Life is hard. This is a constant refrain in our societal transactions, an excuse for accommodating anything against one’s will. I think we all know this, right from young age I have been learning this, like all others. But life is not impossible, all of us are living. And every moment we are making it more wonderful. But, still why do we say it is hard—and I came across an answer: one from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. A rather detailed study, which I thought merited serious consideration.
Evolutionary psychology is an approach to understanding human psychological processes and behavior that sees humans as importantly part of the natural world—and sees our psychological systems as shaped by evolutionary forces across deep time. Much of the time in evolutionary history, humans spent as nomadic groups. Exercise was essential every day. Famine was common, they having not yet adapted to vagaries of weather. Premature mortality was common, like it is now in many parts, especially of third world. Also, disease and death from predation were parts of everyday life. Life has always been hard for our kind.
And no matter how cushy your life may be in some ways today, it is still a challenge. Life is not at all a cakewalk for our kind. Let us see a few reasons that make our daily life challenging—as understood by evolutionary psychology:
1. We ultimately are selfish.
Looking at an evolutionary viewpoint, organisms that passed the test of natural selection are those that had ancestors with qualities that facilitated their own survival and reproduction. To a large extent, all organisms evolved with physical and behavioral qualities that were primarily of benefit to themselves. This is why you are motivated to eat when you are hungry—this basic drive benefits you and helps you survive. Hunger is a basic adaptation that works similarly in all forms of life. Our constitution includes a host of processes and drives such as hunger that is primarily aimed to benefit us.
Our ancestors who took care of themselves were more likely than others to become ancestors to future ones. In fact all basic survival adaptations can be seen as the biological foundations of a selfish approach to life. And if you're reading this, then you, like me and like everyone else, have a host of such evolved features that make you benefit from it. This is how organisms come to exist. But it comes with a cost—we've all got a splash of selfishness built into all aspects of our evolved nature. So you've got a good bit of selfishness in you—like it or not—and this fact is true about everyone you know as well.
And this fact makes life hard.
2. What we think need not tally what we do.
Being called a hypocrite is an insult—in all contexts. May be because we've all got the tendency in us to be hypocritical. It's not that there are people acknowledged as bad people, who are called hypocrites—and the good ones, who will never resort to this style of transactions. That's not at all how human race stand.
Hypocrisy can be seen as a complex phenomenon often characterized by a person experiencing X in one internal, dormant self and Y in another such self. Once one has reached a certain point in life, there are plenty of things in one’s brain that are inconsistent with other things in there—that’s just how it is!
And this fact also makes life hard.
3. And there is this free will. And some more powerful factors beyond it that tends to affect all human behavior.
We love to believe in free will. It is a good idea that regulates much of our daily life. See, we need a concept of free will to hold others and ourselves accountable. But scientific psychology is abounding with factors beyond the idea of free will that govern behavior. The evolutionary psychological perspective comes up with dozens of causes of everyday behaviors that are beyond just free will. One is in full control of one’s behavior only to a point. There are lots of evolved forces at work that control one’s behavior along with whatever free will one may possess.
And this too makes life hard.
4. We are all controlled by emotions.
Emotions sometimes are helpful, sometimes aren’t. Human emotions are deeply rooted in our evolved past, with roots that precede the evolution of primates. Emotions also are observed to be playing an important role in adaptive functions. For example, consider anxiety: I'm sure, none of us relish being anxious. But anxiety performs a great role for our species because it is so darn adaptive. Anxiety motivates people to do the unthinkable, to get themselves out of dangerous situations. For example, if one is hiking and have a slip and almost fall off a cliff, one might feel anxious. And that anxiety will keep you away from the edge of the cliff moving forward or other dangerous attempts. Negative emotions are also useful to our survival, which are deeply rooted in our evolutionary past—like it or not.
And, yes, this adds to it.
5. It's not always easy to get along.
Wouldn't it be great if everyone always got along in all groups? Of course, that would be. But one can easily notice, this is not how things go. There are tons of reasons based on our past that account for this fact. In any group activity, each individual has his or her own interests at stake—and these may align only partly, with the interests of the broader group or the interests of others within the group. Thus, the splash of selfishness embedded in them, come to fore. Also, like many species, humans tend to have dominance hierarchies emerging in many areas that may influence group performance. So just like in a pack of dogs, all people in a group will strive to reach the top. This could cause certain overlap—some of them stepping on the backs of others to get there—and others trying to bring down those above them. Whether this is good or bad, it reflects our evolved nature.
And this too adds to it.
I've dedicated much of my career to better understanding human nature and all forms of life from a common man’s perspective. It told me that what we did read above is not fully right. It only elaborates few, or rather the important particularities of all forms of life, while not proposing anything new. Why should these essential facets of life, make it hard? If we remove these facets, will there be any ‘life’ left? The above perspective may be helping us to see why there is, in Darwin's (1859) words, "grandeur in... life"—but the other cues, we happen to miss.
Why can’t we say, everything we have in life is there thus, because we wanted it that way? So can’t we also think, life is not easy because we want it in that way? If you are like me, then you often wonder: we add new elements in our life, like cars, TVs, smart phones, pets, and endless supplies of food for thought, whenever we get fed up (it can no more offer complexity) of the existing stuff. So the grandeur, the complexity, and all that is new, are constantly being added to our life for a purpose - to tackle something dormant in us.
And further study took me to the looming incompetence of the male, in ‘male’ matters and, led me to my book, The Unsure Male.