This is social psychologist Dr. Dacher Keltner – on the Finding Mastery podcast with high performance psychologist Dr. Michael Gervais – sharing what he believes is the pathway to happiness and joy.

Dacher Keltner: In the philosophical traditions there’s this idea you know articulated by different philosophers and Marco Nussbaum at the University of Chicago that there are these master passions that are pathways to happiness and joy.

And in general there are three that are really important – compassion which we’ve talked about, awe which is like, “Aww I’m amazed by this thing I’m around,” and then gratitude. Adam Smith felt that gratitude was the key ingredient for healthy societies. I think that’s right which is that when you engage in practices that you’re teaching that make people feel grateful for things that are given to them or make them feel wonder and amazement at the spectacular things around them or kindly towards other people, those basic shifts in your mind are really we’re starting to learn neuro-scientifically are down in the older parts of the brain.

We did studies showing compassion activates an old region in the mammalian nervous system. So, by shifting those older settings in your brain and also shifting ways you look at the world, like boy, there so many gifts in life. 

Then your mind is prepared to appreciate things as you move through the day. To appreciate what we get to eat or the chance to walk in a beautiful park or the chance to be with people you really care about.

That’s really the process that gives you joy and happiness downstream is these core emotions activating these more momentary ways or perceiving things and then joy and happiness that follow so you were absolutely right.

Michael Gervais: Okay there we go!

Dacher Keltner: When people say, “I just want to be happy.” In a way that’s the wrong question. What they should be saying is, “I would love to strengthen my capacity for gratitude or compassion.”

Full podcast available at