Something quite miraculous has just happened.

Through a strange turn of events, much more complex than you might realise, you have come to be in possession of this book, reading these words, without ever appreciating how little choice you had in the matter. Perhaps a friend recommended it to you, perhaps you walked past it in a bookshop and the cover caught your attention, or perhaps you stumbled upon it online while browsing for cat videos. For some reason, you decided to take a closer look. Whatever reasons you might think you had to do so, there’s a good chance there is more to it than meets the eye.

We’ll get back to that.

In the meantime, let’s take a moment to appreciate what a lucky son of a gun you are to be here at all, with a life to call your very own.

Perhaps you don’t quite grasp how astronomically, astoundingly fortunate you are.

If you think your love live is tough, think of all the bad dates, heartbreak and mind games it took to get you here. Not just for your parents, but also for each of their parents, and each of their parents in turn, over approximately ten thousand generations.

Of all the people on the planet available to them (which admittedly may not have been all that many before the age of online dating, planes, cars or even shoes), each of your ancestors had to find one specific person and successfully mate with them at a particular time to pass down the exact combination of genes necessary to create you all these years later.

You are far luckier than just that though. You haven’t had to deal with a lot of problems your ancestors did. In fact, throughout most of history, difficult love lives were the least of peoples’ worries, as they were generally more preoccupied with avoiding starvation, disease, war, getting eaten, having heavy things dropped on them, falling into crevices, freezing, drowning, dying of thirst and other somewhat disagreeable fates. Every single one of your ancestors had to be blessed enough to stay alive, at least long enough to procreate and ensure their offspring’s survival, or you wouldn’t be here. Worrying about whether your crush was ignoring your text messages wasn’t high on anyone’s priority list.

Even before all these struggles, a huge amount of serendipity was required for modern humans to have existed in the first place. Perhaps as early as 4.3 billion years ago, an extremely specific and rare set of conditions occurred on planet Earth, allowing the first microorganisms to come to being. Despite bearing virtually no similarity to what we are today, these indistinct micro-blobs were technically our very, very first ancestors, trillions of generations ago.

Slowly and steadily, they passed down their genes, evolving and adapting over countless generations. New species began emerging and started gaining fancy new skills such as photosynthesis, sexual reproduction, motion, sight and flight.

From multicellular lifeforms to molluscs to plants to dinosaurs to mammals and eventually homo sapiens, it has been a long and arduous journey for everyone concerned. No wonder everybody seems so tired.

And sitting pretty at the (current) end of the evolutionary chain is you, still carrying genes from those very first blobs, in an astoundingly unbroken line of descent.

Most species along the way didn’t make it – it is estimated that 99% of all species that ever lived on Earth are now extinct. To be clear, that’s about 5,000,000,000 extinct species. Not only did your species survive, it is undoubtedly the most successful surviving species on the planet by a long shot. This alone makes you part of the 1%, arguably the most important 1% that there is.

And why stop there? If we go back even further, for life to exist on Earth, there had to first be an Earth, and indeed a sun and a solar system. This required a hefty amount of physics and chemistry, as large amounts of matter slowly accreted into a massive planet and began slowly morphing into its present state.

The word ‘slowly’ is not used lightly here. When the Earth first formed around 4.54 billion years ago, it was a molten rock with almost no oxygen. It was at least a few hundred million years before the first life emerged on Earth. Even then, the Earth was nothing like it is today and could not have supported human life. It took a long time to get to where we are today.

And for Earth, or for that matter anything at all, to exist in the first place required the formation of the universe, a generous 13.8 billion years ago, a figure that hopefully won’t be out of date by the time you read this. Before that, nothing could exist because there was rather inconveniently nowhere for it to exist in.

Perhaps the biggest point to note here is that not a single one of these things had to happen or had any reason to happen. There is no particular motivation for the universe to exist, no particular reason that a small planet should exist in this tiny corner of the universe, just the right distance from a sun that is just the right size with just the right conditions for life to begin. There is certainly no reason that events should have unfolded in the precise, exact and only way that they could have in order to result in the existence of you today.

So you see, you are a miracle billions of years in the making. Species have lived and died, continents have shifted, the climate has changed multiple times, and many, many living beings have gone through unspeakable challenges to pass on their genes, allowing you to exist at the current stage of this very long, very miraculous chain of events. If anything had gone differently at any single stage of the process, you simply wouldn’t exist, or at least not in the same way that you exist today. For every being alive today, there are many, many more that never made it.

So welcome, and congratulations. You truly are a miracle of nature. Along with all the rest of us.


It took a lot of work to get you here. Quite literally mountains were moved, and seas were parted as part of the complicated process by which you now come to be here, perhaps idly scratching your buttocks while reading this book.

Given how lucky we are to be here, ideally we want to be making the most of our lives. It would be quite disappointing to win the incredibly unlikely lottery of existence, only to live a life of internal struggles, strife and general unhappiness, and yet this is what many of us promptly proceed to do as soon as we possibly can.

Undoubtedly, modern life puts a lot of stresses on us. Perhaps more than at any time in history, we are subjected to often crushing mental and emotional pressure from all directions. We’ve replaced some very real, very immediate problems our ancient ancestors faced in the past (not dying) with countless new problems, many of which are not particularly real or important, except in our own heads, or in the collective heads of society. We score a lot of self-inflicted own goals on ourselves, emotionally and mentally, causing ourselves much unnecessary grief. This results in us being less happy than we could be, more stressed than we need to be, more anxious than it's healthy to be and generally living life less well than we could.

Young children are generally a lot better at being happy. They find joy in small things, they get over upsets quickly, they don’t see offense, insult and doom wherever they look, and they find it rather uninteresting to obsess over money, designer handbags or luxury watches. But as soon as we grow up and know better, this is precisely what we do.

Why is that?

For that matter, why do we do any of the things that we do?

The strange thing about being human is that being one doesn’t automatically make it easy to understand one. We don’t understand other people, and we don’t really understand ourselves.

It’s as if a body arrived on the doorstep one day, and we slipped it on, but there’s no user manual.

Given the lack of instructions, we just go by our gut feel, testing things out as we go along, without really ever knowing for sure what those dials actually do, or what happens if you push the big red button.

It feels like we’re playing a game without knowing what the rules are. We’re bringing tiddlywinks to a gunfight.

Sometimes we do things and have no idea why we did them.

Sometimes we specifically want to do things, but don’t.

Sometimes we specifically don’t want to do things, but do.

Sometimes we feel emotions that we do not wish to feel, and think thoughts that we do not wish to think.

So who exactly is in charge here?

Why do we feel the way we do? Why do we behave the way that we do?

And why are we consistently less happy and less satisfied than we could be?

This book is about what it is to be human. It is about obvious things that aren't obvious.

If we’re going to get the best possible experience out of life, we need to understand what we’re dealing with. There are a number of fundamental concepts about being human that most of us never realise, or even if we do, don’t truly grasp.

Understanding these concepts are key to better understanding human nature, who we are, and why we do the things that we do. They allow us to look under the hood and understand how we operate, and what our limitations are.

Only when we understand what our shortcomings are can we begin to fix them. Only when we understand the rules of the game can we really start to push the limits. Once we understand the nature of the beast, the beast in this case being ourselves, we can begin to tame its wilder impulses and guide it in the right direction.

The aim of this book is to provide you with this understanding, along with some ideas and tools that you can use to make life just that little bit easier, happier and more meaningful. It is to get you to think about the human experience, and what you want out of yours.

Let’s get started.