If you’ve ever watched Steve Martin’s movie “The Jerk“, you may chuckle at the notion of having a “special purpose”.
Nevertheless, you may have wondered about your own special purpose … what are YOU meant to do? What are some things that give meaning to YOUR life – you know – social connections (having friends and family)?, a sense of purpose (changing the world)? a sense of self-control (earning a good wage, being healthy and having a modest home)? satisfaction that comes from a sense of mastery (playing piano sonatas, perfecting yoga poses)?
Yes, yes, yes and yes … according to this research … these are avenues well worth exploring … keep going!!
Ask your genome, however, and it will surely give you a different answer. By genome, I mean the long chemical strings of A, G, T, C’s that encode the machinery that constitute YOU – your brain and body. It may have a different agenda.
The biochemical problem for the genome is that it is so damn unstable. The long string of A, G, T, C’s has an unfortunate chemical tendency to want to break, slip, loop, slide and in so many other ways come unhinged. We call this process mutation – and for the most part – its something that f**ks up the lives of perfectly good organisms. Damn genome instability!
What’s a genome to do? Apparently, one solution to this problem of mutation and the unfortunate load of mutations that can accumulate within an organism or population of organisms, is to exchange one’s DNA with other similar (but non-mutated) stretches of DNA. Just ‘cut’ out one stretch and ‘paste’ in another, just like you might ‘cut and paste’ a revised paragraph into an essay you are writing. No problemo! Now all those deleterious mutations can no longer continue to pile up in the genome, since they can be cut out, and then new bits of DNA pasted in. This process is known as genetic recombination. In humans this process takes place in the reproductive system … its hypothesized to be the reason that sex evolved in the first place.
Yes, the genome loves genetic recombination (which necessitates having male and females who want to, um, get together) to lower the load of deleterious mutations. What a selfish genome we have (although I’m not complaining)!
OK, so happiness research tells us that we need to have friends, self-direction, purpose, mastery etc … and the genome tells us we need to have (ahem) sex. So who’s right?
… among a sample of 1000 employed women, that sex is rated retrospectively as the activity that produces the single largest amount of happiness. Commuting to and from work produces the lowest levels of happiness. These two activities come top and bottom, respectively, of a list of 19 activities.
Hmmm. Are we a whole lot less sophisticated that we want to admit? Perhaps. Its not a simple answer, but interesting to think that amidst all the effort we make to attain health, close relationships, security, inner-peace, etc … at the end of the day … we just want to have sex.