Born to Be Good

Born to Be Good

The Science of A Meaningful Life

Book - 2009
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In Born to Be Good, Dacher Keltner demonstrates that humans are not hardwired to lead lives that are "nasty, brutish, and short"--we are in fact born to be good. He investigates an old mystery of human evolution: why have we evolved positive emotions like gratitude, amusement, awe, and compassion that promote ethical action and are the fabric of cooperative societies?By combining stories of scientific discovery, personal narrative, and Eastern philosophy, Keltner illustrates his discussions with more than fifty photographs of human emotions. Born to Be Good is a profound study of how emotion is the key to living the good life and how the path to happiness goes through human emotions that connect people to one another.
Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton & Co., c2009.
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780393065121
Branch Call Number: 155.232 KELTNER
Characteristics: xvi, 336 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.


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Oct 30, 2014

It's nice to consider we are born with goodness in us, but it's naive to say we are born to innately be good.

Take into consideration group mentality. The famous art exhibits that the artist allowed people to do whatever to her over six hours, how quickly it devolved.

People as individuals may have a balance of good and evil traits, but in groups the worst of those traits come out, and we are a social species.

As an aside, I would love to see us evolve away from tribe mentality (exclusionary), but we're looking at thousands of years of evolution.

Jun 16, 2011

This book is based on the author’s belief that emotion is the source of a meaningful life. He describes scientific research that leads him to conclude that evolution has equipped us with a tendency towards the positive emotions and behaviours that allow us to live in cooperative societies. Our evolution is based more on “survival of the kindest” rather than “survival of the fittest”.

He discusses the “Jen Ratio” as a way of looking upon the relative balance of the good and uplifting versus the bad and cynical in life – a metric to measure the social well-being of an individual, marriage, community or culture. There is a detailed analysis of embarrassment, smiling, laughter, teasing, touch, love, compassion and awe.

The book is very interesting and provides much food for thought. The quality of the writing is good but not brilliant and there is a rather odd use of commas. Because I heard of the book when the author was interviewed on the CBC Radio program Tapestry, I assumed a very philosophical and spiritual approach to the subject. While there is certainly some of that, especially in the last 3 chapters, the focus (as indicated in the sub-title “The Science of a Meaningful Life”) is on the scientific research conducted by the author, his students and others. I personally found the conclusions reached as a result of the research more interesting than the detailed descriptions of the methodologies used but that is a personal preference. Although it was a little tedious at times, I am very glad I read the book – it provides a fascinating insight into what it means to be human and how society functions.


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