Home

Add to Favorites

Big Question

The Adaptive Value of Happiness

Evolved Trait or Evolutionarily Useless Spinoff?
Dean Falk

Since Darwin, some scientists have believed that the uniquely human ability to make and enjoy complex music facilitated successful courtship in our ancestors. Others think that musical ability is a lovely but evolutionarily useless spinoff that became part of the human psyche by riding on the coattails of language—as psychologist Steven Pinker famously quipped, merely “auditory cheesecake,” by analogy to foods that weren’t present in our ancestral environment but take advantage of tastes for sugar and fat that evolved for other reasons. The debate continues today.

We also have a proclivity for dwelling upon and pursuing happiness. Is this trait adaptive or psychological cheesecake? That is, did hominins who were more inclined than others to be happy have more offspring, thus passing along the genetic substrates and benefits of their good moods? Did they contribute a greater share of the intellectual or cultural innovations that ultimately enhanced human fitness? Here I discuss the possible role of happiness in human evolution and suggest that you put away the dessert forks.

Happiness is a broad concept that is associated with various moods (bliss, joy, playfulness, optimism, contentedness, a sense of well-being, serenity, hopefulness, anticipation of pleasure), as well as pleasurable physical sensations. Although other animals appear to experience physical well-being and pleasurable moods, only humans take pleasure in the sustained pursuit of creative and productive behaviors. In addition, only humans seem to worry about the future.

 A large component of human happiness is linked to the ability to focus on specific goals. Brain imaging and EEG studies show that the goal-directed form of happiness, seen, for example, when deliberately achieving a serene meditative state is associated with activation of the left prefrontal cortex. This is not surprising because the human prefrontal cortex is important for higher cognition, has highly evolved connectivity, and is activated when thinking about the future—an inherent property of goal-directed behaviors.

To be evolutionarily adaptive, a trait must meet two criteria. First, it must be at least partly genetically determined, as happiness seems to be. Numerous studies suggest that people are born with baseline levels of happiness that are highly heritable, and that each of us tends to return to an individual baseline level over time, even though circumstantial factors contribute to a subjective sense of well-being.

Second, adaptive traits must be associated with more positive health and longevity, which is necessary for natural selection to operate. Again, studies suggest this is the case for happiness. For example, one fifteen-year study of 861 elderly people found that the happier individuals lived longer, experienced less disease, and engaged in more physical activity than their less happy peers. Other research reveals that happy people develop more antibodies than average when vaccinated for flu and have reduced or limited risks for a variety of diseases, including upper-respiratory infections, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, pulmonary disease, and hypertension.

These neurological, genetic, and health factors show that human happiness at least has the potential to be an adaptive trait. But was it actually adaptive or did happiness develop as an indirect side benefit of something else? Circumstantial evidence suggests that the unique goal-directed form of human happiness indeed may have been (and may continue to be) adaptive. A remarkable study of 2,250 adults revealed that people’s minds wandered nearly half of the time, during which they were less happy than when their minds were focused on specific activities (conversing, listening to music, exercising). If “a human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” it is reasonable to surmise that a focused mind is a happy mind.

Compared to other primates, humans are able to focus extraordinarily well, which depends largely (but not exclusively) on our evolved prefrontal cortex. We use this part of the brain to plan activities, to keep them in mind, to bring our plans to fruition, and to form other plans for the future. Without the inclination to anticipate and carry out these activities, humans would not have become such an intelligent, creative (and, alas, destructive) species.

Happiness researchers have shown that anticipation of the successful completion of goals is a carrot that motivates people (as, presumably, it did our ancestors) to pursue objectives, creative and otherwise—so forget the cheesecake! In keeping with this idea, the achievements and inventions that shaped human evolution (and continue to do so) are products of natural selection for cognition that entails a remarkable ability to become absorbed in specific goals. Athletes describe such a state as “being in the zone.” Its intellectual equivalent, dubbed “flow” by the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, is associated with happiness. During flow, you become entirely absorbed in a mental or physical activity and experience a heightened sense of awareness.  Flow will not happen during activities that are involuntary, boring, or unenjoyable.  Instead, activities that are conducive to flow are challenging or even enthralling, and they are usually associated with goals.

Einstein might not have discovered relativity if he had not experienced flow and if his famous thought experiments failed to bring him happiness. The emotional rewards of creative pursuits may have motivated early hominins to invent tools, the first language, and ways to start and use fire. If they were not happy in their work, would modern scientists continue to create inventions that contribute to human well-being and extend our lives? Such inventions are the product of natural selection for humanlike intelligence.

Of course, human inventions can also be used in destructive ways. My main points, though, are that deep within the human psyche the anticipation of happiness motivates the pursuit of goals, and that their achievement delivers the anticipated emotional reward—happiness. In other words, a heavy dose of the uniquely human proclivity for becoming happily absorbed with goals is grounded in anticipating and experiencing satisfaction with a job well done. For these reasons, my bet is that happiness was and remains fundamentally important for the evolution of our species.

 

Dean Falk is a Senior Scholar at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Hale G. Smith Professor of Anthropology at Florida State University.

Meera Lee
5 years ago

I've always liked "spandrels," Stephen Gould's architectural term for these evolutionary extras—but "cheesecake" is also a delicious metaphor. ;)

The fact that our minds may wander nearly half the time is extraordinary. It  definitely feels true that focus and flow are the key to happiness. At the moment I'm reteaching myself algebra, in preparation for taking some science classes next year, and discovering that even completing seemingly repetitive, mundane practice assignments brings a deep and satisfying mental reward.

Hedilbert Verceles
4 years ago

An impressive share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing a little analysis on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast because I found it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the treat! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love reading more on this topic. If possible, as you become expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more details? It is highly helpful for me. Big thumb up for this blog post! - buy sound cloud plays

Erik Baynes
3 years ago

Healthful and happines is determined by eating meals loaded with proteins and also certain vitamin supplements. Inferior health proteins absorption more than a long period could power locks into the regenerating stage using getting rid of 3-4 months after. 5 proteins have specific meaning for you to new hair growth -- cystine, cysteine, methionine, arginine and also amino acid lysine.

montre replique
4 years ago

Répliques de montres Panerai sont sur ​​le marché en quantité incroyable et peut-être que c'est pourquoi les gens des nations européennes dans le monde entier ont commencé à fournir ce souci. En replique montre  indique un «duplicata» d'une chose précieuse, les développeurs ont complété un excellent travail en nous fournissant une occasion de travailler avec des répliques de montres Panerai. Vous êtes en mesure d'avoir notre situation lorsque nous disons «Il est aussi fantastique que d'origine" C'est parce que nous avons bien informé, il a plus un peu sur les quantités de replique montre Panerai  sont les suivantes: Vous obtenez soi en acier inoxydable résistance à l'eau et plus de puissance au cours de la conservation des attributs. De plus, vous allez être présenté avec des couleurs par exemple deux tons en acier inoxydable, ainsi que d'autres nouvelles récompenses.

Sunny wayne
4 years ago

The adaptive nature of humans is amazing. Not only humans every single living things have their own adaptive nature. They might live in several different types of adverse conditions and they live there like its nothing. And that nature is what is called as adaptive nature.

microsoft internet explorer

lili ana
3 years ago

I downloaded mxf converter  free trial version last week, and I converted many MXF videos for playing on QuickTime. This software is good at converting any HD MXF, MTS, TOD, MP4 to MOV videos. With this perfect mxf converter mac software, you can convert MXF to H.264 MOV for QuickTime, convert MXF to AIC MOV for editing in iMovie, convert mxf files to ProRes MOV for FCP X importing.

Super man
3 years ago

Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Hale G. Smith Professor of Anthropology at Florida State University...

jamin-creiche.com

 

Muhammad Danial
3 years ago

Here I discuss the possible role of happiness in human evolution and suggest that you put away the dessert forks. Jody Kriss

Muhammad Danial
3 years ago

For these reasons, my bet is that happiness was and remains fundamentally important for the evolution of our species. urban oasis guocoland

Super man
3 years ago

repetitive, mundane practice assignments brings a deep and satisfying mental reward.....

Rachel Terry

 

chhjcbdhs iohh80p9jvs
3 years ago

I think we have been listened to, heard. It was taken under advisement, so I'll wait for the decision with great anticipation because I look forward to reading the analysis of the judges and also any that story ends 

emulator xbox 360

 

wahyu hidayat
3 years ago

A good website ... Thank you for the information, hopefully more successful Wootekh | Wootekh Indonesia
Greenworld Indonesia | greenworld | MLM terbaru | Bisnis Online<br>

Greenworld Indonesia | greenworld | MLM terbaru

mas ion
3 years ago

These news are really great and I am so glad finding it in your site. As I see this blog is full of such valuable information like this publication so I will definitely bookmark it. Thanks again for informing us.
Greetings from Sbobet | Ibcbet | Agen Bola
Agen Ibcbet | Agen Bola Terpercaya | agen poker | dewa poker

EMRE ELPARS
3 years ago

 Antalya kaleiçi rent a car 

 Antalya's famous kaleiçi.gerek famous places need people gerekd night gündüzhiç without losing the people on the streets with the nightlife venues and has always come to the fore under the limits of muratpaşa district is one of the most important places. 
live here or visit here for the nerve to make your holiday Come on, a sector in which our people we have pioneer in

Antalya kaleiçi rent a carwith our as the latest model vehicles and our experienced equipment serving our valued customers to contact us you need to do is we take care of us the rest ...

EMRE ELPARS
3 years ago

Antalya Kaleiçi  Araba Kiralama Antalya Kaleici Car Rental  Antalya's and nightlife venues are under the limits of muratpaşa district is one of the most important places famous kaleiçi.gerek with famous places need people gerekd night gündüzhiç without losing the people on the streets has always been in the forefront. 
inhabitants or reputation of the speakers here for visiting, come to vacation our people that we as an industry pioneer in Antalya Kaleici Car Rental We provide our newest vehicles and services to our valuable customers as our experienced equipment you only need to contact us, we'll take care of the rest .

Erik Baynes
3 years ago

What a wonderful article, and an inspring ideas, shared it on my blog

Geotextile Jakarta
3 years ago

I always exploring this readings for a some long time. You now offer great information here, in your post and some things I have not seen in other content I have read this article and found some interesting stuff. Thanks!

Regards,

Jual Geotextile Jakarta

distributor-geotextile-indonesia.blogspot.com

djual-geotextile.blogspot.com

distributorgeotextile.wordpress.com