Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Psychology rediscovers ancient wisdom

Speaking as one who's been providing counseling to individuals and couples for many years, I'm very pleased indeed to read an article in Psychology Today by Dr. Satori Kanazawa, titled simply 'How To Be Happy'.

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, 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.

Before any arch-feminists, or women who choose to be childless, or stay-at-home dads, start in on Dr. Kanazawa or myself: my friends, I understand and fully respect your right to make the choices you have. Throughout history there have been those who've done the same. There isn't a 'one-size-fits-all' answer to happiness. However, I do, with the greatest of respect, maintain that for the majority of men and women, the article above is generally true. That there are exceptions is unquestionable, but they don't invalidate Dr. Kanazawa's point.

I'll be interested to hear readers' responses in Comments.



Anonymous said...

I get up in the morning more or less to see if it is the day, today, that common sense breaks out. I don't know if today is it, but judging by this article, we're off to a promising start.

Anonymous said...

I used to date a gal who had a PhD in physical anthropology. She taught me a lot of what was in your article. Humans have evolved over eons to have certain ingrained characteristics, and no amount of political-correctness can change that.

For example, all species have a built-in self-defense mechanism and know when something else is threatening them; they will then take defensive measures. Also, look at the way most mothers of most species will defend their young, even against attackers much larger and stronger than themselves.

Interesting stuff. Too bad the PC crowd will poo-poo this info, to their ultimate detriment.


Simeron Steelhammer said...

I don't subscribe to the "evolutionary" part as I understand there are far to many holes in that theory for it to be valid anymore. Science itself has progressed so far beyond what Darwinism can deal with it's amazing how rabid its proponents are but, that is another issue entirely.

I do believe male and female are designed, specifically, to fulfill roughly half of the roles in life. It has been shown in tests of male-male, female-female and male-female teams that over a course laid out to test the full range of abilities, from raw physical strength to manual dexterity to agility to logical though process right down the line, the same sex teams never beat the mixed sex teams and in fact, fair markedly worse.

The reason?

The same sex teams shine better on certain tasks...the ones thier sex are oriented to but severely lack on the ones that go against thier sex. For example, women are physically weaker then males but have far more dexterity.

The mixed teams seemed to automatically switch leadership roles depending on the task at hand. If physical strength was needed, the male lead...dexterious tasks...female took the lead...etc.

This made it where they easily outpaced the same sex teams.

I've seen this in real life too. Women naturally are more nurturing, caring and I dare say, better at running a home then men. Can me do it? Yep...we just aren't as good at it.

Being organized, working in groups, planning things out and then taking charge and leading are more male oriented things. Can women do it? Yep but again, they just aren't as good at it generally.

To me, this is in the genetic code of all creatures created by God. Some call it intelligent design and assign various intelligences to that spot. Be it God, The Force, alien races or whatever...

But the facts are the facts...

Women and men are vastly different, with different triggers to what we like and dislike on a general level. It gets even worse when you look at individuals too.

What I like and what my son likes are similar on some levels and vastly different on others.

I've been told that the "generation gap" is down to three years in 2005...

It was 20 when I was born in 1967.

40 when my father was born in 1923.

But the general things males and females are the same I think...and I don't see any amount of political programing changing it.

Course, your milage may vary...*8P

Anonymous said...


I'm no fan at all of the feminist and PC-liberal line on men and women and what will "make them happy", but I have a lot of problems with a lot of the guys that are doing "evo psych" right now. Some of it is awesome, but a disturbing amount of it is what I call "Status Quo Just-So"- a retrofitted "evolutionary" explanation of the theorist's personal beliefs about why things are the way they are that has more to do with storytelling than it does with a serious evolutionary assessment of the logic here.

If I'm lucky I can get a post out of this...

Julie said...

interesting point of view - especially given that i work full-time and my husband works casually and bears most of the day to day responsibilities of parenting our two girls :) ... in this way, we are both doing the things we enjoy.

Maybe the secret to happiness isn't focusing on being happy but rather being content with who you are and what you have.

Rachel Leigh Smith said...

Well said, Julie! True happiness cannot be found apart from contentment. I've long been a believer in that.

He does have some very valid points. God did not create man and woman the same. We are different for a reason, and I for one am not going to tell God He didn't know what He was doing.