The Evolution of Happiness (Part One)

“An evolutionary analysis leads to several key insights about barriers that must be overcome to improve the quality of human life. These include discrepancies between modern and ancestral environments, evolved mechanisms that lead to subjective distress, and the fact that selection has produced competitive mechanisms.

Modern living has brought a bounty of benefits to present day humans. Medical technology has reduced infant mortality in many parts of the world to a fraction of what it undoubtedly was in ancestral times. People have the tools to prevent many diseases that afflicted their Stone Age forebears. The psychological pain of depression and anxiety can be reduced with lithium and Prozac and other psychotropic drugs. Modern technology give people the power to prevent the pain inflicted by extremes of cold and heat, food shortages, some parasites, most predators and other Darwinian “hostile forces of nature”. In many ways people live in astonishing comfort compared with their ancestors.

At the same time, modern environments have produced a variety of ills, many unanticipated and only now being discovered. Although people have the tools and technology to combat food shortages, they now vastly over consume quantities of animal fat and processed sugars in ways that lead to clogged arteries, heart disease, diabetes and other medical ailments. Depletion of the ozone layer may lead to skin cancer at rates that were unlikely to have afflicted their ancestors. The ability to synthesize drugs has led to heroin addiction, cocaine abuse, and addiction to a variety of prescription drugs.

Evolutionary psychological analysis suggests several other ways in which modern psychological environments cause damage. Consider the estimate that humans evolved in the context of small groups, consisting of perhaps 50 to 200 individuals. Modern humans, in contrast, live in a massive urban metropolis surrounded by thousands or millions of other humans. Ancestral humans may have had a dozen or two potential mates to choose from. Modern humans are surrounded by thousands of potential mates. They are bombarded by media images of attractive models on a scale that has no historical precedent and that may lead to unreasonable expectations about the quality and quantity of available mates.

Women subjected to successive images of other women who are unusually attractive subsequently fell less attractive themselves, showing a decrease in self-esteem. Men exposed to descriptions of highly dominant and influential men show an analogous diminution in self-concept. The effects suggest that exposure to media images may lead to dissatisfaction with current partners and reductions in self- esteem, they may interfere with the quality of close relationships and hence the quality of life.

Ancestral humans lived in extended kin networks, surrounded by genetic relatives such as uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces, cousins and grandparents. Modern humans typically live in isolated nuclear families often devoid of extended kin.

Why would rate of depression be rising in modern environments, despite the greater abundance of creature comforts and the presence of technological solutions to former ancestral maladies of life?

Nesse and Williams offer one hypothesis: Mass communications, especially television and movies, effectively make us all one competitive group even as they destroy our more intimate social networks… In the ancestral environment you would have had a good chance at being the best at something. Even if you were not the best, your group would likely value your skills. Now we all compete with those who are the best in the world. Watching these successful people on television arouses envy. Envy probably was useful to motivate our ancestors to strive for what others could obtain. Now few of us can achieve the goals envy sets for us, and none of us can attain the fantasy lives we see on television.

According to this analysis, the increase in depression stems from self-perceived failures resulting in erroneous comparisons between people’s lives and the lives they see depicted so glamorously in the media.

A related explanation of an increase in depression invokes the fact that modern living conditions of relative anonymity and isolated nuclear families deprive people of the intimate social support that would have characterized ancestral social conditions.

In modern America, for example, kin members often scatter in the pursuit of better jobs and promotions, yielding a social mobility that removes the social support of extended kin and make social bonds more transient. If psychological well-being is linked with having deep intimate contacts, being a valued member of an enduring social group, and being enmeshed in a network of extended kin, then the conditions of modern living seem designed to interfere with human happiness.

These are just a few examples that suggest that some discrepancies between modern and ancestral conditions impede a high quality of life. Other possibilities include the lack of critical incidents by which people might establish true friendships, the sense of powerlessness modern humans feel in large anonymous organizations compared with small social hierarchies of the past, and the increased opportunities for casual sex lacking in deep intimacy, that might lead people to feel emotionally empty. These discrepancies between modern and ancestral environments may interfere with the quest for a high quality of life.”

From the article The Evolution of Happiness” by David M. Buss (Jan 2000)

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Omar Khayyam’s Wisdom

My father spent some time of his life in Uzbekistan, and growing up I was exposed to Omar Khayyam’s quotes and poetry. We had a book at home and I liked to read Omar Khayyam’s quatrains (Rubaiyat) which contain so much wisdom. Abdullah Dougan, a modern Naqshbandi Sufi, said: “Every line of the Rubaiyat has more meaning than almost anything you could read in Sufi literature”.

From Wikipedia:
“Omar Khayyám (Persian: ‏عمر خیام‎; 1048–1131) was a Persian polymath: philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and poet. Throughout his life Omar Khayyám was dedicated to his efforts and abilities, in the day he would teach Algebra and Geometry in the evening he would attend the Seljuk court as an adviser of Malik-Shah I and at night he would study Astronomy and complete the important aspects of the Jalali calendar.

Zamakhshari referred to him as “the philosopher of the world”. Many sources have testified that he taught for decades the philosophy of Ibn Sina in Nishapur where Khayyám was born and buried.”

Enjoy some of his pearls of wisdom:

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”

“A book of verses underneath the bough
A flask of wine, a loaf of bread and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness
And wilderness is paradise now.”

“There was a Door to which I found no Key
There was a Veil past which I could not see
Some little Talk awhile of ME and THEE
There seemed–and then no more of THEE and ME.”

“Oh threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain – This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies –
The Flower that once has blown forever dies.”

“I brought the cup to my lips with greed
Begging for longevity, my temporal need
Cup brought its to mine, its secret did feed
Time never returns, drink, of this take heed.”

Alike for those who for To-day prepare,
And those that after some To-morrow stare,
A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries
“Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There.”

“I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And by and by my Soul return’d to me,
And answer’d: ‘I Myself am Heav’n and Hell.”

“Why ponder thus the future to foresee, and jade thy brain to vain perplexity? Cast off thy care, leave Allah’s plans to him – He formed them all without consulting thee.”

“Dead yesterdays and unborn tomorrows, why fret about it, if today be sweet.”

“Thou hast said that Thou wilt torment me, But I shall fear not such a warning. For where Thou art, there can be no torment, And where Thou art not, how can such a place exist?”

“When I want to understand what is happening today or try to decide what will happen tomorrow, I look back.”

“If with wine you are drunk be happy, If seated with a moon-faced (beautiful), be happy, Since the end purpose of the universe is nothing-ness; Hence picture your nothing-ness, then while you are, be happy!”

“Those who have gone forth, thou cup-bearer, Have fallen upon the dust of pride, thou cup-bearer, Drink wine and hear from me the truth: (Hot) air is all that they have said, thou cup-bearer.”

Philosophy Works (Class Six)

Beauty is within and without. Find it!

Class Notes:

What is beauty itself? Is it a different beauty appearing in separate objects, actions or ideas, or it is the same universal beauty shining in a million different forms? Plato taught that there is only one beauty absolute. Wherever we see or know beauty, it is this single absolute beauty that is being experienced in a particular form.

Beauty is everywhere, inside and out. “If there were no beauty in the observer then he would not find beauty outside. The mere fact that beauty is seen proves that there is beauty already present in the being of the observer. Nowhere in creation does beauty stand by itself. The physical or sensory beauty has its foundations in the mental or subtle realm. The physical forms look beautiful because the mind is beautiful.”

Shantanand Saraswati

When we say “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, we must also consider what else is in or behind the eye that will determine our receptivity and appreciation of beauty.

Principles and Practices

-Look for beauty. If you don’t’ see it, look again – and again.

-Practice attention open and attention centered.

Passages for study:

The highest praise for a good theory was not that it was correct, nor that it was exact, but that it was beautiful.

Albert Einstein

He who has been instructed in the things of love, and who has learned to see the beautiful in due order and succession, when he reaches the goal of his journey , will suddenly perceive a wondrous beauty – a beauty which … is everlasting, knowing not birth or death, growth or decay; not beautiful from one point of view or ugly from another… but beauty absolute, existing by and of itself, simple, and everlasting, which is the source of the ever growing and perishing beauty of all other beautiful things, without itself suffering diminution or increase, or any change.

Diotima, Prophetess of Mantinea, teacher of Socrates, Plato, Symposium 212

Years ago there used to be a comedian and he always introduced his act with the words: “Oh, you beautiful people!” In fact, he was quite right, and it was also a rather popular statement, and the audience would shine back with beauty on being reminded… And this beauty, which shines from people when it is allowed out, is the beauty of the Self; all beauty, whatever it shines from, is the beauty of the Self. A thing is never beautiful; It is the Self that is beautiful, and it shines from different things according to their qualities.

Leon MacLaren

Beauty doesn’t change, we can perceive it through physical objects, through our mind or through conduct (Plato). Being on the journey, soul itself partakes in the internal discern of becoming from being.

Philosophy Works (Class Five)

The Power of Listening.

I missed this class but was handed out the Class Notes:

  • Hearing is the act of perceiving sound by the ear. Listening, however, is something you consciously choose to do. Listening requires concentration and attention. Listening leads to learning. Most people tend to be “hard of listening” rather than “hard of hearing”.
  • Philosophy brings a man who hears and practices it to a deep and silent power within himself leaving him free to manage his affairs without attachment or involvement. But the man who hears it only and does not do it is led into greater confusion and verbal complexity. Simplicity is found in practice. Simplicity leads to truth.
  • To discover whether a person is listening or not requires the exercise of attention. There are two ways of not listening: either we are thinking of something else, or we are furiously rehearsing what we intend to say next. When we become aware of this all-too-common occurrence, stop! See if the other person notices!
  • Let us use these habits of unnecessary speech – talking for talking’s sake, taking as though we know what we don’t’ know, or furious inner conversations – to wake up. They can act as alarm clocks. This is the great lay of conservation of energy. When we let go for what is unnecessary, whole new world opens up, a world of opportunity and scope.

Practices:

In any conversation, there are only two profitable activities – talking and listening. Actually, there is only one: listening. When we are speaking or when anyone is speaking to us, let us make it a rule; we listen.

When we recognize any aspect of out talk as unnecessary, the right action is to stop talking and listen.

Passages for study:

Even though a speech be a thousand words long, but made up of senseless words, one word of sense is better which if a man hears, eh becomes quiet.

Even though a poem be a thousand words long, but made up of senseless words, one word of a poem is better which if a man hears, eh becomes quiet.

Though a man recite a hundred poems made up of senseless words, one word of the law is better which if a man hears, he becomes quiet.

If a man conquer in battle a thousand times a thousand men, and if another conquer himself, he is the greatest of conquerors…

If a man holds himself dear, let him watch himself carefully…

Let each man direct himself first to what is proper, then let him teach others; thus a wise man will no suffer.

Dhammapada of Buddha.

A Sermon on Abuse: the Buddha said: “If a man foolishly does me wrong, I will return to him the protection of my ungrudging love; the more evil comes from him, the more good shall go from me; the fragrance of goodness always comes to me, and the harmful air of evil goes to him.” A foolish man, learning that the Buddha observed the principle of great love which commends the return of good for evil, came and abused him. The Buddha was silent, pitying his folly. When the man had finished his abuse, the Buddha asked: “Son, if a man declines to accept a present made to him, to whom would the gift belong?” The man answered: “In that case the gift would belong to the man who offered it.” And so, my son,” said the Buddha, “you have railed at me, but I refuse to accept your abuse, and request that you to keep it yourself. Will it not be a source of misery to you? As the echo belongs to the sound, and the shadow to the substance, so the misery will overtake the evildoer without fail.” The abuser went away ashamed, but he came again and took refuge in the Buddha.

Lin Yutang, The Wisdom of India.

Think about how often you speak from the time you awaken to the time you go to sleep. The answer psychologists give is approximately seven hundred discrete utterings… Investigators say talkative people utter 12,000 sentences every day, which averages to almost 100,000 words. Put differently, an average American can speak the equivalent of a novel per day, although he reads less than three books a year. Since talking is such a universally enjoyed pastime, why do so many people shun listening? Listening has to be learned… The mind of the good listener must be disciplined. If the talker be wise, discipline is required to understand what he is talking about. If the talker be a fool, discipline is required just to stand the boor. Listening requires liking, and liking means you have to treat someone equally, treat him as you would be treated yourself.

From The Boston Globe.

PS We hear but we don’t listen, we are not in the moment, so we miss details or underlying meaning. Our instructor Meta gave us a great example. Years ago she worked with another person, who every morning complained about her work that it is hard and unfair, and this complaining went on and on for months… Every morning Meta’s colleague approached her and complained. Meta said she heard but didn’t listen until one day she really listened and realized that her colleague just felt underappreciated and not recognized for her work, so Meta said: “But you did a great job on so and so project!” And that person’s need of being acknowledged was met and complaining stopped. The power of listening indeed… Our Instructor is a student of Practical Philosophy and she is doing a great job leading us through the course. Thank you, Meta!

Babson Entrepreneurship Forum Competition

Dear all,

This year The Ultimate Answer is participating both in Rocket Pitch and Big Idea Competition. As you can see from the road map below, we will present the idea in 3 min and 3 slides among 130 others on Oct 27 at Babson College. The results will be announced on Nov 4.

The second part of the contest is to upload a video to YouTube and get most “likes” this week Oct 24-30, 2011 to win and participate as a finalist in The 10th Annual Babson Entrepreneurship Forum on Nov 12.

Please check the video and “like” it on YouTube if you like it 🙂
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llzOSLTEsfA

Thank you!

Philosophy Works (Class Four)

The Power of attention.

What you give your attention to grows.

All actions are driven by desire. How many different action have you engaged in today? How much rest have you had? In the space between actions we can come to rest, wake up and come into the present. We can be free of desire for a while. It doesn’t have to be intense or prolonged – bring your body into view and connect with the breath or one of the senses.

In the state of waking consciousness, the process of waking up, there are only two useful states of attention. Attention open where the attention is wide and open, not caught by anything in particular, but open to everything in general and attention centered, where the attention is focused on one thing with great clarity and precision. In waking sleep we do not have a choice, our attention is swept away like a leaf in the wind. Choice is only possible when we begin to wake up, when we practice giving our attention, rather than having it torn away by distraction.

Whoever or whatever is in front of you is your teacher.

Because of my blindness, I had developed a new faculty. Strictly speaking, all men have it, but almost all forget to use it. The faculty is attention. In order to live without eyes, it is necessary to be very attentive, to remain hour after hour in a state of wakefulness, of receptiveness and activity. Indeed, attention is not simply a virtue of intelligence or the result of education, and something one can easily do without. It is a state of being. It is a state without which we shall never be able to perfect ourselves. In its truest sense, it is the listening post of the universe.

Jacques Lusseyran, The Blind Society

Every individual has desires and we are plagued with these desires, but there is some time between each of them. Most of the time we don’t allow this interval to stretch at all; no sooner is one desire fulfilled that we let another desire spring up. If people understood this and allowed themselves the luxury of a little interval, however short it might be, they would find that they would recharge themselves without doing anything but just being quiet for a moment or two. If people could practice and enlarge this interval… they would find that they had great power within, and the potentiality of realizing themselves would not be far off if they could give themselves the luxury of two minutes of interval between one desire and the rising of the next.

Shantanand Saraswati

New knowledge – life with confidence, clarity, courage. When we are open to new knowledge, we are not just reacting, but dealing with every situation differently, because there is potentiality of realizing ourselves in a moment.

Seneca – how can a soul that misunderstands itself have a sure idea of other creatures?

Alice in Wonderland – I must have changed several times today. Who am I? I don’t know.

We are playing roles. What we are not? Are we the mind or the body? Attention is a bridge. We are all work in progress: body, mind and heart.

From Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of grass”, there is passing show and I. The unchanging observer within us watches and witnesses. Soul, God or Absolute Spirit?

What’s Up With Men?

Last Saturday I attended “What’s up with men?” session at the Boston Book Festival. I was sitting next to the young man and asked him why he was in this session: “As a woman, I want to understand men, but as a man, don’t you understand yourself?” He said he came to understand other men.

“From metrosexuals and bromances to Strauss-Kahn and Schwarzenegger–the BBF asks, what’s going on with men these days? We’ve asked some representative men from the world of words to help us get a read on it. Andre Dubus III, whose memoir Townie reveals his struggles with the subject of what it means to be a man, Stephen McCauley, author of, most recently, Insignificant Others, Tom Matlack, founder of The Good Men Project, and Jabari Asim, cultural critic and author of the short story collection Taste of Honey, discuss masculinity with you, the audience. Moderated by Tom Ashbrook, host of WBUR’s On Point. Hosted by WBUR 90.9 FM” from BBF website.

As the discussion started, more questions came up. Men are told what they are not supposed to be, but no one knows what they are. With feminism taking over, more women become providers, what used to be the privilege of men… Women want to get out of the house; men want to get into the house. Women are replacing men as middle class workforce.

Men are the new women? Are they losing their masculinity? Are they becoming weak?

What are they? Defenders? Money making machines? Polygamous creatures? Doers? Perhaps, we, women, need to enlighten men, what a real man is to us… It is not about physical strength or material success.

A man is an honest human being who we can rely on. Someone who does what he says. We are not afraid of men telling us their troubles and limitations; we will love them even more. Sharing emotions creates a bond between a man and a woman.

The best question from the audience came actually from that same man sitting next to me, who asked: “What do we need to do to prove our manhood?”

If only answer to that question was imprinted on the foreheads of all men there would be no war or crime. I’m not saying women are innocent, but they are definitely used as a tool to prove man’s manhood. Men are trying to prove it to each other in the form of trophies, achievements and stories.

Deep inside they fear they are not good enough that is why they prove their manhood at the expense of their own peace of mind and their relationships with women.

Men are afraid of not being able to live up to other people’s expectations.

Men’s insecurity arises when there is a discrepancy between expectations of them and what they can deliver or want to be. Then they resist those expectations. They don’t want to fail.

If a man could live up to his own expectations, it would be a better world, because a great man is true to himself.

We have the stigma that violent aggressive boys are better than sissy, and boys are told not to be weak /vulnerable or show their emotions, because feelings=weakness=feminine.

Men are still in emotional Ice Age.

They don’t share emotions with each other. Men are afraid of being close to men; all their emotional needs are filled by 2 women in their life – their mother and wife. And when one of those women lets them down, men either fall apart or get revenge.

Men need to do something about it. The good men project is a great start and I support it wholeheartedly… Feelings are mentionable. I can see Men’s emotional revolution coming. Everything is changing… Where does that fear of not being a man comes from? Historically, being a man meant protecting the tribe and providing food to survive. Times changed. It is Ok to not be the provider, but nurturer. It is Ok to fail sometimes and be helpless and talk about it. There should be safe zone for clean fighting and conflict resolution.

Men need to learn how to love each other, otherwise they will not be able to love a woman. No matter what stories they tell, they all want to love, be loved and appreciated the way they are…

Please, also see Tom Matlack’s article, Book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. Related articles: WSJ, Ask Men and Wnd.

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