The Tendency of Power to Corrupt and How to Avoid It

I recently completed a massive open online course (MOOC) from the University of California, Berkeley.

One of my instructors of the positive psychology course, Dacher Keltner, really inspired me with his passion and research.

I picked up one of his books, Born to be Good, and I’m fascinated with the ideas presented.

Meanwhile, I was discussing the topic of mindfulness with my wife, and she picked up the Harvard Business Review’s Mindfulness book for me. Coincidentally, it contained a chapter written by Keltner titled “Don’t Let Power Corrupt You.”

Keltner writes:

My research has shown that power puts us into something like a manic state, making us feel expansive, energized, omnipotent, hungry for rewards, and immune to risk—which opens us up to rash, rude, and unethical actions.

To avoid succumbing to the downsides of power, he offers advice—backed by research—to individuals in senior roles. First, one must reflect and develop self-awareness. Next, Keltner stresses three practices (again backed by research)—empathy, gratitude, and generosity.

Couldn’t we all cultivate a little more empathy, gratitude, and generosity?

Imagine the jen then, my friend.

Century-old Wisdom on Happiness

Last month, in a post titled The Happy Life, I wrote about a couple ideas on happiness written in a book published in 1905.

Recently, I received an even older book on the subject. The Duty of Happiness by Sir John Lubbock was published in 1896.

Lubbock book pic
Cover of Lubbock’s Book on Happiness
Photo by M. Fleming

I read the book with interest and discovered three important nuggets of century-old wisdom.

First, there’s a link between happiness and nature.

Nature provides without stint the main requisites of human happiness.

Second—and my wife is also good at reminding me of this—we need to think about how grateful we are. Lubbock writes:

Think how much we have to be thankful for. Few of us appreciate the number of our everyday blessings.

And finally, we have the ultimate choice of how we live.

Few of us, indeed, realize the wonderful privilege of living; the blessings we inherit, the glories and beauties of the Universe, which is our own if we so choose; the extent to which we can make ourselves what we wish to be; or the power we possess of securing peace, of triumphing over pain and sorrow.

Thanks to Sir John Lubbock, when it comes to living fully, I will remember to consider the following: nature, gratitude, and choice.