Friday, January 29, 2010

Happiness from the perspective of Evolutionary Psychology

Just came across an interesting paper in the Journal of Happiness Studies, called Happiness from the perspective of Evolutionary Psychology. The author is Bjorne Grinde and you can download the paper here. Here are some of the points it makes that I found interesting:
  • The human capacity for positive and negative feelings is shaped by the forces of evolution
  • Happiness, in the present meaning, appears to be not so much a feature shaped explicitly by the evolutionary process, but rather an indirect consequence of human nature (For the record, I disagree with this, as I believe happiness is built into us by evolution as one of the mechanisms for ensuring survival of our species and life in general on our planet)
  • The brain is designed to induce us to take some chances, otherwise we would never have laid down a large prey or ventured into uncharted land; but it is also designed to stop us from causing harm to ourselves, that is, to avoid hazards. (Reminds me of the car analogy of human beings -- we have both a gas pedal as well as a brake pedal)
  • Engaging the mind and body in tasks for which they are designed is expected to promote happiness by instigating positive feelings (for example that's why we feel good when we move, which is why regular exercise is such a good idea :-)
  • There are, for example, data indicating that humans thrive better, and improve in cognitive tasks, in the presence of plants (I can personally confirm this one! :-)
The paper also touches on an aspect that I have already discussed a little bit in the post on the Continuum Concept as well as PBSP -- when babies are born, they have innate expectations regarding needs that they need to have met. And when these needs are not met, problems arise later in adulthood, such as various neuroses, negative tendencies, pessimism, etc. According to the paper, possible examples of such needs include the amount of skin to skin contact, the large number of strangers we interact with, restrictions on play behaviour (particularly on ‘rough-and-tumble’ play), and sleep patterns associated with shift work.

Well, this was just a very brief overwiew of a most interesting paper. For those interested in reading more about happiness from the point of view of evolution, I highly recommend downloading it (it's free!) and giving it a thorough read.

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