Jul 18, 2023

Finding Beauty & Purpose to Flourish with Dacher Keltner, ELEW, Philip Ball, Frank Wilczek & Katherine Cotter (podcast)

Experiences of awe and beauty prompt us to search for meaning, to find the deeper truths that make sense of our lives.

By Templeton Staff

Thought leaders from science and the arts muse about beauty's role in human flourishing, and how different types of beauty encourage us to grow during a segment of Templeton World Charity Foundation's Global Scientific Conference on Human Flourishing. 

Closely related to beauty is awe. Both are emotional states "deeply tied to our sense of purpose in both universal and personal and idiosyncratic ways," says Daucher Keltner, professor of psychology at the University of California Berkeley, and co-director of its Greater Good Science Center. In this segment, Keltner offers a few highlights from the 15 years of scientific study he's conducted on awe and related to beauty. He defines awe as "the feeling of being around vast and mysterious things that transcend our current frame of reference, and then require that we seek integration and meaning."

As part of Keltner's research, he and a team surveyed people in 26 countries about their experiences with awe, and found "eight wonders of awe in everyday life: 'moral beauty'; our relationship to nature; collective movement and ritual; visual patterns; music; ideas; mystical experiences; and life and death." He points out "very strikingly, people feel awe a couple of times a week in different parts of the world. This isn't for the privileged, it isn't a rarefied experience. It doesn't take a lot to just go outside and feel awe. It deepens with practice and knowing."

Moral beauty was one form of awe that emerged often in the results of his research. He goes on to explain a little about the term coined by Immanuel Kant. Moral beauty encompasses concepts like "courage, facing power, speaking truth to power, overcoming fears, the elements of courage. Profound kindness moves people to a sense of awe and wonder. Sharing resources, giving your last dollar to somebody who needs it a little bit more than you do. And then, overcoming obstacles. People who faced a lot of resistance or obstacles in their pursuit of their purpose are inspiring to us."

There are benefits from experiencing awe, even in short bursts. Many of his team's studies have people immerse themselves in nature, go on walks, or read moving passages. He's found that mental health benefits can be derived from just a couple of minutes of doing these kinds of activities. "I can't think of a single emotion that leads people to a greater sense of purpose than awe," says Keltner. "It leads to greater humility, sharing, sense of community, and then a sort of a grounding in the world and sense of purpose."

The value of beauty and awe lies not only in its experience but also in its creation, encouraging individuals to seek out and create moments of beauty in their lives. Listen in to hear more about that from the other guests featured in this episode. You can also watch a video version of this segment here.

Built upon the award-winning video series of the same name, Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” podcast features stories of new scientific research on human flourishing that translate discoveries into practical tools. Bringing a mix of curiosity, compassion, and creativity, journalist Richard Sergay and producer Tavia Gilbert shine a spotlight on the human impact at the heart of cutting-edge social and scientific research projects supported by TWCF.