Black and white portrait of Ray Dalio: Narrator and Creator of Life Principles

Principles are ways of successfully dealing with reality to get what you want out of life.

Ray Dalio, one of the world’s most successful investors and entrepreneurs, cites principles as his key to success.

Life Principle

Meaningful work and meaningful relationships aren't just nice things we chose for ourselves—they are genetically programmed into us.

Neuroscientists, psychologists, and evolutionists agree the human brain comes pre-programmed with the need for and enjoyment of social cooperation. Our brains want it and develop better when we have it. The meaningful relationships we get from social cooperation make us happier, healthier, and more productive; social cooperation is also integral to effective work. It is one of the defining characteristics of being human.

Leonard Mlodinow, in his excellent book Subliminal, writes, “We usually assume that what distinguishes us [from other species] is IQ. But it is our social IQ that ought to be the principal quality that differentiates us.” He points out that humans have a unique ability to understand what other people are like and how they are likely to behave. The brain comes programmed to develop this ability; by the time they are four years old, most children are able to read others’ mental states. This sort of human understanding and cooperation is what makes us so accomplished as a species.

In his book The Meaning of Human Existence, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Edward O. Wilson surmises that between one million and two million years ago, when our ancestors were somewhere between chimpanzees and modern homo sapiens, the brain evolved in ways supporting cooperation so man could hunt and do other activities. This led the centers of memory and reasoning in the prefrontal cortex to develop beyond those of our primate relatives. As groups became more powerful than individuals and our brains evolved in ways that made larger groups manageable, competition between groups became more important than competition between individuals and groups that had more cooperative individuals did better than those without them. This evolution led to the development of altruism, morality, and the sense of conscience and honor. Wilson explains that man is perpetually suspended between the two extreme forces that created us: “Individual selection [which] prompted sin and group selection [which] promoted virtue.”

Which of these forces (self-interest or collective interest) wins out in any organization is a function of that organization’s culture, which is a function of the people who shape it. But it’s clear that collective interest is what’s best, not just for the organization but for the individuals who make it up. As I explain in other Principles, the rewards of working together to make the pie bigger are greater than the rewards of self-interest, not only in terms of how much “pie” one gets but also in the psychic rewards wired into our brains that make us happier and healthier.

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