When humans have been doing something for hundreds or thousands of years, it probably has served some evolutionary benefit — whether that’s social or biological. That means if we actively choose to eliminate it from our lives, or forget about it, there could be negative consequences.
This is not a new concept, but one that hedge fund manager and author Naseem Taleb brings to light in his new book, Skin in the Game. He refers to the Lindy Effect, which simply means that the longer something has been around, the longer it is likely to stay around. A book that’s been around for 50 years is likely to be around for another 50. It’s also why your grandmother is more likely to be right than the Huffington Post.
This also means that there are plenty of activities, ideas and technologies that are short-lived — from failed companies, fad-diets and ideas that don’t make it past a few years. So, if an effective judge of quality is whether it has withstood the test of time, then what specific activities and ideas have been around for a long time (say, 500+ years)?
Here are a few that come to mind:
- Dancing (alone or with a partner)
- Singing (alone or in a group)
- Sports (watching, playing)
- Rights of passage (rituals, celebrations, 18th birthdays)
- Religion (pick one)
- Gambling (risk taking…)
- Art (paintings, poetry, sculptures)
- Sharing information (books, stories, theatre)
- Drinking Wine (red) and Beer
- And Coffee (black, no sugar)
There are others you can probably think of. This is useful in a couple ways.
- Before calling something irrational because we don’t do it — say, a religion or watching sports — we should stop and think for a second: What purpose has this served throughout human history? Could there be something beneath the surface; if so, can you relate to it and find common ground? Maybe it’s something we also do, but unknowingly in a different form, or might want to consider?
- When you hear some new study, like, “2 glasses of wine are actually bad for you,” it very well could have some scientific backing. But — and this is a big but — the longer its been around, the more skeptical you should be. I always smirk at headlines like “Why singing is good for you” or “The hidden benefits of coffee-drinking,” telling us what we, to a large extent, already know and practice.
Nowadays our lives are often dominated by work — employment by the way, is a relatively new concept and has only been around for a couple of hundred years (although one could argue that it’s a form of indentured servitude/slavery). Meaningful work is certainly beneficial, though. Artisans craft their entire lives, enjoying the activity for what it is, in a state of flow and less concerned with monetary gains and performance reviews.
Outside of work, we furiously check social media; another very recent invention that hasn’t stood the test of time. We drink coffee, sure, and perhaps there’s an occasional vacation or sport that we play in our spare time. Otherwise, many of us spend a majority of our time doing activities that actually haven’t stood the test of time. This is depressing but also exciting. It means that we don’t need to feel guilty if we’re not satisfied, but rather, take it as a clue to live a more balanced life. It also means that our lives could look very different in the next few years.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that CEO’s across Silicon Valley are trading in their smart phones for flip phones, that we have grueling obstacle races like The Tough Mudder where people crave adventure/competition, and that plant-medicines like ayahausca are making a strong “come back.” In reality, we’re all just connecting with our past.
A simple exercise: Take a minute to analyze some of the activities and ideas that you hold onto in your life. This could be everything from your job, hobbies, all the way to your diet and long-held beliefs. What purpose do they serve — are there some that are not giving you meaning or joy? Could it be that there are simply some things that you’ve lost touch with that could be beneficial bringing back?
If you’re stuck in front of a computer all day, perhaps it’s time to whip out the wine bottles and hit the dance floor…or maybe just aim at achieving greater balance by adopting some new activities in life that we’ve all been doing for a long time.