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Caveman blues

A news item by John Naish, for the Times online, shows how ?modern life baffles our Stone Age brains into thinking we can never have enough? He looks at how our primitive instincts are leading us to: over consume, over eat and feel fearful and unhappy. The article suggests that we need to challenge our beliefs that ?more is better? and endorse a philosophy of ?enough now?. He also suggests that we make a conscious effort to express more gratitude for the things we have. Our ancestors would have worked hard for the things which come so easily to us. Naish also suggests that we accept ourselves for who we are with out feeling the need to be richer, cooler or someone different.

This article takes two facts about modern living: that our ever increasing consumption is wrecking the planet and that we are on a continual chase for more things, such as material objects and food.  Naish points out that living this way is no longer making us happy and is leading to unhappiness, dissatisfaction, stress and obesity.

Based on scientific evidence he explains why we are behaving in a way which is unsustainable and is fostering mental and physical ill health.  According to Naish, in times gone by it would have been important for survival to want more and to gather as many resources as possible in case of a shortage.  To counter these inbuilt urges, previous societies advocated cultural conventions which dampened this impulse to want more and more.  He argues that consumer culture has ?ditched? all that.  This then plays to our primitive urges and it is now getting to the point where we are realising our unhappy disposition.

Naish appeals to the science to show that consuming has an evolutionary significant.  For example, he shows that after buying things we get a short high. This high soon fades into buyer?s remorse.  We counteract this remorse through celebrities who support different products.  For example, we buy things we don?t want when they are endorsed by a famous person because our primitive brain tricks us into trusting this ?acquaintance?.

Naish also says that we evolved to despise being out of the 'in crowd'.  Science shows that when humans experience social embarrassment the same areas of the brain associated with physical pain become active.  What he says this means, is that people are acquiring things to stop them feeling second rate or inferior.

Not only are we led to buy things we don?t want and feel inferior to others, but we are also bombarded with information day after day, and this is overwhelming us. More than 70 per cent of people ticked the survey box saying: ?I can never have too much information.? More than half also said that they don?t have time to use the information they already have.  Our brain receives a natural high from mastering new information yet we have so much information that we don?t know what to do with it.

Negative news has a role in our well-being too.  This plays to our primitive mind because we have difficulty grasping a sense of geography and so extrapolate from the news that the far off dangers are ever present. Some psychology studies suggest that we should limit our news-watching to 30 minutes a day - or risk anxiety-related depression.

In days gone by we never knew when food was going to be available next. The abundance of food available today ?stimulates an old mechanism by which nature ensures that we actually consume food when food is available?.  The body takes a while to realize it?s full and so by the time people feel full they could have eaten a lot. 

The article suggests ?proofing the brain? by doing three small things.  These are: change your mindset to ?less is more? or a culture of ?enough now?, grow your gratitude for the things you have, and ?be enough? - accept yourself as you are.  If we can do these three things this will help offset the danger modernism poses for our primitive minds and for society.  To read this article click here 

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