Is The Modern World Working For You?


I believe the question we all should be asking ourselves: Is the modern world working for us? All around me, all I see are mostly unhappy people. My own answer to the above question is: mostly No!

People seem to always be sacrificing the present, and working for tomorrow. We have been told there’s dignity in having a job, in working, even if that work is meaningless. At least it’s a job right, well that’s the thinking. To add insult to injury for most people in the West, the attitude is that you don’t deserve to eat, that you are in a sense nothing, unless you are working. Capitalism has convinced most of us in the modern world to forgo experiences that are inherently pleasurable and good for the overall health of the human animal for the good of keeping the cogs of the system running.

You need to work hard, sleep less, focus on achieving, and we will be kind enough to give you two weeks off a year so you can go do some of the things our ancient ancestors did every day for free. Things, such as walking in a beautiful forest, swimming in the ocean, spending a night camping under the stars, fishing, hunting and so forth — oh, and you will likely be charged for that privilege in some way too!

The Great Lie of Modernity

We have been convinced that this is what is best for us because we live far better than our ancestors did in the past. Look all around you, they say, look at the advances in technology, in medicine, and the increase in standards of living in general. This is a far cry from those pesky hunter gatherers that we once were, where our ancestors constantly lived on the edge of survival. As Hobbes in 1651 reminds us, life before the state was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

The reality is that much of this isn’t true.

Hunter gatherers ‘work’ on average 20 hours a week. Here I am talking about hunter gatherers in the Australian outback or the Kalahari Desert, not exactly plush environments. To add insult to injury again, what we are calling work here for hunter gatherer’s or what anthropologists count as their work are the very things we all escape to on those two weeks of vacation, like hunting and fishing. Hunter gatherers in fact have fairly varied diets, and they have far more leisure time than most of us do in the modern world. In addition their social structure is highly egalitarian. All the basic needs of all members of the band are fairly easily met. In other words, no one goes without what they need to live a fulfilled life. 


So…Why Are We So Unhappy?

Why are we so unhappy, fragmented, and struggling to find meaning if the modern world is so much better than what our ancestors had? 

The truth is the modern world is out of sync with our ancient brains and bodies. Our hunter gatherer ancestors and how we spent 99% of our time on this planet evolved to live in clans. Today most of us don’t even know our neighbors' names. When it came to survival in earlier societies it was largely dependent on living in harmony with nature. Yet today much of the food we eat, and the work we work, even the light we absorb–is radically different from what our minds and bodies evolved to expect. Not withstanding the absolute devastation we are causing to the natural world, our home, Mother Earth.

All of this has created massive cognitive dissonance, where we are attempting to live in a society we're not designed or built for and it is literally killing us. In a sense, if we like it or not we are all still hunter-gatherers, same bodies, same brains, and while it would be impossible to replicate the natural habitat of our ancestry, we can optimize our lives to fit into the modern constraints we face. I believe this is no longer optional for us to do, but rather absolutely crucial if we are to turn the tide on the modern malaise of dissatisfaction we are all facing, and I predict likely to become worse (This is why our I created the Instinct {Code} so we can find ways to live in the modern world, without going insane).

“Many of the crises we see in the 21st century, I would argue, have their roots in the dawn of the Neolithic.”

- Spencer Wells

What Can We Do To Alleviate Some of the Symptoms of our Dissatisfaction?

I am going to outline 4 practices that I engage in weekly that has been inspired by the ways of hunter gatherers. For them, the hunter gatherers, these practices were just the norm of everyday living. Maybe they had no real idea on why these practices were so important, or more likely were taught them in one form or another by tribal elders, who through experience realized their significance. These wisdom practices now acknowledged by science and research are incredibly important to the health of the human animal. Luckily many of these practices still remain free. I view them as a way to honor our ancestral roots while still being able to move with the present. Some I do daily, but all show up every week in my life.

Getting Your Feet Dirty: I have written about this in another article you can read it below:

The Human Animal Project
Getting Your Feet Dirty
As adults we seldom find ourselves barefoot in nature. Shoes are no longer simply used for utility, but now a fashion statement to be worn everywhere and to be shown off. As a result, most of us can’t walk very far barefoot before it begins to hurt. In other words our feet have become accustomed to being locked up inside a silent padded cushioned room…
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The bottom line, it turns out that walking barefoot on the earth, in the natural environment is good for reducing inflammation, pain, and stress. It has also show to improve blood flow, sleep, and vitality. 20 minutes a day is all you need.

Hug a Tree: If you have trees nearby, a park, a glen or if you lucky a Forrest or wooded area make sure you take time to immerse yourself in this outdoor experience. As I have written about in the below article, it turns out that walking amongst trees reduces stress hormone production, improves feelings of happiness and frees up creativity.

The Human Animal Project
Tree Huggers
The official definition of a ‘Tree Hugger’ is that of an environmental campaigner and the practice of embracing a tree in an attempt to prevent it from being felled. But more generally it is often used as a derogatory slang term to ridicule anyone who seeks fulfillment outside of the modern, civilized world. You know, those Hippies…
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It has also been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure, boost your immune system and accelerate recovery from illness. Oh, and if you up for it, hug a tree to say thanks. It’s been shown that much of the above goodness comes from trees via the terpenes (one of the major components of forest aerosols) they emit into the atmosphere.


Stillness: No matter if you do it walking, or sitting, spending time in stillness is crucial to your overall mental health (read an article I wrote about this below).

The Human Animal Project
Walking with Stillness
I spent several years as a social scientist researching the role mindfulness plays in the moment of leadership performance. Mindfulness has now become the ‘in thing’ with it being touted as aiding in everything from enhancing relationships, improving attention, helping a person manage their stress, aiding people in dealing with physical pain, to improvi……
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Most of us are what I call ‘running hot’ with anxiety being a big part of undermining our health. Stillness can reduce the fight or flight response while increasing rest and relaxation. In other words, it calms your mind allowing you to feel more at peace and less stressed out.



Practicing being Present: This is a big one. Look around today and it is clear that most people are finding it difficult to be here. With all of life’s stress, and everything else, from social media, to ads everywhere vying for our attention, no wonder we feel scatter brained. Being more present has been shown to be good for your mental health, relieve stress, lower your blood pressure, improve sleep, and more. It’s even better if you can take your practice away from the hustle and bustle of modern life, into nature (You can read my article about this below).

The Human Animal Project
Walking on the Way to Meditation
I envy my partner. Put her in nature and she can just sit there for hours. However I find it hard to sit still no matter where I find myself. The problem of course with sitting still and knowing that you suck at it, is that those pesky mental gremlins come out and play. This is why I have opted for walking meditation. As Pam Houston, novelist and essayi……
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Conclusion

As you can see from the above, all the practices I outline are simple. Nothing fancy. In my own work in the field of human flourishing I have found that in today’s modern world we have mostly overcomplicated what it means to be truly fulfilled. It isn’t as complicated or difficult as most people believe it to be. But, I will leave that discussion for another article.