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5 Rules for a Better Life

4. Prioritize relationships over anything else.

Key points

  • Life is hard, but Darwin's take on things can help us find meaning.
  • Humans are the products of eons of evolution. Understanding evolution, therefore, can help us understand ourselves.
  • These five Darwinian-inspired life rules can help make it all worth it.

Ever find yourself feeling anxious without any clear reason? Or disappointed in those around you? Or disappointed in yourself? Or wondering what the purpose is at all?

These are just a few questions that permeate the human lived experience. These are life questions for all of us. And if you want to understand the nature of life, in any capacity, I say that you need to step back and appreciate Darwin's ideas as they pertain to the experiences that surround our lives.

In a sense, Darwin's ideas on natural selection are actually quite simple. As David Sloan Wilson1 puts it, natural selection, often considered Darwin's paramount concept, is simply the idea that features of the living world that survive and reproduce are likely to out-replicate alternative features. The basic idea here is this: Humans are part of the evolved biological world. As such, understanding the evolutionary principles that guide the nature of life writ large has the capacity to shed light on our daily experiences. In short: Darwin's ideas can help us understand our daily lives.

With this in mind, here are five life rules that are deeply rooted in Darwin's ideas and research that has followed these ideas for well over a century. While following these rules may not always be easy at times, generally speaking, following guidance that is rooted in Darwinian principles is to follow the principles of life itself.2

1. Forgive yourself and others. To say that perfection is elusive is, to be succinct, to greatly understate the case. Life is filled with all kinds of imperfections at every turn. If you don't have the capacity to forgive imperfections in others, you are setting yourself up to fail to connect with others. And if you can't find it in yourself to forgive your own imperfections, you may be setting yourself up for all kinds of anguish, pain, and self-doubt.

Life is, inherently, imperfect. And so are we. Forgiveness evolved as a critical process for people to navigate our complex worlds—especially our complex social worlds—in a way that allows us to ultimately accept ourselves and those around us.2 From an evolutionary perspective, demonstrating forgiveness is simply essential to living the good life.

2. Be a giver. From an evolutionary perspective, the fundamental human conflict exists between actions that benefit ourselves at a cost to others versus actions that benefit others at a cost to ourselves3. Humans evolved to live in social groups that are small and stable. Under such conditions, all-out selfish actions have evolved to come at a cost. And at the same time, blindly other-oriented actions have been selected against by nature as well across our evolutionary history. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense in a species like ours to give to others while, at the same time, making sure to not give too much as to be seen as a proverbial doormat. Striking this balance in life is a key to living the good life.

3. Create. Humans evolved to engage in all kinds of creative activities, including poetry, drawing, dancing, writing, humor, music production, and more. Way more.4,8 The ubiquitous nature of human creativity strongly points to the idea that creativity emerged as part of our evolutionary heritage. Creating keeps us connected with others. It helps us to solve problems. It even helps us to attract friends and romantic partners. Taking time to create and to share your creative products on a regular basis is, without question, a key to living the good life.

This said, I say that you take a minute to think about two important questions: (a) What creative enterprises match your skills and interests? And (b) who do you like to connect with in your world? The answers to these questions will help guide the nature of your creative actions in a way that will help you to cultivate relationships that lift and support you as you navigate life.

4. Prioritize relationships over anything else. Humans evolved to have long-standing relationships with others; there is no doubt.5 In such a context, developing and cultivating strong and supportive relationships with others is a major key to success.

In the modern world, there are all kinds of distractions from the relationships that serve as the foundations of our lives. We have work obligations, non-relationship-based hobbies, long-distance travel, TikTok, and more. The modern world is full of things that can take our minds and hearts away from the relationships with those who matter most to us in our world. Humans are deeply social by nature. Neglecting important relationships with others is something that is nearly always done to our own detriment.

5. Love. When Lennon and McCartney wrote their instant classic "All You Need is Love,"6 the song seemed almost too simple. In a way, it is. But the point of this song also cuts profoundly to the core of the human evolved experience. Love is, without question, a deep part of our evolved psychology. It has been documented across a broad range of cultures and it has been found in physiological activity in the human brain.7 Love is real. And it is a core part of a healthy psychological life.

With this in mind, don't rush love. But do take the time to find it. And if and when you do find it, cherish and cultivate it, as you would the most precious flower that might ever grow in your garden.

And if you ever have a choice between love and money, I'd say that the research on the importance of love is pretty clear: Choose love. Always choose love.

Bottom Line

Sure, life is hard. But Darwinian ideas on the human experience can help to make it more fulfilling and meaningful. Humans are, after all, part of the living world. And this is a beautiful thing.

For all kinds of reasons that connect with Darwin's foundational ideas, make sure to be forgiving, giving, creative, compassionate, and loving as you navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of life. This simple set of rules, steeped in Darwinian principles—the most powerful set of ideas that exist regarding the nature of life itself—has the capacity to help you live a richer and more meaningful life today.

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1: Wilson, D. S. (2007). Evolution for everyone: How Darwin’s theory can change the way we think about our lives. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.

2: Geher, G. & Wedberg, N. (2020). Positive Evolutionary Psychology: Darwin’s Guide to Living a Richer Life. New York: Oxford University Press.

3: Wilson, D. S. (2019). This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution. Pantheon: New York.

4: Miller G. F. (2000). The mating mind: How sexual choice shaped the evolution of human nature, London, Heineman.

5: Trivers, R. (1985). Social evolution. Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin/Cummings.

6: Unterberger, Richie. "The Beatles 'All You Need Is Love'". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 13 January 2011. Retrieved 20 August 2011.

7: Fisher, H. (1993). Anatomy of Love - A Natural History of Mating and Why We Stray. New York: Ballantine Books.

8: Kaufman, S. B., & Gregoire, C. (2015). Wired to create: unraveling the mysteries of the creative mind. First edition. New York, New York: Perigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.