Almost all of us are reasonably content: in the UK, 92 per cent of us are “rather happy” or “very happy” with our lives.
But we believe that fewer than half of our fellow citizens are in the same cheery situation.
Most people vastly overestimate the prevalence of crime (which in the UK is dramatically down since the 1990s) and teenage pregnancy (which affects fewer than 1 per cent of 13-15 year old girls).
We also seriously overestimate the size of the Muslim population in the west, which suggests that the concerns of tabloid newspapers loom large in our imaginations.
This misplaced optimism about ourselves is a striking contrast to an equally misplaced despair about our children: across Europe and North America, according to the Pew Research Center, twice as many people believe their children will be worse off financially than they are, rather than better off.The economist Max Roser — creator of Our World in Data — calls this “local optimism and national pessimism”.The mismatch is particularly stark when people are asked about their own happiness.Nor are our misperceptions limited to global development.Surveys by the polling company Ipsos Mori show that citizens of the developed world are also ignorant about our own countries.This is not just a statistical phenomenon — it’s a political and psychological puzzle.