Have we evolved to be unhappy?

Dr. Ronald D. Siegel said yes.  He believes that certain instincts and intellectual abilities that have helped our species prosper over the past few million years have created some pretty negative consequences for us as individuals.  Due to the exceptional neocortex of our brains compared to other mammals, we have the abilities to learn, remember, think and plan.  However, these abilities also give us a lot of headaches.

Dr. Siegel gave a funny example, “Fred and Wilma were early Homo sapiens living in the plain of East Africa about 40,000 years ago. They have evolved quite a bit from their Homo erectus ancestors, developing enormous brains. They used their brains to do all sorts of marvelous things that helped them survive: to think abstractly, plan for their future, find novel solutions to problems, and trade with their neighbors.

But their brains also gave them trouble.  They worried about rhinoceroses and lions, were envious of their neighbor who had a bigger cave, and got into arguments over who should haul the water on hot days.  When it was cold and rainy, they both got irritable, remembering how much better they liked the sun.  They noticed changes around them, fretting when there wasn’t as much fruit on the trees, roots to eat, or insect larvae (a favorite treat) to snack on.  When their neighbors got sick or died, they were distressed to realize that this could happen to them too!  Sometimes Wilma got upset when Fred looked at other women…

Even when everything was going well, they had thoughts about what had gone wrong in the past or what might befall them in the future.  In some regards,  things haven’t changed much over the last 40,000 years.  Our brains-marvelous as they are-continue to give us trouble.”

He thinks that natural selection only takes the survival of species into account, but not the happiness of individuals.  In fact, he said humans have a higher tendency to remember negative events as they help us to be aware of danger.  Our tendency to seek pleasure and avoid the suffering of pain is the root of many emotional problems.  So is it possible for us to be peaceful? He thinks the solution to human suffering is to be mindful of every present moment.

Reference: “The mindfulness solution” by Dr. Ronald D., Siegel


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