We Evolved to Solve Problems – So Why Do We Suffer?
People have problems. Make your mental checklist. They range from small ones, like what to wear or eat, or how to get through your day’s tasks. To medium, like how to maintain health, desirable weight, get a better job and make money, who to date or how to get along with them. To BIG, like addiction, anxiety, illness, depression, past traumas, major loss. Do you also have global worries like war, the environment, political issues, disease and death? What are your problems?
And how do your problems compare? To a mother in Mosul, a starving Syrian child, a 17th century slave, a primitive hominoid alone in the wild? It is useful to put your modern first-world problems into perspective. The history of life on this planet has survived great hardship… and it has made us hardy! Plants, animals, humans have evolved and adapted over millions of years in symbiosis with hardship. The hardness of life developed in us the faculties to manage and handle problems.
We evolved with eyes because there is light. We evolved with fear because there is danger. We developed imagination because it helped us make something new and prepare for the future. We all have an elaborate and sophisticated sensory systemto detect and handle the problems life brings.
So if we survived the ice age, famine and tigers and we live in the safest and richest times in human history, Why Are We so Troubled? Did nature through millions of years of careful evolution not leave us with the ability to be happy and handle our modern problems? Of course it did.
Everyone has the ability to manage and resolve the situations that come to them and make the best of their life. Let’s call that their happiness. But we may not be fully using our ability, through mis-training and disuse, but the inborn equipment is there. Let’s work it.
First, let’s set the bar, our expected “normal” at the experience we prefer, some combination of security, connectedness, peacefulness and whatever constitutes your happiness and your definition of “I feel good”.
With this as baseline, you want to be on the alert for any invading “bad feelings”. Not that they ARE bad, but think of them as “fire alarms”, signals that something is disturbing your happiness. Does a fireman ignore the alarm and let the house burn? No, but we commonly disavow or acclimate to and ignore the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that call us to detect and correct interruptions to our preferred home base of positive experience. (You might want to re-read that sentence!)
You have a highly evolved sensitivity, with “alarms” that go off when your peace is disturbed. Here is a little user’s guide to making sure your problem-solving system is online.
- Whenever you feel “bad” (not in your preferred positive experience, so-called happiness),
- You know WHAT you are feeling (can identify the emotion(s))
- You know WHY you are feeling it (can identify the true source of disturbance),
- You know WHAT to do about it to feel better (a solution that resolves it), and
- You DO that (or know that truth) which clears the block to your happiness.
Simple, yes. But not commonly fulfilled. If you stop at any of these steps your pain will continue; and hence all the problems go on living with.
Here is my hope for you and every human, and my challenge: Develop your pre-existing ability to do these 5 things.