Happy Mind, Happy Life

Happy Mind, Happy Life: 10 Simple Ways to Feel Great Every Day. A science-backed guide to a calmer, happier you.

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The New Science of Awe & How It Improves Your Physical & Mental Wellbeing with Dr Dacher Keltner

by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee   /  March 1, 2023

When was the last time you felt awe? Perhaps it’s an emotion you notice often, evoked by the trees, clouds, or people around you. Or maybe it’s something you associate with more dramatic, less frequent experiences.

Today’s guest, Dr Dacher Keltner, has written a sublime book on the subject of awe. It’s called Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life and in ithe proposes that awe is an emotion that’s all around us, waiting to be discovered – and in doing so, we can transform our health and lives for the better.

Dacher is one of the world’s foremost emotion scientists and Professor of Psychology at the University of California. He’s also Director of the Greater Good Science Center, which studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of happiness and wellbeing. He has spent decades studying the science of happiness and believes that across the world, we are collectively having a moment of reflection and looking for more meaning.

In this conversation, Dacher defines awe as our response to powerful things that are obscure, vast, and mysterious. They’re beyond our frame of reference, making us feel small and filling us with wonder. But you don’t have to go to the Grand Canyon or see the Northern Lights to find them. Having studied people’s understanding and experience of awe in 26 different countries, he’s found eight types which are common – and easily available – to us all.

They include nature, music, moral beauty (noticing others’ kindness), birth and death, and one of my favourites, ‘collective effervescence’. This is that feeling of coming together with others, moving as one, and sharing the same consciousness – and you may have experienced it in a sports stadium, at a music concert, on a dancefloor, in worship, in a choir, or even at parkrun. 

As to the benefits of awe, from calming inflammation to activating the vagus nerve; deactivating our brain’s stress centre, to reducing pain perception, these awe experiences are buffers for many modern health conditions that we can’t afford to miss.

We spoke in depth about how birth and death are strong triggers for awe, sharing our own painful yet precious experiences of watching close relatives die. We also considered how awe reduces the ego and makes you humble. And how having a regular practice of contemplation, like meditation or breathwork, can open us up to easily noticing and benefitting from everyday awe.

I truly believe that Dacher’s work can help all of us find greater meaning and greater health. He’s done a fantastic job of finding the science to support his words, but I think we also know intuitively that what he’s saying makes perfect sense. This was a wonderful and deeply profound conversation that contains science, storytelling, raw emotion and so much more. I hope you enjoy listening.

Disclaimer: The content in the podcast and on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.*

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Watch the video version of this interview – click below.

Find out more about Dacher:

Website       Greater Good newsletter

Dacher’s Podcasts:

Happiness Break

The Science of Happiness

Dacher’s book:

Awe: The Transformative Power of Everyday Wonder

Related Feel Better Live More episodes:

#275 How To Become Happier Today (it’s easier than you think) with Mo Gawdat

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*DISCLAIMER: Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on the podcast or on my website.

†Disclosure: All books marked with a † are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We take part in Amazon’s affiliate advertising program designed to provide a way for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon’s website. You are not charged any extra by using these links to purchase books.

Dr. Rangan Chatterjee MbChB, BSc (Hons), MRCP, MRCGP