Dacher Keltner is a social psychologist who focuses on the prosocial emotions, such as love, sympathy and gratitude, and processes such as teasing and flirtation that enhance bonds. He has conducted empirical studies in three areas of inquiry.

A first looks at the determinant and effects of power, hierarchy and social class. A second in concerned with the morality of everyday life, and how we negotiate moral truths in teasing, gossip, and other reputational matters. A third and primary focus in on the biological and evolutionary basis of the benevolent affects, including compassion, awe, love, gratitude, and laughter and modesty.

Professor Keltner is Co-Director of The Greater Good Science Center and the author of Born to Be Good.

“When people say ‘I just want to be happy,’ in a way that’s the wrong question. What they should be thinking about is, ‘I would love to strengthen my capacity for gratitude or compassion.’”

In This Episode:

  • Parents enabling to him search for what he loved
  • The cost of living a life fueled by passion
  • Being overwhelmed with panic attacks in early life
  • Utilizing your imagination to tackle anxiety by constructing alternatives
  • Strategies for controlling emotions through breathing
  • The difference between feelings, emotions, and sensations
  • The 15 basic themes in life that matter to us
  • Showing compassion in the right context
  • How people acquire power
  • The problems that arise once people obtain heightened power
  • Key signs that power has corrupted someone
  • The role he played assisting with the movie “Inside Out”
  • The pathways to happiness + joy: compassion, awe, and gratitude
  • The tensions between compassion and power
  • Understanding when exerting tough compassion is necessary


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“I believe [breathing] is just as important as the crunches people do in the morning – (the physical training) and the dietary training that we do now. I think breathing is as important as any of those. I treat it as a physical exercise.”

 “I think (breathing) is the most important thing people can do for wellbeing.”

“You get power by stirring other people and advancing the interests of the social collective.”

 “When you feel like you’re on top of your game- your winning, the best in the group, made a lot of money or whatever the form of power is, your mind shifts. You feel euphoric, like your invincible- less aware of the risks around you and more aware of the things that gratify your own desires and how you should get them. It shifts your mind out of this empathetic way of looking at the world to a sloppy, self-interested way. It causes a lot of problems.”

“We know when people feel powerful they stop looking at other people when they are speaking. They are more likely to interrupt others. They’re harsher in their statements to others. They’re more inspired by their own experiences and less by good things happening in other people’s lives.”

“If you’re not feeling really moved by what people say, that suggests your power is getting in the way of healthier leadership.”

“We want to always be grateful for our power. To feel like it’s a privilege to lead or influence other people and to be humble about it.”

“One of the things that the great U.S. Presidents had is an ability to cultivate empathy and compassion.”

 “The right kind of compassion enables power.”

 “There is a really interesting distinction between awareness and suppression of feelings.”


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  • The Science of Pixar’s “Inside Out”
  • Harvard Business Review Piece on Power & Corruption
  • Virginia Woolf – an English writer and one of the foremost modernists of the twentieth century
  • George Eliot – an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era
  • D.H. Lawrence – was an English novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, literary critic and painter
  • Walt Whitman – an American poet, essayist, and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works
  • Zen Buddhism – school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty as Chan Buddhism. It was strongly influenced by Taoism and developed as a distinguished school of Chinese Buddhism
  • Taoism – a Chinese philosophy based on the writings of Lao-tzu , advocating humility and religious piety
  • Matthieu Ricard – a French writer and Buddhist monk who resides at Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery in Nepal
  • Richard Lazarus – Emotion & Adaptation
  • Agency- the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices
  • Stirring- causing great excitement or strong emotion; rousing
  • Piloerection – involuntary erection or bristling of hairs due to a sympathetic reflex usually triggered by cold, shock, or fright or due to a sympathomimetic agent




Social Psychologist, Co- Director at

Dacher Keltner is a social psychologist who focuses on the prosocial emotions, such as love, sympathy and gratitude, and processes such as teasing and flirtation that enhance bonds. He is Co-Director of The Greater Good Science Center and the author of Born to Be Good.