Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life
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Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life

3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  246 ratings  ·  37 reviews
In this startling study of human emotion, Dacher Keltner investigates an unanswered question of human evolution: If humans are hardwired to lead lives that are “nasty, brutish, and short,” why have we evolved with positive emotions like gratitude, amusement, awe, and compassion that promote ethical action and cooperative societies? Illustrated with more than fifty photogra...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 5th 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2009)
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Modern Girl
I bought this book and started reading it because it was advertized as a sociological study of how people are inherently good. The first chapter introduced the concept of jen, which comes from Eastern philosophy and means all the positive social interactions, and positive social capital. The first chapter was amazing and I thought I was going to read a boo about Buddhist philosophy, or media analyses, or a sociological critique that we're all motivated for good.

But that's not what I got. I inste...more
David
This book makes the compelling point that human nature is not exclusively selfish, as epitomized in Dawkins' title "The Selfish Gene", but instead exhibits, in many respects, cooperation and compassion. Keltner correctly notes that Darwin himself first suggested this, insisting on "the greater strength of the social or maternal instincts than that of any other instinct or motive." What's more, this instinct of trust and compassion has expanded in recent times to extend beyond the family. As Pete...more
Lynn
Totally biased, simplistic, and overly optimistic, but some of the studies presented were interesting. There are much better accounts of our evolutionary nature than this, including Michael Shermer's Science of Good and Evil and anything by Steven Pinker. Barbara Oakley's Evil Genes also gives a different perspective.

This guy has an agenda, and he doesn't want to present any evidence or interpret any evidence contrary to it. He would make a great guest on Oprah. Adam Smith was unfairly disparage...more
Marissa Morrison
Definitely worth reading. The presentation of Darwin's work with emotion and body language was especially interesting. It was also good to learn about the vagus nerve, how men and women communicate differently through touch, and how encountering the Dalai Lama makes people feel good for days. Ultimately I wish that this book had been longer and more detailed.
Keats Snideman
Still reading it..finding it very thought provoking and provides some great insight into our evolutionary development of cooperation, compassion, and doing good for others. Its got a little bit of evolutionary biology, nueroscience, psychology; pretty cool.
Kathryn Bashaar
The author, a professor at UC Berkeley, explains how he and his students and other researchers are demonstrating that positive emotions and behavior such as smiling, touching, and caring for others, are biologically based and have their origins in our evolution as a species who must care for our young over a very extended number of years. Some of it gets a little dry and boring, but it is very uplifting to read of biological evidence of how "fearfully and wonderfully made" we are not only as phy...more
Mahala Helf
Keltner is a working researcher as well as a prosocial activist. His research is fascinating. His footnotes are a treasure chest. His prose, though, can be confusing, most noticeably in his attempts to present opposing theories from the past and in his use of multi-syllabic latinate words and long sentences.
The anecdotes about his life & family and many of his philosophically based assertions were distracting at best.
The topic is crucial and fascinating--I hope in his next popular article...more
Unwisely
Another book that I have no idea why I put it on my to-read list. (It's like messages from my past self.) I almost didn't get past the first chapter, because it was sort of bizarre. I guess the whole jen thing was supposed to be a frame, but it didn't seem to tie anything together. So if you think that's weird, don't worry about it, the rest of the book is pretty much about how facial expressions can affect mood and how people are wired to not be a-holes (the current American political climate n...more
Paula
The author's premise is that humans are wired for cooperation, not competition. He proved his point fairly well, but not perfectly. I like the premise, though!
Ann
Not the most accessible writing, but the premise is a solid and interesting one. The author posits that humans are not selfish, agressive creatures, but instead are hard-wired to be caring and cooperative. The book explores the gamut of emotions and facial expressions and how they relate to the evolution of human society. He believes that the secret to happiness is in the jen ratio - the balance of good and bad in your life - and that this ratio can be changed if we learn to recognize and embrac...more
Kemaki45
Sep 21, 2014 Kemaki45 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this for an EdX psychology class on the science of happiness.
Michael
A very enjoyable read. Keltner is an entertaining writer and the neuroscience and psychology is top notch. A refreshing change from the dismal topics usually focussed on in the study of psychopathology, Keltner takes us through the cutting edge science on the more redeeming human instincts which underlie gratitude, laughter, embarassment, love compassion and awe. I recommend this read for anyone interested in human nature. Eat your heart out Hobbes.
Mark
Fascinating stuff about the evolution of positive emotions and behaviors - why we laugh, smile, touch; how dance evolved; what our minute facial movements really mean - Darwin shows up, as does the Dalai Lama. [ full review ]
Steve Baru
The book leaves the reader in a state of bliss. As interesting as the research is, the book still seems like a lecture; not really entertaining. That's not a bad thing. I'd like to see Diana Ackerman take this research and put her magic to it, maybe the Natural History of the Smile?
Stephen Lewis
This is a very well-written book that describes the scientific triggers and reasons behind many of our positive emotions. I think this book has the capacity to change the way one perceives other people and how we interact with each other. I highly recommend this book.
Kathleen
this book was not at all what i expected. basically, it's an evolutionary look at different emotions and how they are experienced in the body and on the face. that's not what i thought i was getting into from the descriptions i read.
Melanie
The premise is that we are genetically programmed to be helpful and cooperative not violent. It is linked to our survival to be good to each other. I liked it, but is science so not necessarily an easy read.
David
I may be biased as I've heard him speak, but I really enjoyed his presentation on the current Science of Happiness. I liked hearing about the actual experiments on which his conclusions are based.
Kelly
Not quite what I was expecting but really interesting (well to me anyway) learned quite a bit about the positive emotions we display and the arguments there are evolutionary reasons for them.
Fred Gorrell
In this book, Keltner lays down evidence suggesting that our genetic makeup does not predispose us to competitive behavior, but rather to collaborative and altruistic endeavors.
Shaun
I liked this book overall, but it was not my favorite. It's like Malcolm Gladwell, but not as engaging. I did like the chapter about Touch, which I found very intriguing.
Joanie
Really good - leaves me with a lot to think about regarding our interactions with others, community, and our pursuit of meaningful lives... a bit of a dense read.
Mark Slee
A decent and enjoyable read. I didn't find that this book quite had the depth that some other similar offerings in the field do. A good survey, but nothing mindblowing.
Elizabeth Mottley
I rarely give up on a book, but I just couldn't get into this one. I think that there may have been some really good information in there, but it was too dry to read.
Franki Sibberson
Heard about this book on Amy Krouse Rosenthal's site. I listened to the audiobook version and really enjoyed it. A pretty interesting read.
Matthew
If nothing else, this book should make you feel more optimistic about the present and future state of humanity.
Jill
Excellent book. Very insightful. Connections to Buddhism, Darwin, Wordsworth, neurobiology, primate science.
Adrienne
Didn't finish it. Got bored. Not what I had hoped it would be :(
Beverly
Must have been someone's college thesis. Very dry.
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Dacher Keltner is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, director of the Greater Good Science Center, and coeditor of Greater Good magazine. His research focuses on pro-social emotions, power, and moral reasoning."
More about Dacher Keltner...
The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness Understanding Emotions I tunes U--UC Berkeley lecture series: Emotions Social Psychology Social Psychology

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