Today I was in the human part of the greenhouse after walking around the hill with Jamie, and I noticed that all seven of the chimpanzees were taking advantage of the warm greenhouse on this, dare I say, almost summer-like day.
Watching the chimpanzees each doing there own thing made me think about a Freaknomics podcast that J.B. and I listened to part of last night. It was a series of short narratives taken from the Edge.org book This Idea Must Die.
Before I delve much further into my thought process – two things:
first – you should definitely listen to this podcast if the title intrigues you. I was particularly impressed with the speech by Azra Raza, an oncologist and professor of medicine at Columbia who eloquently argued that the idea of using mice to serve as stand-ins for humans in cancer research is inhibiting progress in finding treatments and cures for human cancers.
and second – if you’re just here for a feel-good blog post and not really up for thinking about what the heck happiness really is – just skip ahead to watch the video of Missy and Annie playing and the photos that follow of what the other chimpanzees were doing in that brief space of time in the greenhouse (I really won’t be offended).
The portion of the podcast that talked briefly about happiness was from Paul Bloom, professor of psychology at Yale. His submission for an idea that needs to retire is that we as a society can figure out how to live better lives through scientifically studying happiness (this is my paraphrasing).
Where my mind went with this was this: perhaps the concept of happiness being the ultimate goal is the idea that needs to retire. Part of what Dr. Bloom expressed is that it’s pretty hard to define what it means to have a happy life.
And here’s where I tie this all in to seeing the chimps in the greenhouse today. If you think of happiness as blissfulness, or elation, or joy, that is what Annie and Missy may have been experiencing in this video:
It seems obvious that, as a sanctuary, we would want to create more moments like what Annie and Missy were experiencing.
But what were the other chimps doing while those two were wrestling?
Negra, as you probably saw in the video, was simply watching Missy and Annie play while lying on the deck of the greenhouse:
Jody was lying on her back, self-grooming nearby
Foxie and Burrito were in the corner of the greenhouse involved in an intense pair-grooming session
Jamie and I had just gotten back from a walk
and she was patiently waiting to groom the cowboy boots that I was wearing as I was taking photos of everyone else
I could probably describe all of the chimpanzees in those moments as happy, but there was so much more to what they were doing, and, unlike our human cultural obsession with seeking happiness, the chimps were just being.
And I think that’s what sanctuary is about – the space to just be. To allow the chimpanzees to figure out what it is they, as individuals, want to do in a given moment, and to be able to do it. And sometimes, like when Burrito gets brave and decides to join in a walk around the hill, it’s not all about happiness – there might even be some challenge to the task, whether that’s overcoming fears or a physical challenge.
I do hope that the years at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest add up to a whole lot of happiness, but I hope too that there are many other experiences that we can provide, and that these experiences allow the chimpanzees to be more fully themselves, whether that’s “happiness” or something else of their own making.