The Greater Good Science Center's faculty director discusses "the science of a meaningful life": how to raise compassionate kids, reduce greed and selfishness, and find true happiness.
United States


00:00:00welcome to the greater good podcasts on Michael Bergeson in this our first grader good podcast and talking with Decker Keltner the executive editor of greater good magazine and the faculty director of the greater good science center at UC Berkeley where he's also a professor of psychology Daiquiri is a leader in the scientific study of positive behaviors and emotions such as compassion empathy joy and awe he's also the author of the best-selling book Born to Be Good the science of a meaningful life Decker welcome to the greater good podcast the science of a meaningful life that's the subtitle of your book and it's also the tagline of greater good magazine how would you describe the science of a meaningful life and how does it differ from other areas of scientific research
00:00:50there are a couple of reasons why we chatted meaningful was really really good thing to emphasize and and one is what is really meaningful is that which exists between people as we started as I started the signs for my book in the greater good magazine one of the strong conclusion that the science of happiness in science and science of Health meaningful connection is the most direct Pathway to improving your health improving your happiness and improving the strength of your community and so that's why I sent of connection is too sensitive shared story in Sheridan or standing that is really the heart that mean
00:01:50what attraction in my priority is to honor we all get there in different ways and means what it means to lead a meaningful life and to build up healthy community and so some people find meeting in some people will find it in kindness that's a very interesting question scientifically and so meaning really captures that that being that we all given our constitution in her upbringing in the culture were born in to find the meaning of that
00:02:38the title of your book Born to Be Good suggest that you concluded that as a result of evolution we humans are literally born to be good at what in the science has caused you to come to that conclusion
00:02:52well diseases that were born to be good in scientific circles and also the raises eyebrows and people who are steeped in Western original sin and more selfish by nature and kind of this this this paradigm shift in evolutionary thought which is happening is the results of studies of hunter-gatherer peoples and our primate relative switch is it is arriving at this notion that humans are hominy predecessors to do the basic tasks of evolution have Offspring get food protect ourselves in the like we did this really Cooperative groups that selected for people with the ability to empathize
00:03:52reconcile in the face of conflict and for me this is not being good is not a luxury or certified a opportunity we have in times of these it's an evolutionary T-Rex and then the second thing that really convinced it's the kind of Neuroscience and biological science is really growing in science of human emotion which nerves in your chest that help you connect that they're little chemicals like oxytocin that really Drive altruistic behavior and we just published a paper in our lab showing there's a little Jean
00:04:51you know altruistic behavior and pathetic Behavior so we're really pretty clear and horrendous cruelty that we've seen really throughout humankind but especially is in the 20th and 21st century from Auschwitz to The Killing Fields of Cambodia to the genocide in Rwanda and Darfur important light on the question and no one answers the kind of the Walt Whitman answer witches you know we are many things as a human are species as we are born to be good and we have absolutely astonishing capacities for evil pride and for dislike and genocide in the like no one of the issues of Grey
00:05:51magazine was devoted to the topic of are we born racist and there a lot of data River gradoville tendency toward toward disliking and harmful to towards those who are different ride so we're many things I think the Born to Be what is also think about when you think about the genocide in Rwanda or Cambodia or you need strong cultural factors as well to turn on these these prosocial Tendencies right you need a we know and it's it's almost a truism that you need to secure warm families ride to amplify these prosocial Tendencies what we know about Nazism is as scientist discovers that
00:06:51there were very hostile violent you know we know that pro-social Tendencies hour by things like more abundant resources or a culture that that places emphasis on prosocial ideas makes participants more altruistic an experiment and so that beginning what are the cultural processes did turn it on if we have both the the inclinations to Cruelty and to prosocial behavior what are some
00:07:51I'm strategies that we can use to cultivate compassion and to induce humans to act on those compassionate instincts you know I'm in your way that's the most important question that comes out of this research right we know with new scientific studies on caring and compassion couple of examples we know it makes you happier to be giving and compassionate for yourself then if you indulge a desire we know that caregiving in recent studies increases your longevity in the later stages of Life be compassionate if it's something that you see is Karen Armstrong suggest running through all the traditions in human cultures is this emphasis on compassion the big question Michael like you raise it's all right of Education
00:08:51practice family practice and scientist of taking that task and what we're learning for example is if if family members talk about caring and suffering and altruism in the narratives that they tell those kids become more compassionate we know the basic mindfulness that parents can teach their kids of taking a deep breath using language to reflect on their experience actually in longitudinal studies makes those kids we know that giving kids chores duties and working for others longitudinally makes kids more compassionate new discoveries on the question of how you make people and children in particular Market
00:09:51speaking of younger people you as a professor at UC Berkeley you were quite a bit within the graduates so people in their teens and early twenties didn't do you have any thoughts about the differences in this generation as compared to teenagers in 20-somethings in earlier Generations in their approach to compassion and the way they they pursue happiness what we know from survey research is something really interesting which is the last American Youth and I think a lot of parents out there would quickly recognized the mid-1980s you know when Gordon Gekko greed is good and the stock market went crazy and shifted from the Peace Corps to working on Wall Street what we know and that age sector is that
00:10:51what are the most materialistic self-interested groups of people out there in the audience the 20 rolls of today reflection upon the shortcomings of that set of values right where the financial crisis the joblessness the concern over global climate change? Did they do on a daily basis with the 18 to 20 year olds today they're shifting Public Service the more interested in
00:11:42the problems in developing countries than 10 years ago and I think they will return to compassion recognized as as more people than almost any other broad cultural because of his Passion Nails contemporary technology studies that provide Insight on the question of the effect of modern technology a PDA cell phones got to be effective that on the ability of people sick will younger people to be fully present to life to experience compassion to experience deeper happiness to a to dress really deeper if that is perhaps one of the most important applied question
00:12:42it comes out of this literature you know what are these new technologies of the nervous system which are found it on or hear what they're saying it's all this text messaging in Facebook work does it really distract us from those of central Tendencies what we know definitively and young people who my teacher is to recoil at these findings but but this is Rock Solid which is immersion in video games is bad for compassion. There are 25 30 studies controlled studies video games and what we can to 15% of young men dead colleges do
00:13:42if two strangers there less altruistic they read other people's emotions effectively that's bad news and it's only what about text messaging all the time I love you I'll text message you know that I mean teenagers are texting something like three thousand times a month it it it takes a puts a dent in your ability to read emotion and hear people on the upside of what we call social capital or social connectedness of
00:14:36anything that I face in life I have my community behind me so that may be an upside to it will its empirical question there have been several books that have use scientific research really as the foundation for what some would consider self-help books do you have any thoughts about that do you think it produces better self-help books
00:15:06what is an author of a scientific book that's a very loaded question you know I think what we're seeing and your question is really pointing to the tip of an iceberg which is that it's not only self-help books it's the New York Times is starting to get interested in Motion in decision-making and happiness PBS do they do justice to the work right but I think people take them that you can reach a young 16 year old and get them to learn about the science of oxytocin or what have you
00:16:06development that we want to call today Decker Inn in this this science of a meaningful life and has there ever been any applications of the science to practical day-to-day life that you have found to be really impressive a relation and significant impact you know science is only as good in my opinion as call sure that it creates and positive changes the brain to society that's part of our mission people and you know what Michael what I started doing the science you know 10-12 years ago and was a little bit of scared you know how strange to study Compassion or well-being or are they like going to make things better
00:17:06amazing proof of that possibility they are starting to take patients emotions and sense of trust seriously a patient who feels a connection to an MD in the Medical Treatments and there now medical programs for example Johns Hopkins that are patient-centered by this new Sciences of compassionate human connection there is a new survey out that is just out in the last couple of weeks that is finding there's been there's been a lot of Science of empathy and kindness and altruism that is fed into bowling programs
00:18:06kids did bullying in schools because they're taking the steps to intervene you know if you go through these days you will see is emphasis on teaching about success stories out there as someone who's established himself as a leader in this area of the science of the meaning for life you find that people come up to you from time to time and actually look to you to provide answers to them about how to live a happy and it meaningful life I remember how to take out my daughter from school
00:19:06school on University happy kids in the Lycan as playing with my daughter and I accidentally like swinging around and she's crashed to the ground and I'm sure the whole parents are there's that happiness you know it's it's it's a hard business to to take this signs and meaning for life on your own terms and yes what I find really exciting and and really gratifying is that there
00:19:45in a way where a post in line Enlightenment Society world and it's a world that turns to science the morning for life that loves science lost finding out about the The Compassion regions of the brain or finding out about how you can use language to make kids more appreciative or Greatful or how to structure a dinner-time conversation day to teach kids emotional intelligence and what I get Michael are parents of adults use lawyers and judges in a people who who want that signs to guide the ethical life for the meaningful life and and I'm lucky to give it to mention to this and do a long the same lines do you ever feel that you are still in the beginning stages of this this science and that to some degree you're a bit like
00:20:45ancient Greek astronomers who have just started in there for you get some things right but they'll be a lot of things that you get Robert oh yeah I think that you know it is a scientist I was lucky in the following way which is that Charles Darwin who has shaped science more than any human in history wrote a book about human emotion and he said they're all these negative emotions thousands of studies on those and all these amazing positive emotions in Darwin said is our strongest emotion and we're just scratching the surface of what about those emotions and we talked about them today and then we're going to make mistakes
00:21:44we will make some fall starts in and will clarify they're only there only one or two studies of the brain of compassion that's unbelievable end and will it will sharpen and clarify and and that's the humbling part of science what I would have more confidence about is that you know as rights to all the great one of the great ideas and culture and human thought is being good and it's just it as a centerpiece and there I feel confident that science has something really say that will be part of that conversation seems that one question that continues to the devil signs specially neurosciences to to find a link in the brain
00:22:39to Consciousness that is a place in the brain where Consciousness can directly betrays do you think you have a sense of whether we're making progress in that area and the weather will will find it so I often every seminar that I teach on emotion and happiness there's always this stunning moment in The Graduate seminar but what about Consciousness so you know one one way to answer the question is to reduce it's really simple terms in to say well what is consciousness some consensus that it's language that it's social language is the act of communication it is a sense of awareness of things happening in the body or in the social context
00:23:32and with respect your question is the Neuroscience of of these emotions in forming our understanding of Consciousness yes it is the frontal lobes very interesting things like meditation or narrative or language the simple Act of labeling something and gauges you know the ventromedial prefrontal cortex right behind the eyes and a little piece of that layer of Consciousness awareness representation at what new research do you think is on The Cutting Edge and helping us to better understand both the roots of human goodness and how we can promote it
00:24:29well you know as somebody in the physiology in a little bit of an emotion I would frame it as follows which is that you know our listeners
00:24:44probably know a lot about the science of stress right and the physiology of stress because there been 50 years of scientific studies on stress and we know stress kills the damages yourself to damages your brain we know what the stress part of the body is from the hypothalamus to the adrenal glands to the pituitary to the release of cortisol in your bloodstream that is a massive scientific discovery beat disease because it cost extra system down here which is what what about the compassionate nervous system or those reaches of our brain and body but what is on the horizon scientifically on this boring too because he will start to figure that out
00:25:44how is evolved regions of brain nervous system and body that help us be good
00:25:55there are regions of the brain passion it's activated that's that's cool when you give to charity 2007 taper what that says is wow the brain is wired such that being good becomes reward we know out of the tree Aqueduct or a lot of oxytocin networks which and there's a mass of oxytocin literature a little chemical that floats in your brain through your bloodstream in your body that is associated with caring giving resources to others the oceanic feeling of connection to other people there's a neurochemical
00:26:55things and then we just around the story about there's a lot of scholarship on that is devoting itself to the vagus nerve which is this bundle of neurons it starts in your spinal cord calms your heart rate helps engage communicative behaviors that help you connect to others like nodding your head and making eye contact and our lab is finding that is associated with the passion when you're pro-social and that's going to be working with the progressives are autistic individuals have 20 years of science do you have your own sense of where the next big breakthrough will be in and in this area of science
00:27:46yeah I think that you know did just a couple of a of examples you know and again sticking with you know what I know we take take that oxytocin system right in the in the brain and we know oxytocin the fiddle sequence of nine amino acids produced in the hypothalamus is it says he was carrying its associates warm parenting Behavior their select studies finding if you're raised in an orphanage it damage is that part of the system probably system is is is going to emerge like the cortisol system as this is the heart of healthy adaptation to life this is one big part of that we really don't know where it is enamel sweetie we have some beginning understanding of it but it's going to be a very important set of discoveries
00:28:46pics of Princess geology of that help us again clarify what parts of our DNA build up these pro-social nervous systems how did it go or mental disorders and those are stories that the first chapters only written I will have to leave it there thank you very much you're talking to you must be great to be with you Michael thank you
00:29:18the greater good podcast is the production of the greater good science center at the University of california-berkeley Jason Marsh is the producer of the greater good podcast Alton dough is our intern special thanks to the University's Graduate School of Journalism and Milt Wallace for production assistants you can listen to more greater good podcast and find articles videos and other material from greater good magazine at www. Greater good science. Org I Michael Berg Eye Center

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