If you want to live longer, don’t worry, be happy. Researchers using a series of algorithms to model how humans dealt with the stresses of life through evolution, found that those with a positive outlook fared better and lived longer.
The researchers from Cornell University simulated generations of humans using a computerized model that simulates evolution. Their agents, simulated actors, were given a variety of personality traits and were set out to forage over simulated terrain. Each environment was populated with 400 agents in each generation for 40 generations. Each terrain had different food distribution from plentiful to scarce and the agents had negative or positive outlooks. There was an emphasis on short-term or long-term happiness and comparisons to the performance of others. Interestingly, when the agents compared their food sources to others, they fared worse when food was plentiful.
After a set number of cycles, each agent in the top half of performers produced offspring for the next generation. It was found that those who survived to bear offspring were more likely to choose long-term happiness over monetary happiness, especially when food was scarce. They also retained past memories of happiness. Those with this positive outlook survived while those who chose short-term joy and had a negative attitude died off.
Shimon Edelman, professor of psychology at Cornell University and the study</’s lead author says,
It may indeed be advisable, at least under conditions of adversity, to focus on longer-term well-being or contentment over momentary pleasures and to be less envious of one’s neighbors.Thus, those with a more positive outlook were a better evolutionary fit.
The results, the researchers showed, offer scientific credence to the beliefs long held in China, Greece and India where long-term contentment/life satisfaction is encouraged instead of short-term instant gratification.
Edelman sums up,
Instead of relying blindly on advice from self-help authors about how to be happy, get to know yourself – what your brain/mind is like, how it works and how it interacts with the world – and you’ll be in a better position to decide for yourself.