02 The Key to Happiness

A key over a gem heart kept in a silver heart shaped cage.Listen Now

Please the Animal

Know Thy Self

Why the key to happiness before the meaning of life? Well that’s the priority of what’s really important. If I told you that I could give you the meaning of life but it would make you sad, or the key to happiness, which would you choose. You can give that little thought or as much as me, whatever you prefer, but the answer is to take the key to happiness. Incidentally, the meaning of life won’t make you sad but that’s for next time.

The key to happiness is in pleasing the animal part of you. It’s very immediate and sensory led but don’t confuse pleasing the animal with stereotypical definition of hedonism. It’s not about the unempathetic pursuit of pleasure at all costs because that will have the exact opposite effect of making you happy. Hedonism is self-destructive.

Take a quick examination of yourself. You are evolved with feedback where things that improve survival and reproduction get linked to joy and happiness while things that don’t make you sad. You are evolutionarily programmed. On top of all that animal our intelligence and self-awareness grew, and is so smart we do amazing things every day. Our intelligence however, the machine, is not where happiness lies.

The first thing you should do is recognise and appreciate your emotional state. If there is something making you sad then requesting you be happy despite this is not addressing the cause, just the effect. Mindfulness won’t work to make you happy if the moment it keeps you in is a sad one. I actually find putting myself in the future better to deal with this.

The nonsense of this is obvious when thought through. If you’ve had to give back a puppy you were looking after and it brought you great joy then asking you to just be happy about it is daft. So ironically, one of the things that can help you be happy is to allow yourself to be sad first. The truth will set you free is a truism because it’s true most of the time.

If the happiness is in the animal and the animal is in the immediate. If you can be happy right now mindfulness will help as it will put you in the now and remove future worry.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a great guide to happiness, although I need to check it’s origins and regard it as an extension of the work of the Blackfeet Nation. It’s basically right but the true perspective in my opinion one of evolutionary need.

The Hierarchy of Self

The Betterment of the Tribe
Machine sense of safety
Being in the Tribe
Animal satisfaction
Animal sense of safety
Conservation of Energy
Preservation of Genetic Self

At the bottom is preservation of genetic self, and to be clear, genetically, your children are you and count in this. Water, air and similar can be counted here. Next is the conservation of energy and I bucket the need to eat with the need to be warm here. It’s a major part on why lying on a beach on a hot day is nice. Above that is the animal sense of safety. The sword of Damocles explains this well. Imagine abundance around you on a thrown, and above you a heavy sharp sword suspended by a single horse hair. There is no intellectual motive here, just the animal instinctive knowledge that the throne isn’t a good place to sit. Animal satisfaction is the next and where most of are and can improve things. It’s the stop and smell the coffee, walking barefoot on grass and hugging your children or pets. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

My next one is ‘being in the tribe’, which Maslow has the as belonging and love. This is still in the animal but its in the ape part that doesn’t exist for most species, but we are not talking about them, we are talking about you. We were in tribes before we had fire and we had fire before we were human. It was fire that gave the energy to grow the machine part of our brains that makes us human.

Moving out of the animal into the machine is the machine sense of safety. It’s the strategic or political threat that Dionysius II of Syracuse, a 4th-century BC ruler of Syracuse, Sicily felt, who represented this with the sword. The betterment of the tribe is real self-actualisation

Understanding this we can begin to see how we can make our life happy. The bottom three are deal breakers. Without these we can’t be happy.

Preservation of Genetic Self

Nothing is more scary than your child being very sick and that is big one on the preservation of your genetic self. If you want to do a lot for yourself and others defend or fight for universal healthcare. Universal healthcare does tremendous things to the well-being of the British but in the United States of America, their gaping lack of medical coverage brings so much fear. It’s also more affordable than private insurance as the state, which is you, has monopoly powers. And then there is the hidden cost of loosing a large part of your most talented people because they started poor, but I’m digressing to economics that’ll be for another day.

Get your families health in order best you can, lower that concern.

An interesting point on family. All multicellular life is family but as a matter of degree. Things closest to us, like other humans come with the most potential satisfaction, but we are complicated and hard work so these things also come with work. A classic mistake is getting broody, planning to have kids, being unable to wait and getting a puppy, then having a baby. We have only so much capacity and puppies are very similar to babies (genetically), so they are hard work. You may find that you need to prioritise your baby, which is correct, but it doesn’t stop it being unfair on the puppy.

In short, if you need a bit more life in your life look down the evolutionary tree and find the closest life that you have the appropriate time for. It might be adopting a child and giving them a home or it might be a goldfish or a house plant. It’s your choice.

Conservation of Energy

Next is the conservation of energy, which is where we like the warm summers day. We can’t control what the day is like and in most instances you can’t change your climate, so what this really means for most people is being warm in your home in winter. If you can, insulate your home and put solar panels on your roof. In the summer a solar powered air conditioner would be great. This takes some privilege though so just do what you can do.

Animal Sense of Safety

The next and final deal breaker for happiness is the animal sense of safety. The US gun lobby would say that if you want to be safe get a gun, but then they are trying to sell guns. Personally, what would make me feel safer is the person threatening people not having a gun as opposed to me also having a gun, so personally I’d rather have strict gun laws.

If you feel you need to, make your home safer with stronger doors or windows and maybe take self-defence classes. It worked wonders for the Suffragettes.

Animal Satisfaction

The first of the animal happy making. This is where the joy is and joy is happiness.

Smell the coffee.
Hug your children.
Be your best to be in tune with your animal, which I will spend another podcast on another day. Go up tall buildings and take in the view when you celebrate success, and be near running water when you want peace.

Ideas like rule #32 Enjoy The Little Things will absolutely help you survive Zombieland and more than that, they are how to enjoy life. From an animal perspective it is the answer. It’s better to not drag your child to nursery, upset where you get to work on time but instead go with the flow, stop to look at trees, admire a cement truck and to turn up late. It’s not advice for life as your machine sense of safety will tell you if this is a realistic option, or not, based on long-tern consequences, but I can tell you which will make you happy in the short-term.

All advice on happiness dances around this point. Being in the moment, mindfulness, although this assumes you are not in a negative place. Advice like this will help you if you are comfortable, but not if you’re hungry and can’t afford food. You have to be in a good place for mindfulness to work or you just get stuck on the negative. Mindfulness tries to turn off the machine, but it can’t work if the happiness breakers are in effect. Don’t ask people to be here who are not ready.

Being in the Tribe

I class this one as animal because it’s heavily emotionally based and generally we are happier in a tribe, but quite often not bothered if not. We are more evolved towards tribalism then most animals and remember we were hominids for over a million years before we were human and we were apes for millions of years before that. It’s relatively modern in our evolutionary history but still a chunk before we fully developed the brand new machine we have now as homo sapiens. In just 200,000 years we started with sticks and rocks and went to the moon. That’s exponential growth and we’re still on it, we just need to not knock over those things that can kill us while we grow.

Anyway the tribe is fairly deep and being in a group of about 20 - 30 people all agreeing on and doing the same thing feels amazing. Join a social club, go running, sailing, play D&D, whatever. Go find your people but avoid the haters. Hate makes you destroy your own world. You can hate the haters, but not too much or you become one of them.

Interestingly, empathy is learned and it’s a way to maintain cohesion of the tribe, although you can’t have too much empathy or one of the a rival tribes will come along and take you out. It’s why fascists work to dehumanise people and so racism is here. It’s also why good people can stand by and do nothing while people are being killed, because they are not thinking and are not emotionally engaged. They are delegating to the tribes collective wisdom.

Machine Sense of Safety

This is the machine happiness breaker. Stress is here and mindfulness tries to remove you from here. This is where you do your thinking and realise you are a good person standing by and doing nothing while people are getting killed.

The biggest thing you can do about this one, is if you are against Nazi’s, you need to vote for the party that doesn’t support Nazi’s. There is no neutral as fascists want to restrict your power so not doing anything is a choice that are going to let them. Acting like you’ve not made a choice is actually choosing not to act.

So stress… Stress is in the machine sense of safety. The definition of stress is having a responsibility you are unable fulfil. You see impending trouble, and this is where mindfulness tries to help you pull your head out of this. This is also why mindfulness is only a temporary respite, as these threats are real and your feelings are legitimate. The animal doesn’t understand the machine but it feels the threat and as the animal is only in the immediate it maintains the fight or flight. This is unsustainable and why your health gets affected.

It’s also why you can be unsure if you’re happy. As stressful tasks pass, one way or the other, the stress subsides and you find yourself in a happy state again. Repeated stress leads to the machine anticipating the next stress, which is something you know you’re going to need to do but in the moment, you have no power to act on. At this point you need to leave what’s doing this to you. If it’s a toxic relationship or an exploitative job you need to end it.

To alleviate this stress, you need to remove things that are working against you. The best thing you can do is leverage the tribe. Don’t just fight for your issue. That can be the main focus, but lend your voice to other issues and they can lend their voice to yours.

The Betterment of the Tribe

Self-actualisation was Maslow’s take, but I prefer thinking more in line with the Blackfeet nation. It is possible to be entirely self-absorbed, where you just want accolades for amazing work, and the betterment of the tribe is inconsequential to you, but even under this extreme you are still bettering the tribe. More naturally is the want to make things better for everyone. Finding your ‘great work’ will be one for the tribe, from the amazing pandemic vaccines to the development of nuclear fusion, or even Newtons explanation of how the universe physically works. Nobel prices, journal publications and great films are all seen as great successes and this simply comes from a lot of people taking a benefit from it.

Most peoples wish for self-actualisation is to leave their job and start something for themselves. I guess this is mine although I am happy in my work. It’s the thinking ahead and having the opposite of stress. This doesn’t pay anything right now and that’s ok. I just need to say it, put it out there and I hope some part of it helps you. So I guess this is a hobby and hobbies are about fulfilment. This ties quite neatly into the meaning of life, but that is for the next time.