“People, listen! The great lessons of philosophy and art and religion are now being reinforced by evidence from science. This may bore the poets of this world but I find it heartening, because the evidence offers a thousand mirrors, reflecting the complex but ultimately altruistic essence of the human animal. That’s why I love Susan Pinker’s The Village Effect, published in 2013. Pinker reveals the single most powerful insight from current research into psychology, neuroscience and public health, which is this: we humans are happiest and healthiest when we are hanging out and helping each other. We were designed for socializing, and for kindness. Despite all we have been taught by our culture’s purveyors of fear and late capitalism’s narratives of isolating consumerism, altruism flows through our DNA. We get a hit of happy hormones every time we build trust with new people. Socially connected people live up to 15 years longer than socially isolated people.
“Pinker’s revelations come with a caveat, though: the healing power of social contact comes from face time. Hours on Facebook or Grindr or Twitter don’t deliver. We’ve got to actually meet people, and embody our best selves, for the village effect to kick in. Who are the healthiest, happiest people out there? Those who work with friends, allies, and community on a cause bigger than themselves.
“Pinker’s message has rung so true for me I’ve re-calibrated my own path. These days I’m spending less time in front of my computer writing, and more time working face-to-face with people who want to build happier cities. It feels wonderful.”
Charles Montgomery is the author of Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, and The Last Heathen, which won the Charles Taylor Prize for Non-Fiction.