Among many complex thinkers, one of the greatest tools is evolutionary theory. Understanding our behavior through evolutionary psychology helps us to learn about where we came from and how that might inform where we are today and where we are going.

In many circles, evolutionary theory provides practical applications; the Paleo diet has quickly become popular (citing the way our ancestors ate). 

Within the past few decades it has become increasingly clear that humans were meant to have strong community ties.

The ancestors who evolved as hunter-gatherers only survived because of their ability to communicate and work together. Many species are solitary, but homo sapiens is not one of them

This has become a topic of increasing debate and interest as the numbers of mass shootings rises exponentially. While common-sense gun control may be helpful, it is obvious these people are sick and lacking something.

According to author, journalist and war correspondent Sebastian Junger, what people are missing is community and sense of a close-knit tribe.

The data confirms what he and others have believed for some time. According to a 2006 study in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, the prevalence of depression was highest among urban residents of Canada and the United States while it was lowest in rural Nigeria. 

The study clearly shows that despite a vast difference in socio-economic status (and thus stability and security), the people who are more closely affiliated with a tight-knit community had less anxiety and depression.

We went from tribes of 100 – 120 to nuclear families of 3 – 5. We are far more isolated than ever before and here are a few surprising ways to remedy that.

#1. Sitting in Circles – there is something about sitting in a circle with a group of friends and family, which is more gratifying than most other social interactions. Perhaps it is due to our ancestral past where we’d sit around camp fires for tens of thousands of years. Perhaps it was because we could see everyone equally and more readily find presence with each other.

For whatever reason, sitting in a circle can be extremely powerful. New ways of doing this are springing up all the time. An example is the cacao ceremony whereby people uses ceremonial cacao paste and serve the beverage with specific intentions and traditions.

In truth, there is very little evidence about the cacao ceremonies our ancestors would have created. The Maya, Aztec, and Olmec civilizations coveted cacao and wealthy people utilized ceremonies as early as 3500 years ago. What they looked like is a mystery, but even when we are creating our own versions, we bring community together, which does us an incredible service for wellbeing and fulfillment.

#2. Sharing Fresh Meat – as we pass the season of Thanksgiving, the idea of sharing gratitude around a meal doesn’t seem foreign. But having a single meal of deep appreciation once a year seems like a missed opportunity.

Ethical hunting to be more connected to the process of killing and preparing meat can do wonders in bringing a community together. Many people have never tried wild game meat, such as venison or elk, and by hearing the story and knowing the freshness, it is easy to bring a wide variety of people to dinner and have more frequent feelings of gratitude for the animal that died.

#3. Collaborative Dinners – eating at restaurants removes a lot of the headache and friction from a meal, but it misses yet another community building opportunity.

I’ve created “Intentional Dinners” whereby guests (many of whom I do not know) bring 5 random raw ingredients to cook dinner with 5 – 10 other people. The process of dividing into groups, collaborating to cook dishes, and sharing the food we made is a deeply rewarding experience.

Yes, eating out together can create the opportunity for bonding. Collaborating on dinner creates an even deeper relationship not only with the food, but with the people who helped you to create it.

#4. Gender Bonding – it’s no surprise that men sometimes feel more comfortable sharing things with other men and vice versa. It is great to see equality of opportunity spread throughout the western world and United States, but that doesn’t mean specific time in a men’s or women’s group isn’t warranted.

For men, these organizations can be incredibly important. In a world where men are told to bottle their emotions and “man up” something like the Mankind Project has incredible value. Other groups, such as Evryman, have also allowed men to do “men’s work” (deep, emotional work) that proves valuable for themselves and the world. The same is true of Women Within, an organization that facilitates “women’s work”.

In an ancestral world, this makes sense. While the tribe was extremely close, there were many times when males were away from the camp on hunting trips and females banded together. 

Recreating Our Past

Our ancestors didn’t live what we would consider the greatest, stress-free lives. As author Steven Pinker suggests, the world is getting better on the whole. We have less violence, less rape, less war, and less famine than our ancestors (at least in the western world). These are things to be grateful for.

By the same token, we must realize there were elements of our past that shape us today. We are a deeply social and community oriented creature and failing to acknowledge and nurture this aspect of our nature leads to all sorts of mental health problems for our society.

We do not want to recreate all aspects of our past, but pick and choose what makes life more meaningful and fulfilling to us today. I hope the few suggestions I’ve made will help.