Positive psychology is all the rage these days, and everybody wants the secret key to happiness. Go figure; everybody wants to be happy. What can evolutionary psychology say about how to be happy?
As usual, I feel compelled to begin with a disclaimer that, as a scientist – as the scientific fundamentalist – I am not in the business of giving advice to people and telling people how to live their lives. That’s the job of counselors and therapists, and, as Jesse Bering explains very clearly in his first post as a PT blogger, these two types of psychologists are entirely different. Just like Jesse, I am a research psychologist, not a clinician. As a scientist, I don’t care if people are happy or not. I just want to know why.
Having said that, however, from my perspective as an evolutionary psychologist, I would say that the best thing for people to do to become happier is to get in touch with their animal nature, if not necessarily their inner fish then at the very least their inner ape. Recognize and accept that we are animals. We are all designed by evolution to be certain way, and no amount of denial or fighting will change our evolutionary legacy and its implications.
One of the things that evolution has done is to make men and women very different. In some ways (though not in others), males of one species are often more similar to males of other species than to females of their own species, and vice versa. In some ways, in many ways, men are more similar to male chimpanzees or gorillas than to women. One of the ways that men and women are different is in what makes them happy.
Forget what feminists, hippies, and liberals have told you in the last half century. They are all lies based on political ideology and conviction, not on science. Contrary to what they may have told you, it is very unlikely that money, promotions, the corner office, social status, and political power will make women happy. Similarly, it is very unlikely that quitting their jobs, dropping out of the rat race, and becoming stay-at-home dads to spend all their times with their children will make men happy.
Money, promotions, the corner office, social status, and political power are what make men happy (as long as they win, of course, but then dropping out is by definition a defeat). Spending time with their children is what makes women happy. As Danielle Crittenden very eloquently argues in her book What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Women, it is very unlikely that women will be truly happy without having children, but, as Crittenden points out, there are ways to combine careers with motherhood. It’s not the way that the feminists have told us.
More recently, my fellow PT blogger Gretchen Rubin’s superb “one-minute movie” The Years Are Short captures this dramatically and perfectly. It’s a fantastic film, and I highly recommend it to everyone. I cry every time I watch it.
Men and women are very different, because they are designed by millions of years of evolution to be very different. Women cannot become happy by pretending to be men, and men cannot become happy by pretending to be women. Swedes have already tried that, and they have failed massively and spectacularly.
What can evolutionary psychology tell us about what we as a society can do so as not to repeat the Swedish mistake and make our citizens happy? The best thing to do is to kill all the feminists and hippies and liberals. Destroy political correctness completely once and for all. Teach boys and girls that they are different, not the same, and that it’s okay (nay, wonderful) to be different. One is not right and the other is not wrong. Stop telling girls that they are inferior versions of boys, as feminists have done for the last half century, or, as has more recently been the case, stop telling boys that they are inferior versions of girls.
Live as you feel like, not as you think you should live like. Your feelings are seldom wrong, because you are designed to feel certain way by millions of years of evolution. Decades of feminism can’t stop that. You are seldom wrong if you follow your feelings; you are seldom right if you follow feminism or any other political ideology.
Update (11 December 2008): Two days after I initially published this post, Nielsen announced the results of its global online survey, and their results largely confirm what I have said above, as you can read here.