Dacher Keltner

Our emotions are as complex as they are influential. So, how do we navigate our feelings to enhance our well-being and foster meaningful connections? Dr. Dacher Keltner, a renowned professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center, lives in this intricate world. His pivotal role as a scientific consultant for Pixar’s Inside Out underscores his profound impact on how we understand and interact with our emotions, bridging academic research with mainstream media.

In an insightful discussion, Dacher emphasized awe’s transformative power. He explained how emotions shape our psychology, health, and social systems. Drawing on his latest book, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, he explains how this emotion elevates our daily experiences and deepens our connections to the world. As we dive into his insights, let’s consider actionable steps from Dacher’s wisdom and practical strategies that we can adopt to cultivate a richer, more awe-inspired life.

For the full interview, listen to our ‘Evolving with Gratitude’ podcast episode, embedded in this article (above) and also available on your favorite podcast platform.

The epiphany of awe is that its experience connects our individual selves with the vast forces of life. In awe we understand we are part of many things that are much larger than the self.

–Dacher Keltner

Emotions and Inside Out

Dacher’s collaboration with Pixar on the hit movie Inside Out (2015) brought psychological research into the public eye and emphasized the importance of embracing all emotions. Reflecting on his work with the first Inside Out movie, Dr. Keltner highlighted how sadness, often perceived negatively, is portrayed as essential and beneficial. He noted that embracing such emotions, including sadness, is crucial as they significantly contribute to our emotional well-being and deepen our relationships.

As Dr. Keltner explains, “All of the emotions have their purpose. Even an emotion like envy can lead you to good things if you use it in the right way and don’t hurt people.” His work continues with Inside Out 2, set for release on June 14, 2024. The film explores complex emotions such as anxiety and depression, which affect 30 to 40% of today’s youth. “The film arrives at a thesis that really you can find in all the great contemplative traditions, like Buddhist Meditation, prayer, etc.—Be kind to yourself, be open and accepting of all human experiences.” This message underscores the sequel’s focus on self-acceptance and the value of friendships during challenging times.

All of the emotions have their purpose.

–Dacher Keltner

3 Lessons About Awe

Dacher’s extensive research into the emotion of awe has unveiled its profound impact on our lives. In his book, Awe, Dr. Keltner distills his findings into key lessons that underscore the power of this often-underappreciated emotion.

  1. Awe Improves Mental and Physical Health: Dr. Keltner asserts, “Awe is a feeling you have when you encounter vast mysteries that you don’t understand, and it’s just good for you.” He elaborates that, “It’s good for your immune system. It’s good for your heart. It’s good for your digestion. It’s good for your brain. It’s good for your sense of self. It’s good for your relationships.”
  2. Everyday Awe Is Possible: Highlighting the accessibility of awe, Dacher notes, “People are finding it two to three times a week. It doesn’t take money. It doesn’t take a meditation retreat. It doesn’t take being in the Grand Canyon. It is everywhere.” This dispels the notion that awe is a rare experience, encouraging us to find awe in daily life, from nature to human interactions.
  3. Awe Connects Us to Humanity: Dr. Keltner discusses how awe connects us to what makes us uniquely human, stating, “We find it in nature, in music, in visual things around you… in spiritual or contemplative practice and in the moral beauty of other people.” This connection is vital for building empathy and understanding across different life experiences and cultures.

These insights not only highlight the benefits of awe but also suggest that cultivating this emotion can lead to richer, more connected lives. Dr. Keltner’s work invites us to embrace the vastness of our world with wonder and reverence, enhancing both personal and collective well-being. 

How does awe transform us? By quieting the nagging, self-critical, overbearing, status-conscious voice of our self, or ego, and empowering us to collaborate, to open our minds to wonders, and to see the deep patterns of life.

–Dacher Keltner

Greater Good Science Center

Founding director of the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at UC Berkeley, Dacher describes GGSC as “a place where we turn cutting-edge research into practical resources to help people live better lives.” They offer tools like Greater Good in Action which translate scholarly insights into simple, actionable steps. Additionally, through his podcasts The Science of Happiness and Happiness Break, Dr. Keltner expands this mission by engaging a global audience of hundreds of thousands of people in experiential learning about well-being practices. All these efforts serve GGSC’s mission to use the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being and teach skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.

Call to Action

Let’s take inspiration from Dacher’s work to actively engage with our emotions and harness the transformative power of awe in our daily lives to combat the modern scourge of chronic stress and anxiety. We can start by recognizing moments of awe in everyday experiences—whether in nature, through music, or in acts of kindness—reflecting on how these moments enhance our well-being and connections with others. 

I encourage you to leverage the rich resources at the Greater Good Science Center and implement practices that foster awe, gratitude, and self-compassion, improving well-being and nurturing relationships. 

Together, we can deepen our understanding and practice, contributing to a more empathetic and connected world and a more fulfilled life, guided by the insights of science.

With gratitude,

Connect with and learn from Dacher Keltner

Greater Good Science Center

Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life by Dacher Keltner