Control

The ultimate traits that nature selects are survival and reproduction. Evolved psychological traits will have been selected for their role in aiding survival and reproduction, however tenuously. To the extent that emotions are primitive responses to the environment, they will be attuned to situations that affect the two pillars of evolution.

Because of this, any attempts to install happiness and wellbeing as new drivers of government policy will have to take account of aspects of modern life that affect the two pillars. Perhaps the most pressing need is to increase the feeling of control people feel over their lives. Whether or not this is an illusion is irrelevant to its impact on wellbeing – big life decisions may be conscious or unconscious. Deciding when to have a baby is obviously a reproductive decision, whereas a career move may not seem directly linked to survival or reproduction. Unconsciously however, the mind will have passed its judgement referring to just those criteria. They may only be the final link in a long chain of consequences, but they remain the ultimate reasons.

Psychologically, the key thing is that having independence to make these decisions allows the mind to carry out its will. People who feel they have control over their conditions recover more quickly from mental and physical illnesses. And control over your work is a major determinant of job satisfaction. David Erdal’s books on employee ownership, Local Heroes and Humanity Working, document the many benefits of this business model for its employees. It is intuitive that owning the company you work for leads to greater wellbeing, and increased control over your destiny may be the reason why. It also happens to make good business sense, due to the greater loyalty and productivity engendered.

Access to resources may be the most basic requirement in giving someone more control of their lives, and this access is what is so unfairly distributed in conventional models of the corporation. Knowing that they have a stake in the profits, employees who own their company have a more equitable division of resources.

The chain of reason from survival and reproduction driving evolution, which led to emotional minds sensitive to lack of control, need not be acknowledged by government policy on happiness, or workers who choose employee ownership. They may be more focused on the proximate cause of increased happiness: more control at work. But the ultimate reason remains our evolutionary heritage.

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