Saloni Agrawal
Saloni Agrawal asked Daniel Goleman:

Your book on emotional intelligence is an eye-opener and filled with so many interesting facts and researches and theories and I love the way you give anecdotes to explain them better. However my question as a person very passionate about psychology is what got you interested in psychology and why choose EQ specifically?

Daniel Goleman Saloni, here's the long answer.

I received a scholarship for leadership from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to attend Amherst College, a place I had never seen in faraway New England. In part due to culture shock (and taking advantage of the then-new Amherst Independent Scholar program), I transferred to the University of California at Berkeley for my junior year and part of my senior year, returning to Amherst to graduate. At Berkeley, where I was an anthropology major, I was lucky enough to have several remarkable professors, including a graduate seminar with the brilliant sociologist Erving Goffman on rituals of social interaction. When I returned to Amherst, I wrote my honors paper on mental health in historical, anthropological and social perspectives, graduating magna cum laude—a miracle given my disastrous academic performance there my freshman year.

The Ford Foundation was generous enough to give me a scholarship to Harvard, where I enrolled in the program in clinical psychology in what was then the Department of Social Relations. I was drawn to the idea of studying the human mind from an interdisciplinary perspective; the department included anthropology and sociology together with psychology. My main mentor there was David C. McClelland, best-known for his theory of the drive to achieve. Just at this time McClelland was developing and championing methods for assessing the competencies that distinguished star performers from average—a body of research I was to return to later in my career.

With McClelland’s help and a Harvard pre-doctoral traveling fellowship, I was able to study in India, where my focus was on the ancient systems of psychology and accompanying meditation practices of Asian religions. I had been a meditator since my junior year in Berkeley, and was intrigued by finding theories of the mind and its development that were still in active use after two thousand years or more (and which had never been mentioned in any psychology course I had taken). When I returned to Harvard, my doctoral research was on meditation as an intervention in stress arousal.

I then received a post-doctoral grant from the Social Science Research Council to return to Asia and continue my studies of these ancient psychologies, spending time both in India and Sri Lanka. I wrote what became my first book, now called The Meditative Mind, summarizing my research on meditation.

I returned to Harvard as a visiting lecturer, teaching a course on the psychology of consciousness—a topic of intense interest back then in the 1970s. Because it was so heavily enrolled, the class was moved from a small room to one of the largest lecture halls on campus.

Then, on McClelland’s recommendation, I was offered a job at Psychology Today, then a major magazine, by T. George Harris, the editor. This was an unexpected jog in my career path—I had always thought I would be a college professor like my parents. But writing appealed to me, and at the magazine I went through a tutorial in journalism that was to set the course of the rest of my career.

Recruited by the New York Times to cover psychology and related fields, in 1984 I began a twelve-year sojourn. I learned much about science journalism from my editors and colleagues, a talented crew on the science desk, and the Times offered remarkable access and visibility. But I found that my urge to write about ideas with impact sent me in directions that did not always fit what the Times saw as news. This was especially so with the rich trove of research on emotions and the brain, which I had covered in small bits and pieces over the years for the times. I felt the topic deserved to be a book, and so Emotional Intelligence came to be. To my surprise, the book ended up being hugely successful. I got so many requests to lecture that I had less and less time for writing in the Times. I finally left the paper to devote my efforts to the message of the book.

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