country involved in the poll, over 50 per cent said they felt the world was getting worse.

But is that actually the case? One of the most fascinating books I’ve read over the last twelve months is Factfulness by the Swedish thinker Hans Rosling. Rosling’s argument is that in so many ways, the world is in so much a better place than you might think from watching the headlines. If we switched to what he calls a fact-based worldview – practicing ‘factfulness’ – then that more balanced outlook will make us feel better about the world and ourselves.

Rosling suggests we have a number of natural instincts as humans that lead us to perceiving the world wrongly. Fear is one such driver. But frightening things that grab our attention are not always the most risky. The number of people killed by terrorists in the world’s richest countries actually decreased over the last decade. In 2016, 40 million commercial flights flew without incident – but the ten flights that ended in fatal accidents (0.000025 per cent) made the headlines and defined perceptions.

Good news, Rosling argues, is not news, especially when change is gradual. The bigger picture is often overlooked. In 1800, for example, 85 per cent of the world’s population was living in extreme poverty. In 1997, that number was 29 per cent. In 2017, it was nine per cent. Life expectancy, meanwhile, has grown from 31 to 72 years. Bad news crowds out what is really happening and gives us a distorted picture of the world.

Rosling’s way of seeing the world through fresh eyes is a great way to begin the new year.