My book review of 'Awe' by Dacher Keltner


by Dacher Keltner
by Dacher Keltner

Investigating the secret to happiness, the social psychologist Dacher Keltner has concluded that we need to experience 'awe' - our emotion when we encounter mysteries we don't understand.

The benefits are physical and mental as well as emotional, he argues in three ways in the book - scientific research, cultural history and personal stories and memories.

We can experience the 'good life' as we seek to be amazed and delighted each day, this book argues.

Though awe is by its nature surprising, unexpected, elusive, mysterious, it can be discovered anywhere and everywhere, by anyone. It doesn't require money, expertise, education or status. 

And the benefits can be vast, Keltner argues. Scientific studies of the brain suggest that when experiencing awe, excesses of the ego, including self-criticism, anxiety, depression even, decrease. 

"As our default self vanishes, awe shifts us from a competitive mindset to perceive that we are part of networks of more interdependent collaborating individuals...a chapter in the history of a family, a community, a culture...This transformation of the self brought about by awe is a powerful antidote to the isolation and loneliness that is epidemic today."

There's much to explore in this book though, for me, on occasion it felt a strange mix of 'science' and personal anecdote. Some of the arguments he makes are fascinating but could have been unpacked further. 

Overall this book is a great encouragement for us all to delight in what we see around us - the beauty and magnificence of the natural world, the transcendent power of music and a singer's voice, the wonder and admiration for compassionate behaviour and achievements in overcoming the odds. Well worth reading and considering!

Date of this review: January 2023
Book publication date: 3rd November 2022