How full is your glass?

Published January 4, 2024

By Tom Campbell

No sooner had the sun gone down Christmas day than everyone started greeting you with “Happy New Year.” But will 2024 be happy?
We’ve had a pretty bumpy ride the last three years, between the pandemic, controversial elections and raging inflation. The Gallup organization reports that 50 percent of us are happy in our personal lives, however 77 percent are unhappy with the way things are going in the country.
Why the grumpiness, especially when indicators runs counter to these perceptions? Mike Walden, our go-to economist and professor emeritus from NC State University, reports that gas prices are down almost 60 cents from September - the lowest since 2020. The all-item year over year inflation rate was 3.2 percent, significantly lower than the 9.2 percent in the summer of 2022. North Carolina’s unemployment rate has remained under 4 percent all year and inflation-adjusted wages are 2.7 percent above January 2021 levels. Walden reports the cost of the same products and services bought by a typical North Carolina household was almost 6 percent lower and the cost of housing 18 percent lower than nationally. We enjoy the 23rd lowest cost of living among states.
Data from Christmas holiday sales demonstrates we spent money like we believe we are prosperous and not alarmed about the economy.
There are other positive indicators. COVID hasn’t gone away but, thanks to so many of us receiving the shots, it has abated to the point where we go about our business like before. Test results indicate that the primary education learning losses that resulted from children not being in class during the pandemic are rebounding and returning to more normal levels, especially in reading. And contrary to popular belief, the FBI just reported that violent crime dropped 8 percent from 2022. Property crime fell 6.3 percent, the lowest level since 1961, and murder plummeted at one of the fastest rates of decline ever recorded.
Not everything is gumdrops and lollipops. Prices are generally higher, especially interest rates on loans. Interest rates, at historic lows, were raised incrementally to combat the almost 9 percent inflation rate. It worked, without creating a recession and strong signals from the Federal Reserve indicate rates will come down early in ’24. Yes, there are concerns about illegal immigration, but let’s be honest and say that’s been true for decades, ever since our sensible immigration formulas were abolished in 1968. Further, we have every right to be concerned about wars in Ukraine and the Middle East. And don’t get us started about a Congress that passed the fewest bills since 1932.
But are these concerns so great as to justify 77 percent believing that things are going wrong?
No. Our grumpiness is coming from outside agitators, especially politics and politicians and, to some extent, the media.
When was the last time you heard a candidate or political party putting forth a positive platform for what they wanted to accomplish if elected? A plan to make things better. Their consultants and polling say they won’t get your vote if you are content and happy with the status quo and those already in office. They have to elevate your dissatisfaction level to get your vote.
They spend millions of dollars “framing” the opposition, telling you how dangerous, how corrupt, how incompetent their opponent is and how horrible things will be if you are stupid enough to vote for Brand X.
Naturally, the candidate being attacked must respond. Just telling folks you aren’t as bad as you are being painted is like admitting you’ve stopped beating your spouse. That’s not going to get you votes, so you must respond in kind. And round and round it continues with negative message upon negative message. After a while we just get fed up and disenchanted with everyone and everything.
And the media aids and abets partisan politics, knowing they can’t sell advertising if they don’t get you to watch, read or listen, then keep you tuned in. They tirelessly drone on and on under the guises of “breaking news” to capture your ears and eyeballs.
It’s enough to make you….well, unhappy with how things are going!
I’m no Pollyanna, but things are not so bad as some might have you believe. To be sure we wish conditions were more harmonious and we were more unified heading into this new year, but there is reason for hope and happiness. We have come through some really difficult times these past three years and, if not completely healed, we are recuperating nicely. Let’s choose to look at the glass half full instead of the other way.
2024 is a blank slate, waiting for us all to write the year ahead. There’s one thing for certain. Our coming year won’t turn out well if we don’t work to make it good. Let’s get over our funk and look positively ahead for 2024.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965.  Contact him at