Why doesn't happiness come naturally?

Ronald Siegel
According to evolutionary psychologists, part of the reason why happiness doesn't come naturally to most of us is that some negative personality traits may have functioned as lifesaving mechanisms for our early ancestors. For example, constant suspicion that physical danger lurks around the next corner would have helped an early human survive attacks from wild animals. Such traits were thus selected for in human evolution. Today, constant suspicion is less likely to save your life and more likely to cause unnecessary stress and unhappiness.

Overreacting to possible threats is one example. Recoiling from a bitter taste or fleeing from a rustle in the bushes might have kept an ancestor from death by poison or tiger attack. Negative emotions alert you to danger so as to avoid immediate peril, and there's little harm done if you react to a false alarm, spitting out radicchio or running from a bunny. But what used to be good for survival doesn't translate well to the modern world, and over the long term, repeated or constant revving up of your fight-or-flight response can lead to anxiety, unhappiness, and health problems.

Another theory relates to sensitivity to rejection. Early humans lived in small communities in difficult conditions. Being excluded from the group could literally mean death. As a result, humans are naturally sensitive to being socially excluded. Today, however, frequently feeling slighted or jealous can have a negative impact on friendships, marriages, and other social relationships.

It helps to recognize why it takes some work to counter these hard-wired attributes, but just because they're "natural" doesn't mean you have to be ruled by them.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.