Study: Country roads, take me home ... to my friends: How intelligence, population density, and friendship affect modern happiness

Study: Country roads, take me home ... to my friends: How intelligence, population density, and friendship affect modern happiness

Author(s): Norman P. Li & Satoshi Kanazawa

Date: 2016

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Abstract

We propose the savanna theory of happiness, which suggests that it is not only the current consequences of a given situation but also its ancestral consequences that affect individuals’ life satisfaction and explains why such influences of ancestral consequences might interact with intelligence. We choose two varied factors that characterize basic differences between ancestral and modern life – population density and frequency of socialization with friends – as empirical test cases. As predicted by the theory, population density is negatively, and frequency of socialization with friends is positively, associated with life satisfaction. More importantly, the main associations of life satisfaction with population density and socialization with friends significantly interact with intelligence, and, in the latter case, the main association is reversed among the extremely intelligent. More intelligent individuals experience lower life satisfaction with more frequent socialization with friends. This study highlights the utility of incorporating evolutionary perspectives in the study of subjective well‐being.

Conclusion

The empirical evidence from the two studies presented above provide tentative support for the savanna theory of happiness, which explains why rural Americans tend to be happier than their urban counterparts, and why Americans who socialize with friends more frequently are happier. More importantly, the studies illustrate the value of incorporating evolutionary perspectives to the study of subjective well‐being. The current paper adds to the growing body of knowledge on evolutionary mismatch theory indicating that many of the ills of modern society might owe themselves to the disparity between modern environments and the ancestral environments in which our brain evolved and to which it is adapted (Buss, 2000; Hill & Major, 2013). Such work cuts across all areas of psychology, including mating and relationships (Russell et al., 2014), cooperation (Hagen & Hammerstein, 2006), clinical health (Li et al., 2010), behavioural economics (van der Wal et al., 2013), and industrial–organizational psychology (van Vugt & Ronay, 2014). In this rapidly growing area with far‐reaching implications, the savanna theory of happiness provides a novel answer to the question of what makes individuals happier and why.