Dacher Keltner (University of California, Berkeley)
Please note: Instructors are welcome to use or adapt these teaching ideas for their own classes, provided the use is noncommercial and appropriate credit is given.
To promote the study and development of human happiness, compassion, and prosocial behavior through the dissemination of scientific, educational, and parenting resources.
The Greater Good Website translates research and insights on the social psychology of compassion and cooperation for a broad audience of educators, policy makers, health care providers, and interested citizens. For example, the site offers practical summaries on topics such as how to forgive, how to apologize, how to cultivate empathy in romantic relationships, how to teach gratitude, and how to promote play in the classroom. Last year, the web site averaged over 20,000 visitors per month and totaled nearly 650,000 page views, and this year it is continuing to expand with new e-zine content, videos, blog entries, and other educational materials in an effort to convert the promise of social psychology into compassion and action for a broad audience.
For the past 15 years I have taught courses on social psychology, human emotion, and human happiness, and this teaching has been the most gratifying part of my career. I've been astonished and uplifted by how readily students apply course material to their lives and to the social issues they face. Lectures on the psychology of deception lead students to monitor subtle cues when other people speak. A review of research on forgiveness spurs students to consider how the new field of remedial justice offers an alternative to the traditional legal justice system. Empirical findings from social psychology are powerful tools for promoting a more compassionate and cooperative society.
Guided by these experiences and by my role as founding director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, I secured funding from the Herb Alpert Foundation and the Quality of Life Foundation to develop a magazine, web site, and speaker series that translates the theories, insights, findings, and practices of the social psychology of compassion and cooperation for a broad audience of educators, policy makers, health care providers, and interested citizens.
The website, which connects most of the resources described below, grew out of our magazine, Greater Good, nominated three times by the Utne Reader as one of the best independent publications in the United States. Our aims with the magazine (and now web site) are several. First, we wanted to have social scientists (e.g., Robert Emmons, Frans De Waal, Steven Pinker, Robert Sapolsky, Jon Haidt) write engaging essays for a broad audience. In addition, we wanted to translate the latest scientific findings on compassion and cooperation into practical, actionable tips. Thus, our magazine and website present practical summaries on topics such as how to forgive, how to apologize, how to cultivate empathy in romantic relationships, how to teach gratitude, and how to promote play in the classroom.
As our readership grew and the media industry changed, we converted Greater Good to an online magazine. Building on our e-zine content, we also created a blog that translated the science of compassion and cooperation into tips for parents. This blog, known as "Half Full," is written by Christine Carter, a sociology Ph.D. and fellow of the Greater Good Science Center. Her blog quickly achieved an audience of 15,000, fostered outreach to several parenting communities (e.g., ParentMap in Seattle), and led to a book (Raising Happiness). Christine's excellent work is also featured in a series of "blogversations" that have been viewed roughly 100,000 times on YouTube (see two examples on this page).
Our guiding mission has been to bring the groundbreaking science of compassion and positive psychology to a wide audience, and to distill it in a form that lends itself to practice and action, be it in speech therapy, high school classrooms, prison settings, or university education. I myself have integrated the web site into my courses, as have other instructors at the university and high school level. Last year our web site averaged over 20,000 visitors per month and totaled nearly 650,000 page views. The California state-funded wing of the early mental health initiative, Time for Kids, uses the site to help teach and counsel children in over 400 schools. Therapists, nurses, meditation teachers, and character education teachers have all used our resources. Indeed, a collection of essays from Greater Good will be published in two anthologies — The Compassionate Instinct and Are We Born Racist? — which I, and I suspect others, will use in university courses.
One last example of action teaching on the Greater Good website is an initiative we launched in 2009: "The Science of a Meaningful Life." This initiative consists of several one-day seminars per year covering the latest research on social and emotional well-being, including studies on empathy, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, and mindfulness. Each seminar features guest visits by leading social scientists such as Philip Zimbardo, Paul Ekman, Barbara Fredrickson, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, and the presentations are videotaped for later posting on the web so that we can reach thousands, perhaps millions, more people than the 200-300 who typically attend a seminar. Ultimately, the goal of this initiative is to teach how our personal health and well-being are intertwined with the health of our relationships, and to provide strategies for cultivating healthier personal and professional relationships. In so doing, we hope to convert the promise of social psychology into compassion and action for a broad audience.