HEALTH NEWSLETTER #12

EVO•TEE
EVOLUTIONARY THINKING, EATING AND EXERCISING

29th April 2016

So that was April then, see you in a year! Let's dive in to this month's newsletter, enjoy it!

Reading time: 5 mins


Be here now...

Recently I've been thinking a lot about happiness. A few weeks ago I wrote a blog highlighting five simple steps to happiness. Then the following day I heard about an old friend committing suicide! I'm often struck with self doubt when writing about happiness. But it’s moments like this when I feel reassured that this is a worthwhile way to spend my time and energy.

I don’t want this newsletter to be down and depressing, I want to it to be upbeat, positive and empowering. I don’t want to highlight the dreadful statistics of mental illness and suicide. I want to remind you of what you inherently know. We can be happier by learning from evolution and learning how to be more present.

The problem with happiness is that we didn't evolve to be happy. If you want to understand why so many of us struggle to be happy, read on. If not then skip to the video to learn how to become more present and immediately stop stress in its tracks!

Where does your brain live? The past, present or future?

Where does your brain live? The past, present or future?

The Evolution of Happiness

Here are three things I've learnt from studying the evolution of happiness:

  1. Natural selection didn't give us happy genes, it favoured adaptations that increased our chance of survival and reproduction.
  2. We have many unconscious primal instincts that can make us dissatisfied with life and search for happiness in the wrong places.
  3. Our instincts stop us from talking about our problems with others. We fear showing any sign of vulnerability or weakness.

Natural Selection

My old pal Charles Darwin lead the way in explaining evolution and natural selection. Natural selection is the process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. As a result they pass on any favourable genetic adaptations. And in millions of years of evolution, being happy never made it onto the agenda!

We are apes with big brains who have become detached from our natural environment. Some say humans have become domesticated, which is why we are suffering so much. We spent millions of years evolving in tune with nature. As a result we are shaped by our natural environments. By swapping hunter gathering for farming, we changed our environment. We began working against our biology and our natural instincts. We created mismatch problems that have now lead to increased mental illness and suffering.

I wonder what Charles Darwin would have thought of this sketch!

I wonder what Charles Darwin would have thought of this sketch!

Primal Instincts

Our early ancestors, who did not have lingual speech, lived by a set of social instincts. Many mammals that live in small groups share the same instincts. These instincts are controlled by the brain stem, our subconscious.

An instinct that derails happiness is the seeking higher social status within a pecking-order. Now we no longer live in small isolated tribes, we are more aware of the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. Status anxiety is also exacerbated by living in a consumerist society. Society makes us believe that material possessions and higher social status is the route to happiness. Just by comparing ourselves to others we create instant status anxiety.

I haven’t had a stable salaried job since I left teaching four years ago. Whilst travelling and creating EVO•TEE, my friends have jumped ahead of me. They've been working hard, progressing in their careers and earning more money. They've been buying cars and houses and starting families. Everything my instincts say I should have by now! I have to work hard to remind myself that my happiness is not tied to these things.

Our subconscious is instinctively motivated and alert to our own primal needs, like our need for social status. These needs manipulate our conscious thoughts in ways that best serve our primal self. In a battle to validate our own place in the pecking order, we do remarkable things. Just think of a father’s drive to work all the time to provide for his family. Or how a mother gives up her own needs and desires to serve her family. Or the millions of people who work jobs they hate just so they can buy more things. Fancy clothes, cars and electronics that might preserve or promote their place in the pecking-order.

Who's pecking who???

Who's pecking who???

A problem shared is a problem halved

If a problem shared is a problem halved, why do so many of us suffer in silence? To maintain our status, it makes no sense to share our problems with colleagues or friends. To display a sign of weakness is a sure fire way to demote ourselves down the pecking order. So we keep our problems to ourselves and ruminate on them in isolation. This behaviour creates anxiety, depression and in severe cases can lead to suicide.

When I was travelling I met some incredible people that I ended up sharing my secret insecurities with. Sharing these problems was so liberating. I came to realise that my insecurities were actually strengths that set me apart from others. Meeting these people, 12,000 miles from home, gave me a sense of security I hadn't found before.

I had nothing to lose from sharing my weaknesses. I had no status to maintain in such fleeting interactions. Being vulnerable in these encounters created a greater richness to my life. Learning that great things can come from being vulnerable was great for my psyche. It helped me to live a life more true to myself.

This was me in NZ, all alone in the world, with just myself for company on a long journey!

This was me in NZ, all alone in the world, with just myself for company on a long journey!

How to combat anxiety and depression

Remember, these subconscious drives force us to act in ways that we wouldn't choose to act if we were aware of them. The only way to become aware of them, is to become more conscious. When we are aware of our actions, we can begin to manage them.

To be happier we must look around us and see everything that is good in our life. Look at the small things that we can be grateful for. But that requires the ability to be present, we have to take our head out of the past, out of the future and just be here now…

bepresent

Be here now...

Being present is transporting your mind into this exact moment. Focusing our mind just on what is happening, right now. We aren't thinking about a mistake we made earlier in the day and we aren't worrying about an event in the future. We aren't reminiscing about the past and we aren't pinning our happiness to the future.

The ancient Chinese philosopher and king of happiness Lao Tzu said it best:

If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are happy you are living in the present.

 

Stress Buster

But how do can we be more present? Just watch this short video to gain immediate relief from the burdens of not living in the present:

The ability to be present is the best thing we can do for our mental health and happiness. It is also the best thing we can do for everyone around us, our loved ones and our colleagues. All we need to do is take three deep breaths, breathe right into our stomachs and slowly release the air. Conscious breathing brings us right into the present moment. It is a great feeling and with practice can give us immediate relief from stress and anxiety.


Status Anxiety and Vulnerability

To learn more about status anxiety and vulnerability, I cannot recommend these two enough:

Brené Brown on The Power of Vulnerability:

Almost 5 million views, kind of speaks for itself really!

and..

Alan de Botton on Status Anxiety: 


Blog

Here I present two articles to you, one on happiness and one on avoiding undesirable fat. Just click on the pictures to learn more.


Videos

I know a lot of you are busy and don't have time to read longer blogs and some of you just prefer a visual lesson. So here's a selection of the last few videos:


Social

Here are a few of my latest social snaps. I've been trawling through my old travel pics so I hope to share those very soon!

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Events

Here's a link to my events page where you can learn directly with me. I teach a weekly meditation class and monthly health workshops. Click on the picture below to learn more...

 

That's all from me and April, take it easy and thanks for reading. Feel free to forward this email onto friends and loved ones. The healthier we all are, the better the world will be, for everyone.

All the best

James @

EVO•TEE


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