Paleo Emotions – The Foundation of Negative Thinking

Human emotions may be more primitive than we think. Our emotions are better suited to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle than to those of today’s vast civilisations. In order to better understand our emotional wellbeing, we need to take into consideration the emotional environment of our ancestors during the Palaeolithic period.

The human family tree is around 15 million years old, but it wasn’t until 10,000 years ago that our ancestors began to move from hunter-gatherer societies to settled agricultural communities. And only 5,000 years ago did the first large civilisations, characterised by urban development, social stratification, symbolic communication forms, emerge. So we’ve really only been ‘civilised’ for the past 250 generations. How much have our brains evolved in the past 5,000 years? Not that much: it seems we are still a bunch of primitive apes.

For the last 100 years, our habits have become conditioned by god-like technology that has overloaded our lives with excessive comforts and pleasures, as well as too much free time. This lifestyle is the foundation of negative thinking, which is the root cause of depression, anxiety and chronic stress. Why? Our brains are not designed to be bombarded with pleasure, but rather with challenges, struggles, suffering, pain and a wide range of negative emotions.

“The real problem of humanity is the following: we have Palaeolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology” – Edward Osborne Wilson

If we don’t feed our brains with a healthy dose of challenging emotions, our brains will feed themselves with negative thinking. Think about it. Our ancestors had to venture into the wild on a daily basis, searching for food: essentially, struggling to survive. We are emotionally wired to struggle. We have a negative emotional quota that needs to be drained regardless of the circumstances.

The Five Essential Factors that relate to Emotional Wellbeing come from this understanding:

Humans are designed to drain a challenging emotional quota on a daily basis through an outdoor, physical, social activity in a natural environment connected to a higher purpose than oneself: the survival of the social group.

So, should we just give up our modern lifestyle in order to connect with our primitive roots? It would be kind of cool, but there’s really no need for that. Be aware that if you don’t fill your life with meaningful challenges, your brain will trigger negative thinking through meaningless drama. Being conscious of this is the first step towards improving your emotional wellbeing. And after that, it’s up to you to choose how to drain your challenging emotional quota.

When was the last time you were caught up in a meaningless drama? Do you get easily offended? Do you take things personally? Do you feel the urge to question this post? Great! Feel free to drain your emotional quota in the comment box below.

Millions of Years (MA)

4 – Earliest Bipedal – The hands are freed for other uses. Ability to see further and reach higher. Movement and mobility become more energy efficient.

3.2 – Thumb is separated – Improved manual work in order to gather, grasp and transport.

2.8 – Homo habilis (brain growth) – A larger brain collects, stores and processes information better. Improved problem solving and abstract thinking.

2.6 – Stone Age – Palaeolithic– Evidence of stone tools shows the birth of technology.

1.8 – First exit from Africa – To Europe and Asia. Homo erectus was potentially the first hominin to live in a hunter-gatherer society.

1.5 – Earliest fire use Evidence of fire-heated clay shows that fire was being used as a tool. We learn to make and control fire.

0.8 – Earliest cooking – Improvements to digestion and absorption of nutrients: essential for brain growth.

0.2 – Homo sapiens (language) – The larynx, the organ that houses the vocal cords, descends, allowing for speech and advanced communication.

0.11 – Start of the last Ice Age – Survival skills are put to the test: change of behaviour, building of new tools and finding ways to stay warm. The bone needle is invented.

0.1 – Worldwide migration – Allows for population growth. Hunter-gatherers need between 40-250 ha/person, depending on the ecosystem.

Thousands of Years (KYR)

10,000 BC – Neolithic or Agricultural Revolution – The end of the last Ice Age enables humans to settle in agricultural societies and build the first cities. 1.8 million years of hunter-gatherer lifestyle ends here.

5,300 BC – Stone Age → Bronze Age

5,000 BC – First Civilisations – Domestication of donkeys

3,500 BC – Domestication of horses

3,300 BC – Earliest language writing

3,000 BC – Domestication of camels – Arabic numerals

1,300 BC – Earliest Monotheistic religions

1,200 BC – Bronze Age → Iron Age

700 AC – Iron Age → Middle Ages

* Prehistoric periods vary according to geographic location