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Good Reasons for Bad Feelings: Insights from the Frontier of Evolutionary Psychiatry

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  677 ratings  ·  67 reviews
A founder of the field of evolutionary medicine uses his decades of experience as a psychiatrist to provide a much-needed new framework for making sense of mental illness.

Why do I feel bad? There is real power in understanding our bad feelings. With his classic Why We Get Sick, Dr. Randolph Nesse helped to establish the field of evolutionary medicine. Now he returns with a
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published February 12th 2019 by Dutton Books
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Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
The book looks at mental health from an evolutionary perspective: why did natural selection shape traits that make us vulnerable to diseases? Nesse proposes a theory of how emotions evolved to help us cope with different situations (opportunities and threats) and lead us to behaviors that maximize our chance for reproduction because natural selection doesn't select for health, happiness or long life. From the evolutionary perspective, there are indeed good (from the perspective of our genes) rea ...more
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: health

The basic idea is to give an evolutionary explanation for mental illness. Can evolution explain why we seem to get so easily anxious and depressed? And what about schizophrenia or Alzheimer's?

"Evolutionary psychology" is nothing new, but most of the other writing either focused on explaining human sexual behavior ("why do men want many sex partners?") or trying to justify selfishness ("social darwinism").

This is the first book I've seen which looked at how evolution might expl
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is a very careful and nuanced take on evolutionary psychology--focused on depression, anxiety, and other DSM type "flaws" in humans. Thankfully, it does not try to do what some of the less nuanced scientists do, which is to try to find an evolutionary reason for everything. Nesse makes clear that that is not necessary to explain these things. Instead, he makes some really helpful analogies and graphs showing how these emotions may have evolved. One thing I wish he had covered, especial ...more
Liina Bachmann
It is well documented by now that the “chemical imbalance” theory as an explanation to depression and other mental disorders does not hold. But have we got something better? Nada. The brain is still the great uncharted territory. Evolution has always been a tempting prism through which to explain diseases and human behaviour. It has one grand flaw though - so often those theories are just-so stories. Meaning that they are practically impossible to back up with science (which goes for the social ...more
Joseph L. Graves
Essential Reading

Nothing in biology makes sense save in the light of evolution. Nesses shines that light on the most intractable of scientific problems, the human mind and its emotions. Specifically he provides an invaluable perspective that can help us understand the origin of mental illness. However the book doesn’t just stop with the “why” questions it relates these to the “how” questions. This book can save lives. It offers traditional psychiatry a way out of its dark cave.
Rick Wilson
Jun 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
Another book from a psychologist explaining just how little we know about how the brain works. You’d think at some point they would get tired of shooting holes in their profession. But maybe that’s part of what it takes to want to be a head shrink.

Many interesting assumptions and stories about what might be the case. But nothing concrete. I don’t think we’re there yet with anything resembling a reasonably correct model of mental health and illness. Still, this book rings true with my personal a
Hemen Kalita
Aug 26, 2020 rated it it was ok
The premise is that the negative emotions are there for a reason, they enhance our genetic fitness. Negative emotion is for the brain is what pain is for the body- they tell us that something is not right and we must act to change the root cause and simply trying to alleviate the symptoms wouldn't help. Taking an antidepressant or a painkiller is not a solution.

I think, that's a no brainier and the book doesn't seem to go any deeper than that. As per the subtitle, the book was supposed to be bas
Omar Delawar
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
If you love evolutionary biology or psychology, you are going to love this book! When I saw the blurbs from both Dr. Robert Sapolsky (whose work Behave is a doorstop of intellectually stimulating neurological insights) and Dr. Michael Gazzaniga (who has put out a bookshelf-full body of work on neuroscience and consciousness), I caved and added this new work by Dr. Randolph Nesse to the cart. To be blunt, this was a great idea.

Good Reasons for Bad Feelings is focused on the emerging field of evol
Apr 23, 2020 rated it liked it
The author has a good sense of humor and that helped a lot through some of the tedium. I also greatly appreciated the numerous thumbnail case descriptions. Very interesting there. knew this was coming.....

Unfortunately evolutionary psychiatry doesn't seem to have much behind it and this book mostly just ends up being a call for research.

There could be something of substance here, and I do believe that understanding how and why we are the way we are as an outcome of natural selection i
Michael Tenev
Nov 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: blinkist
Evolutionary biology provides an invaluable perspective on understanding our everyday emotions and behaviors, as well as our disorders. By understanding how our internal systems developed, we can gain insight into issues like mood and eating disorders, and recognize them as the malfunctioning of otherwise useful regulation mechanisms. This approach can also help us to find the real root cause for our dysfunctions, rather than seek ways to treat individual symptoms or otherwise attempt to suppres ...more
Ekaterina Tarapovskaia
Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating book! Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in neuroscience and an evolutionary approach in psychology
Jan 29, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Evolutionary psychiatry is fun. I like how much sense it makes, and I recommend this book if you're into that kind of stuff. Sorry for the lazy review, I've got other projects going on that are more in the interest of my genes as of currently. ...more
Yulia Lee
Jan 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Great introduction to evolutionary medicine with penetrating insights supported by longest citations I’ve seen in a book.
Lisa Butterworth
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: brain-books
There are a lot of things I really like about this book, primarily it's careful and nuanced delve into the evolutionary psychiatry of feelings, moods, and the origins/explanations of the many disorders there of. I loved his discussion of the history of the DSM and all the problems in our categorizing of mental health issues, and the limits of the cause/effect medical model thinking. (ignoring context is one of my HUGE pet peeves, and the DSM is all about ignoring context, which I think is a huge ...more
Aug 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: aty2020, american
For the most part I really loved it and there is a lot of important message here that should be spread to psychologists, health workers and regular people. The book is not without issues though - sometimes it felt like there is not enough space given to alternative explanations, sometimes arguments were not all that convincing, but when such hiccups happen they happen in some minor points.

However, there are two instances questionable/problematic enough for me to deduct one star from the score. I
Jan 11, 2021 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
Is it fair to give thus a one star? I've only read up to the 30% mark before deciding that enough was enough. It's chunky, draggy and dull.

The first three chapters, I struggled to understand where the author was trying to go with the book. I was waiting, and waiting for the interesting bits, namely the good reasons for bad feelings, as per the title. I couldn't understand why he spent a whole chapter talking about natural selection and evolution, until I went to chapter 4 (I didn't quite complet
Iman Shabani
When I first saw this book, and also when I started reading it, I didn't even think of giving it anything higher that 3 stars; but as the book progressed it continually surprised me with the direction it went.

It doesn't give you solutions, nor does it tell you how to improve these stuff, it just simply shows you the reason as to why some things happen, and why they occur a specific way.

However keep in mind that, knowing the problem, is half the solution; and that statement holds true here as we
Sandra S prakash
Jun 11, 2020 rated it did not like it
In his run to cover all the topics, the author couldn't give in-depth knowledge to any of the mental health illnesses. Also, most of the times, the connection between the disease and evolution is vague. There have been times when the author was trying really hard to find a connection.

The book is also really sexist and homophobic. It justifies the gender roles. For some reason, he could only mention gay men while talking about homosexuality. Lesbian women are excluded as a whole. Just because th
Felipe CZ
Sep 19, 2019 rated it liked it
An interesting book and understanding on evolutionary biology and psychiatry, a take on how we have developed, so we can understand our instincts and emotions. Once we gain insight into issues like moods and disroders, we can find the real root cause for dysfunctions, since there is a good reason for all bad feelings like the book's title states. ...more
Mad Hapa
Jul 31, 2019 rated it liked it
An interesting read, but the Innovation Hub interview with the author gives you the gist and takes less time to ingest.
Sep 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
Kind of clunky and didn't really hold my attention. ...more
Megan Wight
Dec 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Why are minds so vulnerable? This book tries to answer this question through an evolutionary and biological perspective. This was a fantastic book. Now, before this book I had been pretty over the evolutionary perspectives of just about everything. I mean, you can pull any sort of theory out of your butt and rationalize it using evolution. It was starting to become obnoxious, and I started off years ago digging the different ideas, only to become burnt out toward them. This book though, made a l ...more
Aug 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
As a Biology graduate who has a great interest in evolution and a casual interest in psychology, this book is fantastic! Its central premise is that if we view mental health in the light of evolution it becomes irelevant: evolutionary forces select for successful reproduction. What happens after that, evolution is not concerned with. Thus happiness and other measures of mental health are not selected for and do not matter. In terms of being a psychiatrist therefore, the argument is to treat the ...more
Aug 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a fantastic read. I stumbled onto this obscure book a couple months ago and finally got lucky enough to get it through the library. This book is a well prepared take on how evolutionary insights can be used towards improving patients issues through therapy. Explaining how are biological algorithms are designed for transporting our genes into the next generation, not our well being. We’re designed to maximize fitness not happiness. That is a monumental difference of epic proportions, this is ...more
Vanessa Princessa
I read this book thanks to Blinkist.

The key message in these blinks:

Evolutionary biology provides an invaluable perspective on understanding our everyday emotions and behaviors, as well as our disorders. By understanding how our internal systems developed, we can gain insight into issues like mood and eating disorders, and recognize them as the malfunctioning of otherwise useful regulation mechanisms. This approach can also help us to find the real root cause for our dysfunctions, rather than se
Oct 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review is more for me than an audience - just jots about what stood out.

I really liked this book and the message in the title. The anecdote about describing a person as "depressed" when there was a horrific situation in their life - of COURSE they're depressed!! I know the feeling of wanting to escape bad feelings but in hindsight the warning alarms were sounding and I could have listened earlier. The more I read about emotions the more I realize I run from them when they need full attenti
Mark Wheat
Sep 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Randolph Nesse, M.D., one of today's prominent figures in evolutionary medicine, explains in a clear, enjoyable, and highly readable book how evolution has shaped emotions and mental illness. He coined the term "smoke detector principle" to explain why modern man has so much anxiety and so many anxiety disorders. Our anxiety/fear system evolved to warn us in life-threatening situations (think sabre toothed tiger), and if it is too insensitive we do not live to pass on our genes. If its sensitivi ...more
Sep 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Dr. Nesse is an expert on the field of evolutionary medicine based on the premise that negative emotions can be useful in certain situations. With intense research and some speculation, the author presents very interesting points in this book. As we understand evolutionary biology, vulnerabilities in our psyche are fundamental survival of our genes! Here are some examples: 1) Anxiety protects us from harm in the face of danger and 2) Low moods prevents us from wasting effort into pathological de ...more
Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
An engaging a deep non-fiction read, although it is much easier to get through with a background in psychology than without one. I had a lot of doubt starting this book, given that evolutionary psychology is such a controversial (and I really mean f*d up) field. However, it turned out to be a very good book, well-researched and well-writtern. Why four stars then?
On the one hand, Nesse is cautionary and optimistic, genuinely caring about research/progress but also people, does not preach or make
Dec 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a fine book on the state of an evolutionary approach to psychiatry. The author Randolph M. Nesse shows that the evolutionary perspective, with its focus on ultimate factors, can provide better contexts in dealing with various mental issues we face in modern times. This, in my view, is very important as many psychological issues are intrinsically philosophical as well as existential. Nesse shows that there are enormous benefits in knowing how the blind watchmaker has shaped us to feel all ...more
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