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Legendary Psychologists: Daniel Goleman

Over the past 50 years, psychologist and writer Daniel Goleman has gained worldwide acclaim for his groundbreaking psychological theories and award winning writings. After becoming interested in meditation during college, the decorated author has found ways to seamlessly integrate eastern spiritual practices into western psychology. In total, Goleman has published 14 books, all of which supply readers with useful strategies for improving one’s levels of subjective well-being. His teachings on Emotional Intelligence (EQ), meditation and compassion can be especially useful for us today.

Daniel Goleman Profile:

A headshot is shown of decorated psychologist and author Daniel Goleman.Birth: March 7, 1946 (age 71)

Occupation: Psychologist & Writer

Areas of Focus: Emotional Intelligence & Psychological Well-Being

The Life of Daniel Goleman:

For most children who grow up under the guidance of intellectually driven parents, a great amount of educational emphasis naturally fosters their desire to learn, grow and impact the lives of those around them. Sometimes, thanks to their upbringing, these children use their instilled drives to truly change the world. In the case of Daniel Goleman, who was born to two university professors in Stockton, California on March 7, 1946, having importance placed on intellectual endeavors throughout his youth would eventually propel him to immense professional successes as an adult. Yet still, even though Goleman exhibited his scholarly prowess at an early age, his path towards greatness wouldn’t come easy due to a number of fortitude-testing events he faced in the younger years of his life. The first major obstacle came when he lost his father at just 15-years-old, and the second a few years later, after he traveled across the country to study at the prestigious Amherst College, when he developed an anxiety disorder which ultimately resulted in him transferring closer to home. These disheartening events, however, wouldn’t stop Goleman from becoming the school body president at his high school, graduating from the world-renowned university, or achieving much greater things.

The cover of Daniel Goleman's first book The Meditative Mind is shown.After returning home from Amherst, Daniel Goleman studied for two years at the University of California-Berkley, where he first began practicing meditation, before returning to Amherst for his senior year to graduate magna cum laude in 1968, a feat he considers miraculous because of his disastrous freshman year. Upon graduation, Goleman received the opportunity of a lifetime in the form of a scholarship, provided by the Ford Foundation, to study clinical psychology and personality development at Harvard University. While at Harvard, Goleman not only received his Masters and Ph.D. but also had the opportunity to travel to India as a pre-doctoral fellow where he studied Asia’s ancient systems of psychology and their accompanying meditative practice. This trip would lay the framework for Goleman’s doctoral research on using meditation as an intervention against stress and set the course for his future career. After securing a post-doctoral grant to continue his studies, Goleman returned to Asia to dig deeper into the ancient psychological systems found in India and Sri Lanka, and he would use his findings from this trip to write his first book The Meditative Mind.

Upon completing his post-doctoral work in Asia, Daniel Goleman returned to Harvard University and began teaching as a visiting lecturer about his extensive knowledge of the psychology of consciousness. Although Goleman had always anticipated he would be a University professor like his parents, fate would have it another way. Just as he was settling into life as a professor, he received a job offer from Psychology Today, a popular magazine at the time, and because he had developed a keen interest in writing, to go along with a recommendation from his mentor David C. McClelland, Goleman jumped at the opportunity.

It was in 1984 when Daniel Goleman took his scientific writing career to another level after being recruited to write for the New York Times. While working for one of the most widely read newspaper in the world certainly kept him busy, Goleman was able to find some free time to work on his own writings, and near the end of his 12-year stint at the paper, Goleman published his internationally acclaimed book Emotional Intelligence.

Since it’s original publication in 1995, Goleman has seen his book stay on the New York Times Best Sellers list for a year and a half, selling upwards of 5 million copies printed in over 30 languages. Because the book’s success was limiting the amount of energy he could devote to writing for the paper, in addition to a growing desire to more freely choose his writing topics, Goleman’s made the decision to leave the newspaper industry and focus all of his energies on writing books.

An image shows psychologist Daniel Goleman together with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.While Daniel Goleman will forever be most remembered as the man who wrote Emotional Intelligence, he also has a plethora of other noteworthy titles and non-writing successes to his name. In total, Goleman has published 14 books that examine different psychologically-based ideas with a few of his more notable titles being Working with Emotional Intelligence, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, and Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. Additionally, thanks to his friendship with Mind and Life Institute founders Adam Angle and Francisco Varela, Goleman has developed a close relationship with the His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the duo has co-authored three books together: Destructive Emotions: How Can We Overcome Them? A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness and The Dalai Lama’s Little Book of Inner Peace and Healing Emotions: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions, and Health.

Beyond the scope of his celebrated writings, Daniel Goleman has also found ways to maintain a role in academia. With hopes of fostering emotional education and literacy in schools throughout the United States, Goleman co-founded the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Center at Yale University (now at the University of Illinois-Chicago) in 1993. Additionally, he co-founded The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology. Goleman remains a co-chairman of the Consortium and also serves as a board member at the previously mentioned Mind & Life Institute. Thanks to his lengthy list of career accomplishments, Goleman has won many awards including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize, a Career Achievement Award for Journalism from the American Psychological Association, and the Bradford Washburn Award for scientific writing. Today, Goleman continues to write and speak on a variety of relevant psychology topics.

3 of Daniel Goleman’s Most Important Teachings:

Just by reading any single one of Daniel Goleman’s books, it is certain that each of us can find numerous teachings we can use to improve our levels of subjective well-being. Considering the fact that he has published 14 different titles, choosing only three teachings is no simple task, yet we’ve tried our best here:

Developing Emotional Intelligence (EQ):

The cover of Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence is shown.Although the psychological term Emotional Intelligence (EQ) was first used during the 1960s, the conceptual idea didn’t gain popularity until Goleman published him groundbreaking book in 1995. Thanks to Goleman’s work, it is now widely agreed that an individual’s EQ is built upon an array of skills and personal characteristics that deal with self-awareness, emotional regulation, and self-management. According to Goleman, an individual’s EQ helps them recognize emotions in themselves and others, allows them to use emotional cues to guide thinking and behavior, and gives them the ability to manage feelings in a way that leads to goal achievement. In total, Goleman tells us that the five key components of an individual’s EQ are self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy, and motivation, all of which we can consciously develop within ourselves. Because he and other notable psychological figures have determined that life success is largely determined by EQ, maybe even more so than IQ, it’s imperative we all take it upon ourselves to improve our emotional and social skills. To do so, Goleman tells us:

First you have to be motivated – ask yourself if you really care. Then you need a well-structured learning situation where, for instance, you have a clear picture of what you want to improve, and can practice specific behaviors that will help you enhance the targeted competence.”

Increasing Self-Awareness with Meditation:

While each of the five core constructs of self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy, and motivation contribute to an individual’s overall Emotional Intelligence (EQ), there assuredly isn’t one single skill more important than self-awareness. In fact, for individuals who want to improve their EQ, it will be imperative to improve their ability to monitor themselves so they can observe their own behaviors and guide their personal evolution.

Without first increasing their self-awareness, it’ll be hard for them to pick up on which emotional and social skills they should improve and which personal characteristics they should strive to develop. Fortunately, Goleman tells us that we can increase our self-awareness by undertaking the life-affirming practice of meditation. Moreover, by committing one’s self to a meditation practice, a wide variety of other EQ skills and characteristics will naturally be enhanced. For example, Goleman tells us:

Mindfulness Meditation has been discovered to foster the ability to inhibit those very quick emotional impulses.”

Living with Compassion:

In addition to teaching about Emotional Intelligence (EQ), Daniel Goleman also readily advocates for individuals to develop heightened levels of compassion. In regard to the previously examined EQ skills, Goleman tells us that empathy should be considered a building block for the more heartening feelings of compassion that he regularly talks about. When you combine his previous work studying the great Eastern spiritual traditions, his nearly lifelong meditation practice, and his ongoing relationship with the Dalai Lama, it becomes clear to see where Goleman gets his compassionate inspiration from. The topic is in fact so important to him that in 2007 Goleman dedicated his Ted Talks speech, Why Aren’t We More Compassionate? to the subject. Instead of reiterating what Goleman said during his memorable speech, we’ll let you experience it firsthand here:

Inspirational Quotes:

“Emotional self-control– delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness- underlies accomplishment of every sort.” 

“We transmit and catch moods from each other in what amounts to a subterranean economy of the psyche in which some encounters are toxic, some nourishing.” 

“In a very real sense, we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels.”


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