A New Science of Happiness

Dacher Keltner from “Forget Survival of the Fittest: It Is Kindness That Counts,” by David DiSalvo, Scientific American Mind (September 2009):

Dacher Keltner Recent research is suggesting that our capacities for virtue and cooperation and our moral sense are old in evolutionary terms, and these capacities are found in the emotions I write about.

A new science of happiness is finding that these emotions can be readily cultivated in familiar ways, bringing out the good in others and in oneself. Here are some recent empirical examples:

  • Experiences of reverence in nature or of being around those who are morally inspiring improves people’s sense of connection to one another and their sense of purpose.
  • Meditating on a compassionate approach to others shifts resting brain activation to the left hemisphere, a region associated with happiness, and boosts immune functions.
  • Talking about what we are thankful for—in classrooms, at the dinner table or in a diary—boosts happiness, social well-being and health.
  • Devoting resources to others, rather than indulging a materialist desire, brings about lasting well-being.

This kind of science gives me many hopes for the future. At the broadest level, I hope that our culture shifts from a consumption-based, materialist culture to one that privileges the social joys (play, caring, touch, mirth) that are our older (in the evolutionary sense) sources of the good life. In more specific terms, I see this new science informing practices in almost every realm of life.

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