We’re often tempted to ignore our animal nature. In our hubris, we believe that our culture and habits trump the billions of years of evolution that have led to this point.
That’s a mistake.
As individuals, we’re better off acknowledging our animal nature, not to blindly accept it, but to make conscious decisions about how to manage it.
For example, our modern life is very different when it comes to awareness, control, and acceptance of the world around us.
For most of human history, we lived in small bands. The only people we ever encountered were the people in our immediate surroundings. This meant that awareness, control, and acceptance were clear and aligned.
Awareness: I’m aware of the things I can see, smell, and touch in my immediate surroundings.
Control: I can control the things that I can reach with my hands.
Acceptance: The things I can’t reach with my hands, like the clouds that bring rain, are the province of gods and spirits, over whom my control is limited, and whose vagaries I must simply accept.
Contrast that with our modern world.
Awareness: I’m aware of everything I read on the Internet or see on television. I know the intimate details of the lives of people I’ll never meet, and events in places I’ll never visit.
Control: I can communicate with anyone in the world, and can theoretically influence far more people than I could ever meet face to face.
Acceptance: I have the ability, and hence the responsibility, to be aware of every thing that is happening in the world, and to express an opinion and take action about it (even if it’s just a hashtag).
The issue is clear. In comparison to the world for which we’ve evolved, our awareness is vastly greater, and we have the possibility of control, which means that unless we consciously think about it, we lack acceptance.
This may be one of the reasons that the religious tend to be happier in modern society; they at least have a doctrine that leads them to greater acceptance of the world around them.
But leaving everything in the hands of spirits and gods is also a suboptimal approach. As George Bernard Shaw put it, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” (Per our modern society, I should note that a contemporary version would say “reasonable man or woman”) Progress often depends on a lack of acceptance, even though in most cases, that lack of acceptance causes discontent and unhappiness in those who feel it.
You should make conscious decisions about what to accept, and what to attempt to change. For example, if you oppose the actions of the Trump administration, you don’t have to accept it, but you do have to make a conscious decision about what you will do if you attempt to change it, whether it is donating to get out the vote efforts in battleground states, or a more personal effort.
Even when you make these conscious decisions, you may end up disappointed. The world doesn’t guarantee that it will fix all your problems (even if presidential candidates sometimes do). But you’ll be able to soothe that disappointment by knowing that you evaluated your options and chose the course of action that had the best chance of effecting change, rather than blindly accepting the world as it is, or simply feeling discontented and not doing something about it.