The Emotional Life of Your Brain

How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live - and How You Can Change Them
by Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley | Plume © 2012 · 304 pages

Richie Davidson is one of the world's leading neuroscientists and was the first guy to check out monks' brains in a lab. He founded the affective + contemplative neuroscience fields and is, quite simply, a neuroscientist rock star. In this Note, we explore some of his best Big Ideas, understanding how our thoughts and behaviors affect the very structure of our brains and the emotions we feel. We'll also look at how to dial it all in.

I wasn’t interested in measuring the patterns of brain activity that accompany meditation, though that might be perfectly interesting. Instead, I hoped to see how thousands and thousands of hours of meditation alter brain circuitry in a sufficiently enduring way as to be perceptible when the brain is not meditating.
Richard Davidson

“This book describes a personal and professional journey to understand why and how people differ in their emotional responses to what life throws at them, motivated by my desire to help people lead healthier, more fulfilling lives. The “professional” thread in this tapestry describes the development of the hybrid discipline called affective neuroscience, the study of the brain mechanisms that underlie our emotions and the search for ways to enhance people’s sense of well-being and promote positive qualities of mind. The “personal” thread is my own story. Spurred by the conviction that, as Hamlet said to Horatio, “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of” in the standard account of the mind provided by mainstream psychology and neuroscience, I have ventured outside the boundaries enclosing these disciplines, sometimes getting struck down, but in the end, I hope, achieving at least some of what I set out to do: to show through rigorous research that emotions, far from being the neurological fluff that mainstream science once believed them to be, are central to the functions of the brain and to the life of the mind.”

~ Richard J. Davidson from The Emotional Life of Your Brain

Richard Davidson is amazing. (And so is this book.)

Richie (as he’s affectionately known) founded two fields that have greatly shaped our understanding of what it means to live optimally: affective neuroscience (the study of the brain basis of human emotion) + contemplative neuroscience (the study of the effects of meditation on the brain).

Richie is the guy who first approached the Dalai Lama about studying the brains of experienced meditators. (Matthieu Ricard’s brain was first studied in his lab. Incredibly cool stuff.)

His path to break the boundaries of what was being studied at the time is, in my mind, truly heroic and deeply inspiring. And, the wisdom gained in the process is extraordinary.

So, basically, we have him to thank for a huge part of the burgeoning field of neuroscientific research and how we can apply that scientific wisdom to optimizing our lives. Thank you, Richie.

This book is a fascinating look into his research lab over the last few decades and is packed with Big Ideas. I’ll focus on a handful of inspiring, practical gems. Get the book (here) for the deep dive into the scientific details of his experiments + adventures.

For now, let’s jump in!

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About the authors


Richard Davidson

Authors of a book about emotions and the brain

Sharon Begley

Author of a book about emotions and the brain