You can’t paint every ancient culture with the same wide brush. Ancient civilizations were every bit as diverse as modern cultures. However, some ways of living were consistent across ancient cultures. And modern humans can learn a few things from these ways of living.
Here are a few things ancient cultures can teach you about living well.
The Earth Provides
It almost seems like a cliché to say that “the earth provides,” but perhaps that illustrates how entrenched humans are nowadays in human-made solutions. If you can’t fall asleep, you purchase a human-made “white noise machine.” If you can’t concentrate, you download an app to your phone. Of course, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with these solutions. But for millennia, humans got by without them, using what nature provided.
Many ancient cultures understood a human’s relationship to nature in this way: you are a part of nature, and nature wants itself to flourish, so nature will help you flourish. This is the reason so many cultures have traditional medicinal practices.
For instance, East Asian, European and North American indigenous cultures all used Chaga mushrooms to support their immune systems. Other cultures used lion’s mane mushrooms to help with concentration and reishi to relax. Thankfully, these functional plants have made a comeback recently, thanks to companies like Rritual Superfoods who have made them available online (a luxury no ancient culture had).
Activity Is Essential
On the whole, ancient cultures were more active than their modern-day counterparts. This humorous and revealing article from Vice, titled “Our Ancient Ancestors Would Crush Us in a Fitness Competition,” makes the case clear.
Exercise was a cornerstone of everyday life because it had to be. In order to eat, you either had to run down a bounding gazelle for hours or forage through the woods, hunched over, carrying a bundle of edible plants on your back. Nowadays, supermarkets have replaced those inconveniences, but the human body still needs and craves fitness. It still responds favourably to activity by releasing endorphins, an evolutionary holdover from humans’ very early days.
You may not be able to chase a gazelle or lug a pile of firewood around, especially if you live in a city, but you can approximate those activities. Walking, running, and weight training are all great ways to satisfy your evolved need for fitness.
It Takes a Community
Finally, ancient cultures have a thing or two to teach people about the need for community. In contemporary times, people have shifted much of their communication online, chatting with friends on a messenger app or watching YouTube videos of people playing video games. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with these activities, but, in and of themselves, they do not constitute a full, enriching social experience.
According to recent psychological research, the same social media that keeps you interconnected may also contribute to feelings of isolation. Ancient cultures understood the need to share laughs, tears, arguments and agreements in person. They also understood the need for community when it came to child-rearing.
In the pursuit of health and wellness, you can’t entirely dismiss modernity. Modern humans have produced spectacular new medicines, insightful research and accessible, life-saving resources for people. You can, however, take a few cues from the ancestors that came before – their awareness of nature, thirst for activity and reliance on community.