Evolution to Enlightenment
Until the last 100 years, humanity has concerned itself with playing an infinite game. We won merely by surviving. First, we survived long enough to replicate ourselves. Then we survived long enough to overlap generations: we invented grandkids. Now we’re surviving beyond the age of manual utility, and enjoying decades as observers. We have ease. We have medical care. And hell, we should: our ancestors worked hard to give us this gift.
We can do all these things because, as a species, we’re wealthy. Capitalism has created the opportunity to coast through our last years. We no longer work ourselves to death: we work ourselves to pension. The poorest person in Western society today is wealthier than the kings of Europe were 200 years ago: we have medicines and food and access to water. We have sanitation. We avoid most diseases and cure almost all of the others. We have time for leisure and coins in our pockets.
We have time to wonder, “What’s it all for?” and we have time to Netflix and chill.
We have not survived 10,000,000 years of evolution to sit on the couch and watch Oprah.
We have suffered through famine. We have struggled through wars, and squeaked our way through plagues. Our bodies are adapted to survive through conservation of resources.
We now have more than we need. But our surplus is killing us: our largest health problems come from abundance. The bounty of victory is clogging our arteries, our brains and our planet. We have so much that we’re choking on it. Our bodies are fattening, our brains are slowing and our environment is filling with our garbage. We have no universal “just cause” left, so we’re depressed. We’ve survived eons of need, just to realize that surplus might destroy us in the end.
Now, we might, someday, escape our collective pollution by rocketing off to Mars. Or we might banish our garbage from our beloved planet by launching it to the moon.Slowly, inch by inch, we’re conquering space.
But we’re losing the fight to conquer ourselves.
“If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?”
The real goal of humanity isn’t survival. That was just a short-term goal. The real goal is happiness.
The ultimate goal of the neocortex–the most evolved part of the brain, the part that separates us from every other species–is to make itself happy. Call it “enlightenment” or call it “heaven” or call it anything you want: when things are going well, we secrete “reward” chemicals that please the brain. Dopamine and serotonin are the trophies we get when we do things right. Triggering these chemicals is the brain’s ultimate goal. Our bodies follow our brains around, we are constantly led toward the pursuit of happiness.
We’re just not sure where that is, exactly.
We know how to prevent unhappiness, mostly. We know which boxes must be ticked first: air and water. Food. Security. Habitat. A sense of belonging. We can’t be happy without those.
Abraham Maslow described the path to self-actualization in his Hierarchy of Needs. His little pyramid looks a lot like the tip of the evolutionary spear.
The founders of the USA said their goal was “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”–in that order.
So let’s get on with it.
Halfway to Happiness is Health
A healthy person wants a thousand things. But a sick person only wants one thing: to be well.
Last week, I wrote that to solve any problem, you have to split it in half; and then split it in half again; and so on, until you identify one specific action to take right then.
A few days later, I wrote that Greg Glassman’s “Sickness-Wellness-Fitness” continuum was brilliant, but incomplete: that the continuum should include Death on its left side. Today, I’ll add that it should include “Happiness” on its right side. Fitness isn’t the ultimate goal; it’s a step in the journey.
Now, plenty of people are happy without being fit. But everyone who studies happiness–from neuroscientists to Buddhists–agree that some measure of fitness is necessary for an enduring state of happiness. Yoga was created to prepare people to meditate longer. Therapists’ first prescription for depression is usually “go for a walk”. And most medical practitioners understand that in many cases, exercise works as well as antidepressants.
But depression is still the leading cause of disability worldwide. The World Health Organization says so.
Who is leading the pursuit of happiness?
I say it’s the people leading the pursuit of fitness. Because fitness and happiness are interdependent, fitness professionals are best positioned to lead our species forward.
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This article was written by Chris Cooper at Two Brain Business.