Happiness 2.0: The Reset Button

    A small act of kindness can have an exponential effect on someone's life. Sharing your passions and being yourself can make a huge impact on someone going through a difficult time.

    enFebruary 27, 2023

    About this Episode

    Many of us rush through our lives, chasing goals and just trying to get everything done. But that can blind us to a very simple source of joy that's all around us. This week, in the final installment of our Happiness 2.0 series, psychologist Dacher Keltner describes what happens when we stop to savor the beauty in nature, art, or simply the moral courage of those around us. 

    Check out our previous episodes on happiness, including our conversations about chasing contentment and finding your purpose.

    If you like our work, please consider supporting it! See how you can help at support.hiddenbrain.org. And to learn more about human behavior and ideas that can improve your life, subscribe to our newsletter at news.hiddenbrain.org.

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Connecting with nature, even for a short while, can significantly improve our mental and physical well-being. The benefits include lower stress, improved mood, better overall health, and reduced anxiety. Make time for nature to improve your mental and physical health.
    • During difficult times, finding a sanctuary and connecting with others can help alleviate anxiety. Music and nature, in particular, can be powerful tools for grounding and bringing people together.
    • Engaging in activities that cause feelings of awe, such as sports, music, and immersing oneself in nature, can help escape anxiety, activate pro-social emotions, and lead to an appreciation for awe-inspiring moments in life. Early exposure shapes one's perception of the world.
    • Awe is a complex emotion that challenges and expands our understanding of the world. Nature is a common source of awe that both inspires and threatens, but scientific research can help us comprehend its impact on our lives.
    • Encounters with goodness and kindness, as well as moments of epiphany, can bring deeper meaning and peace. Meeting inspirational figures like the Dalai Lama can have profound effects on our perspective and understanding of humanity.
    • Awe is a useful emotion that connects us to others and helps us understand the world. However, we should be aware of its potential drawbacks, such as mistaken pattern recognition and blindly following charismatic leaders.
    • Experiencing awe, such as through moments of natural wonder or historic significance, can shift our perspective from self-interest to a broader sense of collectiveness and inspire us to be more cooperative and giving towards others.
    • Exposure to awe-inspiring experiences, such as nature and moral beauty, can reduce stress levels, increase happiness, connection to others, elevate vagus nerve activation, and strengthen the immune system. Incorporating more awe in our lives can improve overall well-being.
    • Experiencing awe can improve health and well-being by reducing stress and anxiety. Awe walks and mindful appreciation of everyday experiences can bring more awe into our lives and enhance its benefits over time.
    • Awe can provide solace and connection in times of grief, and can transform our everyday experiences into something profound.
    • A small act of kindness can have an exponential effect on someone's life. Sharing your passions and being yourself can make a huge impact on someone going through a difficult time.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    The Healing Power of Nature: Discovering the Link between Nature and Mental Health.

    Scientists today are exploring the connection between nature and mental health. When we take time to appreciate natural beauty, it can have a profound impact on our psychological well-being. Nature has the power to calm us, elevating our thoughts and reducing anxiety. Studies show that being in nature can lower stress hormones and lower blood pressure. Being exposed to natural light and fresh air are also important for our physical health. The romantic poets may have been on to something – nature can inspire us and improve our mental and physical health. It's essential to make time to enjoy the natural world around us.

    Finding Connection and Sanctuary During Difficult Times through Basketball, Music, and Nature

    During a difficult time in his life, Dacher Keltner and some fellow academics formed a basketball team, and it became a sanctuary for him to leave behind anxiety and feel connected with others. Music is also a powerful tool for Keltner, as he finds it speaks to our souls and can transport us away from our struggles. He shares a story about meeting Iggy Pop at a concert and how it gave him strength and courage in his career as a professor. Keltner also shares a story about a summer storm and how he and his wife found peace and connection despite the threat of danger. These examples highlight the importance of finding connection and sanctuary during difficult times, and how music and nature can bring us together and ground us.

    The Benefits of Awe-inspiring Experiences for Mental Health and Well-being.

    Dacher Keltner's personal journey and scientific exploration of awe reveals that engaging in activities that cause feelings of awe, such as sports, music, and immersing oneself in nature, can be beneficial for mental health and well-being. By losing oneself in such experiences, one can escape the narrow preoccupations and shackles of anxiety. Awe-inspiring experiences can activate pro-social emotions like love, compassion, and gratitude, and can be used as a tool to find happiness in life. Early exposure to awe-inspiring art, literature, and music can shape one's perception of the world and lead to an appreciation for the awe-inspiring moments in life.

    The Power and Mystery of Awe

    Awe is a complex emotion that arises when we encounter vast mysteries that we don't understand. It requires the need for accommodation, as we rearrange our knowledge structures to make sense of what we have encountered. Nature is a common source of awe, and it can be both inspiring and threatening. Awe destabilizes us and introduces profound uncertainty about our understanding of the world. It's an ineffable emotion, but one that people want to talk about. Awe can make us uncomfortable and bring us into deeper waters, where we confront the mysteries of the universe. Scientific research can help us better understand the experience of awe and its impact on our lives.

    The Transformative Power of Moral Beauty and Awe-Inspiring Encounters

    Moral beauty, epiphanies, and encounters with awe-inspiring individuals can provide a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in life. The goodness and kindness of everyday people can inspire us to be better human beings, and epiphanies can lead to a new understanding of reality. Meeting the Dalai Lama provided a profound moment of awe that changed the way Dacher Keltner thought about humanity. These experiences can also reduce anxiety and bring about a sense of peace, as we realize there is a deeper structure of compassion within us.

    The Power and Risks of Awe

    Awe is a universal emotion that helps us connect with others and understand the world around us. It leads to a systems view of life and promotes scientific and social understanding. However, there are risks of awe, such as seeing patterns where there aren't any or blindly following charismatic leaders. Awe makes us feel small and part of something larger, which is vital for our survival. Evolutionary perspective suggests that awe is a basic emotion and is traced back to our primate mammalian ancestors. It is crucial for a systems view of life and provides insight into our ecology and resources.

    The Power of Awe to Connect and Inspire Prosocial Behavior

    Experiencing awe can lead to a sense of connectedness to something greater than oneself, which can shift our focus from a narrow self-interest to a more communal and collective identity. This can result in more prosocial behavior, such as increased cooperation and generosity. Awe-inspiring experiences, such as viewing natural wonders or historic artifacts, can help quiet our egoistic and self-focused sense of personal identity, leading to a more outward perspective. Such experiences can also lead to a broader sense of common humanity, leading to themes of collectiveness and connectedness. Even brief moments of awe can have a lasting impact on our behavior, inspiring us to be more cooperative and giving towards others.

    The Power of Awe on Our Health and Well-being

    Awe has a positive impact on our mental and physical health. It can provide a reset button for our minds and help us look at things anew. Studies have shown that exposure to awe-inspiring experiences, such as being in nature or experiencing moral beauty, can help reduce stress levels and increase happiness and connection to others. Awe can also have physiological effects on our bodies by elevating vagus nerve activation and strengthening the immune system. This is particularly important for disadvantaged groups, such as veterans and impoverished students, who often experience higher levels of trauma and stress. By incorporating more awe in our lives, we can improve our overall well-being.

    The Benefits of Awe for Well-Being and How to Incorporate it into Everyday Life.

    Feeling awe can quiet down inflammation response, reduce distress and anxiety, and improve overall health, but our society is becoming awe deprived due to structural conditions like technology and competition. Awe walks, where individuals purposefully engage with wonder in their surroundings, can increase levels of awe and decrease distress and anxiety. Awe doesn't diminish with experience but gets richer and deeper over time. Awe can be found in everyday life, even in the parts that are not great. Incorporating awe into our lives can lead to significant improvements in overall well-being.

    Finding Awe in Grief: How a Trip to the Mountains Helped Dacher Keltner Connect with his Late Brother.

    Dacher Keltner shares his profound relationship with his brother Rolf and how his brother's battle with colon cancer taught him how to be kinder and courageous. After Rolf passed away, Dacher was blown off the map by grief and struggled to cope with his loss. However, he found solace and a connection to his brother by going on a trip to the High Sierras where they had hiked together. In the mountains, Dacher felt his brother's presence and was filled with awe. Through his experience, he emphasizes the importance of finding awe in our everyday lives and how it can transform us.

    The Healing Power of Insects

    Alie Ward's life felt like it was collapsing when her partner left her, her new job wasn't working out, and her father was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. However, when a stranger named Leila Higgins, an entomologist, invited her to check out an insectary, it brought her back to her love of science and nature. The experience of seeing scorpions, larvae, and dead bugs renewed her sense of purpose and helped her reconnect with her passions. This one invitation changed Alie's life and she now volunteers at the museum. Leila's small act of kindness had an exponential effect on Alie's life, something she probably doesn't fully understand. Just being herself and sharing her love for bugs made a huge impact on someone going through a difficult time.

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