"Being present" is great, but to increase your chances of surviving and being happy for a sustained period of time, new research finds it's important to take the longview.
Cornell researchers used a computer model that simulates evolution to see how groups that focus on short-term happiness and instant gratification do over the long haul, compared to simulated actors who had more of a positive outlook and attached more value to longer-term happiness.
The group that had a broader perspective was more successful, even in times when food was scarce. The short-term focused group died off.
"In an evolutionary sense, you have to evaluate your life on the basis of more than what happened just now," said Shimon Edelman, professor of psychology and a co-author of the study, which was published this week in the journal Plos One. "It may indeed be advisable, at least under conditions of scarcity or adversity, to focus on longer-term well-being or contentment over momentary pleasures and to be less envious of one's neighbors. Also, in general, it may be wise to mark happy events more than unhappy ones."
The real world is infinitely more complicated than the simulation the researchers used to come across their findings, but they do seem to echo philosophies from ancient China, Greece and elsewhere that emphasize long-term contentment over momentary bliss.
Ever met a happily married couple of 50 years or more? Yea, that's what it's about.
But Edelman says it's not necessarily about finding the right partner; it's more a matter of taking the time to get to know yourself so you'll be equipped to live for the long-term and everything the world throws at you.
"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." Edelman said.