Dacher Keltner is a social psychologist who focuses on the prosocial emotions, such as love, sympathy and gratitude, and processes such as teasing and flirtation that enhance bonds. He has conducted empirical studies in three areas of inquiry. A first looks at the determinant and effects of power, hierarchy and social class. A second in concerned with the morality of everyday life, and how we negotiate moral truths in teasing, gossip, and other reputational matters. A third and primary focus in on the biological and evolutionary basis of the benevolent affects, including compassion, awe, love, gratitude, and laughter and modesty. Professor Keltner is Co-Director of The Greater Good Science Center and the author of Born to Be Good.
Question: How do you lead a meaningful life?Dacher Keltner: I’ve studied these emotions that I write about, and really the focus of my lab and this book, Born To Be Good [the sub-title of this book is, The Science of a Meaningful Life], emotions like compassion and reverence and laughter. We so under-appreciate play and silliness and love and gratitude and modesty.
What became really apparent to me, as I learn to see these emotions in other people scientifically, and then very interestingly, took that knowledge and engaged in an act of self-reflection is that those emotions tell me when I’m leading a meaningful life, when I feel grateful, or when I feel reverential, or respectful towards somebody, or compassionate; and that I feel how they hum in my nervous system and feel all the chemical effects of them, which is you feel a sense of a greater purpose and deep well-being.
And so for me, those emotions are the key. And it’s interesting when people study, in psychological science, really older people, right, who are always important to think about as they near death, there’s this idea of generativity [sic] that becomes the central theme in an old person’s life. And it really is founded on feelings of appreciating what people give them and a sense of kindness and gratitude.
So, those to me are the pathways to the good life.
Recorded on: Jan 30, 2009.