What is the purpose of life?
Why are we born?
Why do we get married and have kids, and then grand-kids?
This article will attempt to answer all these questions from an evolutionary perspective. But first, I want to introduce you to Elaine:
As soon as she was born, Elaine was showered with love and attention from all of her family, especially her parents. The joy on her parents’ faces when they held the tiny creature in their hands was unparalleled.
Throughout her childhood, Elaine’s parents provided for, loved and cared for her. They met all her demands and wishes. “Everything we do is for you, sweetheart”, she had heard her parents say several times.
Elaine moved through adolescence and turned into a fine young woman. She got the best education she could in her country and was now able to support herself. Soon she found a man she thought she could spend the rest of her life with. But things went sour and her relationship ended.
Her parents supported her and encouraged her to move on and find another man. Not long afterwards, she found another man who she accurately judged to be her ideal life partner. They soon got married and had their first child.
When Elaine and her husband held their child, their joy was of the same intensity as that of Elaine’s parents when they’d held her for the first time. The cycle of life had begun again. Elaine and her husband provided their child with all the love, support, and care they could.
In the dusk of their age when both of them were in their late seventies, Elaine and her husband smiled a smile of satisfaction as they saw their grandchildren play in the courtyard. A deep sense of accomplishment and contentment filled their hearts.
Within a couple of years, they both died in peace, satisfied with how their life had turned out.
What the heck is going on?
The story that you just read doesn’t seem like an extraordinary one. In fact, it’s such a boring and commonplace story that if a movie were made out of it, people would deem hanging themselves a better option than to watch it. I know I would.
Yet this story is lived by almost everyone in the world. Go to any corner of the planet and you’ll find most people doing the same things that Elaine did and passing through the same life pattern. Yet, hardly anyone ever wonders why we do all these things.
The fact that almost everyone follows this same pattern in life is no accident. Very few people can exercise any choice in this matter and indeed very few do. Most people, however, do and want to follow this pattern.
So what is the goal of this pattern and why is it imposed on us?
Long story short, the purpose of our evolved psychology is to ensure that we pass our genes successfully onto the next generation. To accomplish this end, we move through the various life stages and act in ways that have the end-goal of ensuring that our genes are successfully passed on to the next generation.
Let’s move through the different stages of life from the beginning and see how our evolved psychology shapes our behaviours and the behaviours of those around us…
Our most important needs when we’re going through our childhood are survival and growth. We want our primary caregivers to love us, care for us and support us.
The psychology of the child and its parents is evolved to ensure that this happens. A child desperately seeks the attention of its parents and other genetic relatives. The parents, in turn, are programmed to shower love and care on the child.
Elaine’s parents loved playing with her, making her laugh, feeding her, wiping her tears and changing her diapers because that’s what evolution has programmed them to do.
In all the buzz of laughter, play, love and care, Elaine’s psychology and the psychology of her parents was working toward a very important evolutionary goal- enabling Elaine to survive and grow in order to reach the age of reproduction.
When a child has finally grown up and can reproduce, the next logical thing it needs to do is to find a mate. As soon as we reach puberty, physiological and psychological changes occur in us to prepare us for reproduction. The psychological changes include seeking an ideal partner.
We’re programmed to select a mate that we’re most compatible with. Besides physical attraction, other psychological factors come into play that make us fall in love with the person we consider our ideal partner.
If we misjudge a person to be our ideal partner, we’re programmed by evolution to end that relationship because having a child and raising it can be a costly affair and needs to be done with the best possible mate.
The first person that Elaine chose was not ideal for her, though she thought he was. Her psychology kicked in and kicked out that person. When she found the most suitable match, she got married.
The stage was set for the successful transmission of her genes to the next generation.
When reproduction is accomplished successfully i.e. a couple have a child, the next important task is to ensure the reproductive success of that child. It means helping the child survive and grow until it reaches the age of reproduction and after that, helping the child find the most suitable mate.
When we’ve successfully made copies of our genes (children), the next task is to help our copies make their own copies (our grandchildren).
Grandchildren are the most satisfying indicators of one’s reproductive success. By having grandchildren, a couple has done the best they could do to spread their genetic copies as further as possible in succeeding generations.
This is why having grandkids is a source of great satisfaction and contentment.
Having fulfilled their evolutionary obligations to the maximum by having grandchildren, a couple can finally die in peace.