“Every living organism is fulfilled when it follows the right path for its own nature.”- Marcus Aurelius
I believe humans are driven both by their DNA’s demands to replicate and our altruistic nature (which is very much connected to the first). We are biologically wired up to not only survive to reproduce and help support the propagation of our kin’s genes through parenting, gift-giving and title-exchange, but to also work together as a social unit. That is, it is the animal in us that is empathetic, compassionate and socially-accountable.
The left and right hemispheres of the brain have different “personalities”. Although, the idea an individual’s personality can be related to right or left dominance has been debunked. The left hemisphere is generally the logical, pattern-finding and award-seeking motor while the right is like an eccentric, pot-smoking aunt. We need both to function. When Jill Bolte Taylor had a stroke, her left hemisphere became disconnected. Jill experienced something that resembles a spiritual enlightenment experience. She describes the right hemisphere as present, concerned only with the sensory input of the here and now, and as seeing the world in terms of energy: “we are energy beings [in] one human family”. Molecules shifted into oneness and she could no longer tell where she ended and her environment began.
I think the left hemisphere’s functions of picking out the details and patterns of the past and projecting outcomes into the future is extremely developed in human beings compared to other species. While the right, more animalist brain is telling us we are all one being, the left develops the sense of self as a separate unit. Communication came before language. The core of kinship is in communication. The dualism of “you” and “me” is in language.
I believe to gain a sense of fulfillment we need to satisfy all of our nature. Part of us is spiritual, it communicates through hormones like oxytocin and tries to accommodate everything in the universe in a singularity. It is most often heard in the stillness of the left hemisphere.
The left hemisphere desires reward. We are wired up to seek out novelty; the delicious berries, to plan for tomorrow and to find a way into someone else’s loincloth. Language is a beautiful thing, allowing us to record the past and form strategies for the future. It also has a tendency to separate things into categories and itty bitty details. Egos, our separation from the whole, help us better attain and accumulate resources for ourselves and families. They secure survival and make us more eligible for reproduction.
It is easy to get caught in a progress-trap. The ultimate goal is to survive and have a sexual partner (or partners), yet the brain always finds new ways to improve, to become more efficient and provide more security. Like a drug, we want the next reward, the next idea, the next win over our environment or each other. I don’t believe pure hedonism will bring a lasting sense of fulfillment, however, it is wired up for an important purpose.
If we are in a progress-trap and not getting any happier, perhaps we need to lower our expectations. If the baseline fulfillment is survival and reproduction why are we pushing so hard for the next level, the next achievement or next salary band? There is a point of enough.
If you are surviving and have an altruistic purpose you are fulfilling your animal nature. Don’t forget to enjoy it.