Scientists have identified the ‘8 wonders of life’ – and their health effects are powerful

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Did you know that feeling overwhelmed can not only change the way you see the world, but can actually improve your health?

That’s what Dacher Keltner decided after spending more than 20 years studying the emotion.

University of California, Berkeley psychology professor and director of the Greater Good Science Center recently spoke with us — Raj Punjabi and Noah Michelson, hosts of HuffPost’s “Am I Doing It Wrong?” podcast — about how he became one of the world’s most respected researchers and what he learned while examining its effects on our minds, bodies and attitudes.

Listen to our full conversation with Keltner here:

“The wonder of language is hard to describe,” Keltner told us. “In fact, a lot of people are like, ‘it’s ineffective. It is beyond words. You can’t put a rational, symbolic thought on it.’ And I don’t agree.”

The psychologist, who served as a scientific consultant on the Pixar film “Inside Out,” defines the feeling as “the feeling we have when we encounter great mysteries.”

“The central meaning of awe when you feel it coming is to be connected to something bigger than yourself,” Keltner said. “You go to a concert, you’re with a big crowd, throbbing, and you’re dancing and sweating and then suddenly the music hits you and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I’m part of this – whatever what is this in this time of musical reverence greater than me.’ How important that is for people to be involved in things bigger than ourselves.”

Music is one of the “eight wonders of life” that Keltner identified while studying wonders around the world.

“​​​​​​​We found these amazing stories from 26 different countries, in people’s own words – Mexico, India, Brazil, Poland, countries that are really different,” he said. “And it took us a long time to figure out because, where is my surprise? What we found – and this aligns with a lot of philosophical literature – is what I call the ‘eight wonders’ of moral beauty — the kindness and courage of others; joint movement — you are in a yoga class together, you are dancing, you are at a musical or sporting event; nature; then music; visual design; spirituality. And then the interesting ones are the less intuitive ones, one of which is ‘big ideas’. People get excited about big ideas. Like, my God, when I first read Karl Marx’s Economic Theory of Consciousness, I was just like, ‘I can’t believe it. This man can explain thought patterns and class struggles.’ So that surprised me. And then life and death — the cycle of life terrifies us … it inspires us to try hard to understand the mysteries of this world.”

According to Keltner’s research, moral beauty and nature seem to be two of the most powerful wonders.

“Embracing kindness and courage and strength and [the] if overcome people are able to knock people out and it’s everywhere, right?” he told us. “And then nature … it’s so deep what nature does to your mind and your body.”

In fact, Keltner’s studies show that our health can be improved by experiencing wonder through any of the eight wonders.

“One region of the brain is deactivated [when we experience awe] – the default network mode. That’s where all the self-reflection processes happen: I’m thinking about myself, my time, my goals, my best, my checklist. That becomes a surprise,” he explained.

Then our vagus nerve – “the big bundle of nerves starting at the top of your spinal cord that helps you look at people and voice – is activated, which “stimulates our heart rate, aids digestion and opens our body to things bigger. than us.”

Keltner also found that fear reduced inflammation, helped relieve anxiety and pain, and stimulated “the release of oxytocin, the ‘love’ hormone that promotes trust and bonding.”

“A lot of scientists are really starting to… they’ve been amazed by science and said, ‘Oh, my God, it’s good for you.’ [It causes] increased vagal tone, less inflammation, less depression, less anxiety – all of these are replicated in [peer reviewed studies].”

So if we want more awesomeness in our lives — and all the health benefits it can bring — what should we do?

“Give yourself a few minutes a day or every other day, slow down your schedule, put away your devices, start breathing deeply, and open your mind to something bigger than yourself,” Keltner advised.

“When you’re asked those questions about what you’re involved with that’s bigger than yourself and how you serve it – it’s going to surprise you quickly,” he said. “All of a sudden you’re like, ‘I need to listen to that piece of music that blew my mind when I was 12.’ And you listen to it and you’re like, ‘I’m thinking about my friend and my childhood and what my parents were trying to teach me.’ The next thing you know, you’re in for a surprise. So I think it’s one’s own mindset as to what is huge.”

We also chatted with Keltner about the tragic experience that made him want to explore wonder in the first place, what a “wonder walk” can do for us and more.

After listening to the full episode above or wherever you get your podcasts, subscribe to “Am I Doing It Wrong?” so you don’t miss a single episode, including our investigations into the ins and outs of tipping, how to score the best deals on airline tickets, how to apologize or get the best on card debt credit, how to find love online or overcome anxiety, tips for online shopping, taking care of your teeth and pooping like a pro, secrets to booking and staying at a hotel, how to deal with an angry person, cooking tips from celebrity chef Jet Tila, awesome laundry secrets and more.

For more from Dacher Keltner, visit his website and check out his latest book, “Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life.”

Do you need help with something you got wrong? Email us at, and we may explore the topic in an upcoming episode.


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