Why Experiencing a Little Awe Is a Key to Having a Good Day

For “Routine Excellence,” GQ asks creative, successful people about the practices, habits, and routines that get them through their day.

Dacher Keltner’s days are awesome—quite literally. As a professor of psychology at UC-Berkeley and the director of the school’s Greater Good Science Center, Keltner’s area of expertise is human emotion (he was a consultant on Pixar’s 2015 Inside Out). More specifically, awe.

Earlier this year, he released the book about that feeling Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life. And though living under the eucalyptus shade in Berkeley, California makes wonder more easily accessible, Keltner’s days are still peppered with the types of not so awe-inspiring tasks that fill many of our days, things like emails, meetings, and commutes. Keltner says the lessons he’s learned from studying awe have helped him find more everyday astonishment among his daily routines. “Part of the reason I wrote Awe is that it has been my compass in a way,” he said recently, over the phone. “If I teared up at a piece of music, or I laughed at the marvels of young kids playing on a playground, or got a moment to look at a sunset, that will register as, This is a good day.”

GQ: What’s the first thing you do on a usual day?

Dacher Keltner: I’m up at 5:30 on average. I do two cups of coffee, get some oatmeal, and write for two hours. Then I do some push ups and sit ups and some band work to keep the body fresh. Then I get outside for 10 minutes and do an awe meditation, taking in the different senses, and thinking about the feeling of sun or wind, the sights of light on oak leaves. That gets me to 9:00 AM. I have a 25-minute walk to work that is beautiful. I have to get out to walk or hike every day—I walk to work, I walk in the hills, I walk at night—usually six to eight miles a day.

How many push ups and sit ups are you doing?

I will do like 30 push ups a shot, and do that three or four times a day. Then 40 sit ups.

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