“I wish not to preach the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.” — Theodore Roosevelt
In the 1960’s, a behavioral psychologist and ethologist named John B. Calhoun conducted a series of experiments on a phenomenon he coined “Behavioral Sink”. It was a study of the social psychology of mice in an overcrowded environment, he sought to find parallels between the social behaviors of mice and a possible future in human society.
He used 3000 mice in his experiment, the mice were placed in a utopian habitat where conditions for nutrition, comfort and housing were all provided for.
“At the peak population, most mice spent every living second in the company of hundreds of other mice. They gathered in the main squares, waiting to be fed and occasionally attacking each other. Few females carried pregnancies to term, and the ones that did seemed to simply forget about their babies.
They would move half their litter away from danger and forget the rest. Sometimes they would drop and abandon a baby while they were carrying it.” The study went on for several months and the population became extinct after 900 days.
“The last thousand animals born never learned to develop social behaviors, they never learned to be aggressive, which is necessary in the defense of their young. Not engaging in any stressful activity and only paying attention to themselves, they groomed themselves well so they looked like very fine specimens.”
Dr Calhoun called these The beautiful ones, for their time was devoted solely to grooming, eating and sleeping. They never involved themselves with others and would never fight. They appeared as a beautiful exhibit of the species with keen, alert eyes and a healthy well-kept body.
When the population started declining the beautiful ones were spared from violence and death, but had completely lost touch with social behaviors, including having sex or caring for their young.
Due to the abundance of food and water and lack of predators, there was no need to perform any actions to acquire food or avoid danger. The young had no opportunity to see such actions and to later use them effectively.
Utopia — when one has everything, at any moment, for no expenditure — declines responsibility, effectiveness and awareness of social dependence. Dr Calhoun’s study showed that this leads to self-extinction:
“The lack of challenges gradually spoiled the behaviors of subsequent generations. This degeneration lead to their eventual self-extinction. Due to the lack of challenges, the extinction of the group became inevitable.”
Increased Activity Leads to Fulfillment and Happiness
Another study was done on elderly people in a nursing home. One group was to receive the usual day-to-day care by the caregivers. They had no say in their day to day affairs and were treated as non participants. The other group was treated as active participants and were allowed to perform daily exercise, tasks and encouraged to contribute ideas to the running of the nursing home.
After 10 weeks the results were concluded, the first group displayed no improvements in overall health but instead showed higher levels of apathy and increased physical discomfort and pain. The second group showed more autonomy and self-efficacy.
They were more cheerful, active and rated themselves happier, healthier and optimistic about life. By being involved, being invested in and having something expected of them, the participants gained a sense of empowerment in their everyday lives. Increased responsibility correlated to an increase in their quality of life.
The Catfish and The Koi
Back In the 1800’s, a type of fish called the common carp was bred for color in Japan, by the late 19th century a number of color patterns had been established and this new breed of brightly colored variety became known as the “Koi fish”, a translation from the Japanese which means “carp”.
These beautiful colorful fish made great ornamental pond fish, they were also tolerant of freezing cold and could survive at low-oxygen, low-quality water.
The breed became very popular and caught the attention of Europeans. It was not long afterwards that they were began shipped regularly.
The transporters soon discovered a problem: after the long and boring journey between routes, the fish — having little activity and small room in the barrels — became weak and brittle, and began to lose their brightly colored scaling and desirability.
This caused several issues for the traders. But they soon came up with a solution; use larger tanks, and put catfish in the same tank as the Koi fish.
This solution worked like magic. The catfish ate the weaker Koi and the stronger became better and fitter, by the time they had arrived at their destination, the fish were fit, strong, colorful and healthy.