How did we get here?
Researchers say we are wired to thrive in small villages of about 150 people. The Hutterites know this and still practise it. When a colony reaches 140, they start organizing a new colony. Most mature colonies have – you guessed it – 149 people.
Former generations headed to bed around 7:30 p.m., slept eight hours, ate plenty of organic vegetables with a little meat; fell in love, raised children with a mate known since childhood; chose one of two or three career options and saved for a rainy day (no credit cards, no spending beyond cash earned).
Today, we would call that world fiction.
Many of us live in or near a city of over a million people. That’s a lot more than the 150 that Robin Dunbar, the Oxford anthropologist, says is the optimal number for our brain.
We are constantly bombarded by advertisements selling us things we probably don’t need and encouraging us to spend beyond our means. Our homes have lights and electronics that keep us awake at night, causing an epidemic of sleep deprivation. We have the luxury of pursuing more than a 1,000 career choices, leading us to analysis paralysis. We can invest money into 10,000 different stocks. And, sadly, our brains are not really good at weeding out so many choices. This leaves many of us indecisive and stressed.
Most of us can press a button on a phone to have food delivered in 30 minutes or less. This eliminates the need to develop patience or learn the art of appreciative cooking.
We constantly get caught up in world dramas blasting at us from the Internet and through the media. It is no wonder our brains are frazzled. This constant flood of information plays havoc with our happiness. We are overstimulated and, just like a toddler, we, as a society, are getting cranky!
Jonathan Haidt, a New York University professor and researcher on human happiness, says we need to get on the right “path,” by which he means we have to be part of a system – akin to our ancestors living in those small villages. We cannot use willpower to become happy. We must nurture a simpler environment and allow time for happiness and fulfilment to collide with us.
It’s time to remove any sense of “learned helplessness.” This is a psychological concept pioneered by psychologist Martin Seligman. Let me explain:
Once a monkey is put in a zoo it can become depressed because it feels helpless to hunt for its own food and control its own destiny. Even when you take the monkey out of the cage and return it to the jungle it often will continue to act helpless, sitting in one spot until it starves to death. It doesn’t realize that it’s no longer helpless now that it’s out of the cage.
Feel free to draw your own inferences.
It’s time to stop nurturing helplessness in our society and start encouraging respect, collaboration and personal accountability. We are quite capable of taking back perspective around our decisions, choices and what information we absorb and react to. With so much technology at our fingertips, shouldn’t we create apps that nurture our soul rather than distract us (like the new Pokemon Go craze)?
Choose to stop looking for someone to blame for our unhappiness and start creating opportunities for positive growth. Stop trying to save others from themselves and attract environments where everyone pulls together.
Which society do you choose?
Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.