- Life is full of choices. And it is often difficult to know what choices to make.
- An evolutionary perspective on everyday human life can help shape healthy choices and actions in all domains.
- Based on work in evolutionary psychology, here are five actions that we can take every day to help us thrive.
If you're old enough to read this, then you already know that life is hard. People often look to publications such as Psychology Today to help provide guidance across all spheres of living. With this in mind, here I present a list of five simple actions that, if performed regularly, can help you thrive in all aspects of life.
From an evolutionary perspective, the human mind did not evolve for modern, large-scale, industrialized conditions—conditions in which we all have cell phones at the ready and can literally communicate our ideas with the entire world with the push of a button. From an evolutionary perspective, we evolved in small-scale societies surrounded by nature. Under the conditions that shaped our evolution, all communication was face-to-face and most interactions were with either family members or individuals with whom we had long-standing social relations.
From the perspective of positive evolutionary psychology, we can use our understanding of evolution and human behavior to help us make healthy choices and to build habits that, based on our evolved psychology, can help us thrive across all spheres of life.
1. Treat others with forgiveness and grace.
Based on work on the evolutionary psychology of moral emotions (c.f., De Jesus et al., 2021), we evolved in small-scale societies, surrounded by the same individuals over and over again. Our minds evolved to exist in such contexts. In such a world, treating others in a way that is selfish and disrespectful would have adverse effects for oneself in the long run.
Maybe each day you should make a point to forgive someone in your world for some prior transgression or go out of your way to show someone grace and respect. Our ancestors who did this sort of thing stayed in the good graces of others. Such actions clearly played a role in helping our ancestors stay connected with (and supported by) others.
2. Experience love every day.
Based on all kinds of data, love is a real emotion that evolved to help keep people closely connected with important others (e.g., with romantic partners who also often served as co-parents; see Fisher, 1993). Famously, Maslow (1943) prioritized love as one of the core human needs.
Express love toward someone in your world each and every day. Loving, thoughtful acts (even as simple as ordering that special someone cream cheese and bagels when their fridge is empty) can go a long way to making that special someone feel valued and appreciated. And you'll both benefit from this kind of outcome in the long run.
3. Get out into nature.
Wilson (1984) famously talked about biophilia, and how humans, like all organisms, evolved to experience nature, in all its grandeur, each and every day. Regardless of the weather, I'd say make sure to get outside each day. This may be an epic hike up Mount Washington in New Hampshire, under intense conditions with 100+ mile per hour winds, or it may be as simple as a nice walk to the mailbox on a beautiful sunny day. Wherever you are geographically or physically, we evolved to have that kind of experience regularly.
4. Do something altruistic.
Based on all kinds of work in evolutionary behavioral science, humans evolved a broad array of prosocial acts. And it feels good to help others, partly as a result (see Wilson, 2007). Help someone with a project. Pick something up at the store and surprise someone in your life. Donate to a charitable cause that matters to you. Message an old friend and tell them that you are just thinking of them.
Prosocial acts of any size can have positive effects and they cost almost nothing. Rarely do people regret having engaged in altruistic acts; this fact seems built into our evolution.
5. Create something and share it with someone you care about.
Humans are a deeply creative ape (see Miller, 2000). In fact, creativity seems to be a core part of our evolved psychology. Writing poetry, painting, creating music, etc.—these activities all evolved to help us share and to demonstrate features of our internal psychology to others. And it is fun!
Even if it is as simple as writing a 25-word poem for someone you care about, I'd advise you to create something every day—and share the product with someone you love. Given how deeply creativity is embedded in our evolved psychology, you won't be sorry.
Life is hard. The evolutionary perspective on the human condition can help us make it better. Understanding our evolved psychology can help us to thrive in so many ways.
I hope that this list of five simple kinds of actions that we can do each and every day helps provide something of a guide in terms of how to live the good life.
Want to be your best self and live your best life? Pay attention to the work of evolutionary science; you won't regret it.
Facebook image: Max Topchii/Shutterstock
LinkedIn image: antoniodiaz/Shutterstock
De’Jesús, A. R., Cristo, M., Ruel, M., Kruchowy, D., Geher, G., Nolan, K., Santos, A., Wojszynski, C., Alijaj, N., DeBonis, A., Elyukin, N., Huppert, S., Maurer, E., Spackman, B. C., Villegas, A., Widrick, K., & Zezula, V. (2021). Betrayal, Outrage, Guilt, and Forgiveness: The Four Horsemen of the Human Social-Emotional Experience. The Journal of the Evolutionary Studies Consortium, 9(1), 1-13.
Fisher, H. (1993). Anatomy of Love - A Natural History of Mating and Why We Stray. New York: Ballantine Books.
Maslow, A.H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review. 50 (4): 370–96.
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.