Modern civilization has brought us enormous benefits. Yet modern civilization has also
brought us drastically different lifestyles. Most of us, live walled indoors, divorced from nature, and under artificial lighting. We drive rather than walk, consume large amounts of unhealthy food, live busy—even frantic—lives, and face new kinds of stress. We live among millions of people and may see more people in a single day than our ancestors saw in a lifetime. Yet though we walk through crowds and fight our way through traffic jams, we can easily feel isolated and alone. Clearly we not only benefit from modern civilization; we also suffer from modern civilization.
We’ve known for some time about the many ways in which contemporary lifestyles can harm our physical health. About a quarter of the world’s population will suffer some kind of mental health disorder during their lifetime. Some disorders, such as depression and Alzheimer’s, are increasing significantly, and exacting an enormous (and increasing) individual, social, and economic cost. Mental health disorders and wellbeing are often intimately linked to lifestyle choices—such as exercise, diet, relationships, time in nature, spiritual practices, and service to others.
However, we’ve only just begun to recognize the many ways in which our lifestyles can harm or help our mental health. Yet it’s now crystal clear that unhealthy lifestyles can foster or worsen all sorts of psychological problems, including loneliness and depression, anxiety and agitation, troubles with attention and concentration, difficulties performing at school or work, loss of intellectual sharpness, and even dementias such as Alzheimer’s and diseases such as Parkinsonism.