Are Things Really Worse Now?—Declinism Bias {Bias Day 16}

Declinism? What is it?

Declinism is our predisposition to glorify the past as the good ol’ days compared to the doom and gloom of our current direction.

It’s the bias that that our society (or healthcare or the justice system or education) is heading downhill. 

What’s an example of declinism?

We all know (or maybe we are?) the stereotypical older person who tells the youngsters how good things were back in their day, when you could ride in the back of a pickup truck and you could pray in school and you didn’t have to keep up with how many followers and likes you had on Facebook. But now? The world is a mess, they say.

Or maybe you think music was only good from the 1960s; today’s music is junk. Or movies. Or church. Or race relations. Pick your genre; there’s someone who will insist that the past “___” was the best and the present/future is only getting worse.

Why does this happen?

Some blame the declinism bias on our “reminiscence bump.” Between the ages of 10-30, we create a memory bump of exciting and new experiences, judging our experiences after 30 as perhaps less thrilling in comparison.

We also have a survival instinct to stay alert for threats. With a negative mindset, we see what we’re looking for (confirmation bias). The news media monopolizes on this tendency by warning us about potential threats.

Regardless of which media you lean toward, you’re likely to see more negative stories about the future than positive stories. We put more weight on the negative things we see happening than the positive things (some say in a ratio of 3:1).

We also are uncomfortable with change. We want our world to make sense, and when things start to change, it troubles us and we can view it as negative, whether it is or not.

We’re also selective with our memories. Things aren’t always like we remember them. We don’t intend for it to happen, but our brains are more subjective than we realize.

“Even if we believe that we are looking at the past, present and future objectively when making decisions, the reality is that our brains think subjectively. Our present emotions, that are skewed by the negativity bias, have much greater weight in decision-making than our past emotions. They lead us to believe that things are worse now than they once were, and that things are only going to continue in that negative trend.”

Is it harmful to view the world as getting worse?

No, it’s not harmful to see things that are truly in decline. We need to notice and make improvements when possible.

The danger is when we assume some things are in decline when they are not. Declinism clouds our judgment of reality. It can distort our next steps.

When we view the past only through rose-colored glasses, we can become overly pessimistic about the future, thereby contributing to its decline instead of making wise decisions for its incline. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Declinism also causes friction and alienation among people. When someone feels society is in decline, they tend to mistrust others and feel there is no hope. They’re more susceptible to mental disorders and behaviors instead of working toward making things better.

How can we avoid declinism?

Look at the evidence. Seek out reliable statistics. Stay curious. Many areas that we assume are in decline might be proven otherwise.

Find reasons to be grateful in the present and about the future. Reframe challenges as opportunities. Make a difference. 

Monitor your emotional state. Remember that nostalgia taints your view of the past. It makes it hard to think straight. Counter your negative views of the future with positive angles as well. Most of life is not an all-or-nothing proposition. 

Talk to or read about others who had different experiences in the past than your own. Perhaps your life 50 years ago was a delightful era, but those held in death’s grip of prejudice and discrimination will hold a completely opposite view.

More here:
“Were They Really the ‘Good Old Days’? Depends on Who You Ask”

How did Jesus handle declinism?

Because Jesus was an agent for change, we see his followers engaging in declinism about the old Law. The Pharisees and religious leaders didn’t appreciate the direction Jesus was heading with his new thoughts. They only saw the demise of their way of life and religion if Jesus was to succeed in his.

But Jesus continued to point toward a better future. He showed the way forward, toward hope and light and life. He promised the best was yet to come, not the worst.

We can hold on to those promises today. Even when things do look dark, we can remember there is always hope for a brighter tomorrow because God will be there with us in it. He will sustain us through the darkness and will guide us to the light.

Are things really worse now? 

Some things are. Maybe it’s time to let those things go. Or time for us to change them.

But many things are better. Let’s celebrate those as we live in the Light.  

How have you seen this bias in your own life or relationships? Please share in the comments.

You are on Day 16 of the series: “How to Uncover Hidden Biases.”

Uncover Hidden Biases

Previous: Confirmation Bias {Bias Day 15}
“You’re Bad But I’m Just Stressed”

Next: Framing Effect Bias {Bias Day 17}
“How the Frame Influences the Painting”

8 thoughts on “Are Things Really Worse Now?—Declinism Bias {Bias Day 16}

  1. Anita Ojeda

    Another spot-on post, Lisa! I’d like to think I don’t cling to the good old days (which weren’t all the great as far as inequality), but I catch myself at work some times wishing people would stop trying to make certain changes because I liked things they way they were (while at the same time acknowledging the changes have helped 😆). We are a contrary species, aren’t we?!

  2. Barb Hegreberg

    Covid-19 has made declinists out of even the most positive people. How often do we hear, “When are things going to get back to normal”.

    The world is forever changed by our experiences over the last year or so.

    But God is still in control!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Ooh, good point about covid-19, Barb. Yes. It has definitely turned up my pessimistic side to new levels. I’ve really had to talk to God a lot about my attitudes. 😉

  3. Ashley Rowland | HISsparrowBlog

    LOVE… THIS …POST, Lisa! I didn’t know there was a name for ‘the good old days’ syndrome. 😀 I used to think like that so bad (and probably still have some areas), but then it hit me one day as I was reading about the first family to ever live: The very first son ever born on this planet murdered his own brother. Right off the bat. So I concluded that three has never been a ‘good old days’ when life was just superior or good. Since that revelation it’s really helped me to live in the moment and hope for the future, because even though there has never been a ‘good old days’ here, we will see those days in heaven. We have a bright bright future to hold onto.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Your comment resonates with me SO much, Ashley! Thanks for sharing these insights that from the very first family we had troubles. Nothing should surprise us after that. 😉

  4. Theresa Boedeker

    We are so prone to this. We want the familiar. We look back and forget the whole picture. There is nothing new about this. This remind me of the Israelites. They were always looking back to the good old days in slavery. White washing and forgetting the slavery they left behind. The good place they were headed.

  5. Calvonia

    I am not familiar with the word, “declinism” but very familiar with the mindset. I heard my grandparents refer to “the good ole days”. Now I hear my peers talk about “getting back to normal”. I love your phrase “there is always hope for a brighter tomorrow because God will be there with us in it”. Not only will He be there, He is here now. Whatever we feel is not as good as it used to be (in our weak perspective) it is all in God’s plan and He is very present.

  6. Lauren Renee Sparks

    This is such a great series, Lisa. I think about this one a lot. My mom often tells me that my job as a parent is much harder than hers because of the technology and 24/7 information (true and false) my kids have access to. But there are many other issues that we are much more informed about and sensitive to (such as racial equality) that make this a better time. And we know the best time is ahead. When we get to see Jesus.

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