You Already Embody Absolute Success
Evolutive success — but how about happiness success?
It’s a very simple idea, but it took Sarah Hill and her reflexions on female hormones and reproduction to see it in full light. You, Me, Everyone, Every Living Thing: we all are an uninterrupted succession of victories. Every single one of our ancestors managed to successfully have sexual relationships and an offspring. All the way back to, well, the origin of life or the Last Unicellular Common Ancestor referred to as LUCA.
You embody a 1000% reproductive success. We all are exactly as perfectly successful. Exactly as perfectly evoluted. Us humans with our recent history dating back just about 200 000 years. Them bacteria with their history counting in billions of years. Just as perfectly evoluted in our ecological niche.
We are wired since the beginning of life for survival and reproductive success. However, this selective pressure applied to promote our genes spreading to the next generation didn’t care for us to be happy. We are not wired for happiness. We are not wired for wisdom. Robert Wright, science & spirituality writer and evolutive psychologist, puts this very clearly in Why Buddhism Is True. He identifies three basic principles making sense in the light of evolution:
1. Achieving the goals that helped our ancestors spread their genes should bring pleasure, since we tend to pursue things that bring pleasure.
2. The pleasure shouldn’t last forever. Indeed, if the pleasure didn’t susbside, we’d never seek it again; our first meal would be our last. So too with sex: a single act of intercourse, and then a lifetime of lying there basking in the afterglow is no way to get lots of genes into the next generation!
3. Our brain should focus more on the fact that pleasure will accompany the reaching of a goal than on the fact that pleasure will dissipate shortly thereafter.
Here is in a few words a biological explanation of the deceit commonly referred to as the “hedonic treadmill”. We pursue pleasure only to realize, when reaching our goals, that they don’t make us happy — not for long at least. That’s some of the Buddhist fundamental wisdom, to not overestimate or seek sensory pleasures, as they are bound to evaporate quickly and leave us yearning for more. Because our brain and neurons habituate to the dopamine peak associated with the pleasure, we’ll need a bigger success — or a bigger doughnut next time for the same amount of satisfaction.
That’s also shedding light on a logical biological process behind addiction. In our recent hunter-gatherer past, if we gained peer recognition among our group, we had better chances to be esteemed and reproduce. Today, the legacy is social media addiction. Yesterday, a hearty desire for calorie-dense foods gave us a better chance to survive the winter. Today, the legacy is a natural tendency to overeating junk food. Yesterday, intercourse brought the maximum orgasm life could offer. Today, our body doesn’t recognize that watching porn is not helping our reproductive statistics.
That’s not to say that happiness is out of reach, but it’s certainly not as natural and innate as reproductive success. It requires more efforts and awareness.
Robert Lustig is an endocrinologist who described the contrasting roles of dopamine in pleasure and serotonin in happiness. What brings pleasure, thus dopamine, leads to the phenomenon of tolerance and so possibly to addiction. And the big deal is that dopamine down-regulates the production of serotonin, the hormone linked to happiness, which is depleted in depression.
The more we seek pleasures, the more miserable we get.
To stimulate your serotonin production and keep down the dopamine, here is some practical advice from Lustig:
- Cook and eat well, especially foods rich in tryptophane, omega 3s and low in sugar. Tryptophan is the precursor of serotonin and can be found in poultry, salmon, tofu, oatmeal, milk, eggs, spinach and more.
- Connect with real face-to-face contact. Socials like Facebook actually decrease our level of happiness
- Contribute by forms of giving that don’t provide material reward but satisfaction and pride
- Cope by getting enough sleep, exercise and mindfulness.
Our happiness would benefit from questioning what we expect from our pursuits and goals, and from looking inwards to identify what really contributes to our joy, serenity and true happiness. In this aim, follow me to not miss my next post, on what the Dalai-Lama calls the 8 Pillars of Joy.