In Part 1, we dove into the predicament in which modern man finds himself. He has played by the rules and the game has let him down. What society has told him would make him happy, in fact has left him disillusioned, disconnected and discontented.
So let’s examine what could have gone wrong. We are hunter-gatherers living in a world that is not conducive to our happiness. Our bodies and minds have evolved in a way so as to respond with contentment to certain experiences and discontentment to others. A lot of times, it’s as clear as 1 +1 = 2.
Consider an analogy: If we were to take a plant named Randy and place him on a porch in the spring with plenty of sunlight, water and healthy soil, Randy would be content. Randy would have all the right ingredients available to him to flourish. If we took another plant named Eddy and placed him on the same porch for half of his life and then in a dark closet for the other half of his life, Eddy would not be as content. Eddy would probably struggle with plant discontentment. We could then “diagnose” him if we wanted to, but that’s probably a tangent for another day. The point is Eddy isn’t “doing it wrong.” It’s just that Eddy’s environment is not conducive to happiness. I feel many of us find ourselves in Eddy’s plant shoes.
In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari states that the usual day of a hunter-gather started at around 8AM when foraging and hunting would begin. Some members of the tribe would stay back to take care of any chores, such as attending to shelter, clothing and caring for the young. Hunting and gathering would end in the early afternoon. A meal would be had, then the rest of the day was meant for relaxing, napping, telling stories, playing or just spending time with family and friends. So, a typical day would involve movement, connection, downtime, creativity and contributing to the greater good. How many of us can say that our typical day involves those cornerstones of well-being?
We aren’t designed to live in the suburbs, work 40 hours a week in an unfulfilling job, sit idly for most of the day, be constantly distracted, eat mostly processed foods, stare at screens for “fun” and only connect occasionally on a mostly superficial level. We are swimming against the current here and have to be intentional with our time and energy if we want to create a life well-lived.
To compound this, modern life offers WAY TOO MANY OPTIONS OF EVERYTHING. Most of these options just become impediments that we have to weave through in order to focus on what will actually make a difference. And trust me, I get it. All the options are appealing and entertaining. It’s why it’s so damn hard to pick anything on TV. Hell, it’s hard enough to pick what service you will use to watch TV — Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, etc. Half the time, we just get overwhelmed and stressed out, so we watch Back to the Future for the 45th time.
In my view, it’s important to note that there is nothing wrong with modern man that we succumb to these traps of distraction. The marketers are geniuses. They have us figured out. If we plunked a hunter-gatherer from 50,000 years ago into our modern society that has been engineered to keep humans quasi addicted and distracted, eventually he would start to have a hard time not eating ice cream all day or watching people have sex on the Internet too much or overdoing it with caffeine or booze.
It’s hard. We are living in a society that has cleverly tapped into our instinctual human reward systems. We have a hard time resisting sugary, fatty foods because they play off of our innate drives for sugar and fat, which our body needs to survive and thrive. However, sources of sugar were once only fruit and honey and the fat we consumed came from animals that we chased down and killed. Now people are paid good money to invent Cinnabuns and Big Macs.
We have a hard time not checking social media incessantly for likes because every time we do, our body receives a little shot of dopamine which feels good but keeps us coming back for more, just like a slot machine does. The next thing you know, you can’t stop at a stoplight without picking up your phone because your brain craves that little hit of dopamine. But we were designed to chase little hits of dopamine because they solely existed as rewards for pro-social behavior.
We weren’t built to handle all of this shit! Modern society is designed to keep us quasi addicted because that keeps us spending, which makes companies wealthier. And we can get pissed off at the food manufacturers or the tech companies, but we also can remember that they are filled with people simply abiding by the same rules of the game that up until now, we were playing!
So how can we strip this life down and look at what will pay the biggest dividends? In Part 3, we will examine some specifics. In the meantime, I’ll be deciding whether to share this blog post with my wife or not …
If the hunter-gatherer within you is feeling stifled, reach out to talk; therapy can help.