Spiritual Evolution

How We Are Wired for Faith, Hope, and Love
by George Vaillant | 256 pages

George Vaillant is a psychiatrist and Harvard professor who, for 35 years, led Harvard’s 70+ year Study of Adult Development. (You learn a thing or three when you follow the development of teenagers as they grew into great-grandparents.) In this book, he tells us that we can evolve spiritually. Leaning on his experience running Harvard’s study plus cultural anthropology, ethology and neuroscience, he walks us through the biological underpinnings of the positive emotions that make up our spirituality: faith, love, hope, joy, forgiveness, compassion and awe.


“Just as a prism separates white light into a spectrum of discrete colors, so this book separates spirituality into a broad spectrum of positive emotions. By focusing on the positive emotions, I wish to perform for spirituality what the science of nutrition has performed for the world’s discordant diets. Just as nutrition identifies the vitamins and the four basic food groups that make other people’s peculiar ethnic diets nourishing, so neuroscience, cultural anthropology, and ethology identify the love, community building, and positive emotions that enduring religions have in common. …

Spiritual Evolution builds on the relatively new scientific disciplines of ethology (animal behavior) and neuroscience—both of which have enabled the scientific study of positive emotions such as love, joy, awe, and compassion. Each of these emotions has a neurobiological basis and an evolutionary architecture that will be explored in individual chapters. …

We need to bring our positive emotions to conscious attention, and we must not disdain to study them with our science. If my purpose as an author can be oversimplified into a single wish, it would be this: to restore our faith in spirituality as an essential human striving.”

~ George Vaillant from Spiritual Evolution

George Vaillant is a psychiatrist and Harvard professor who, for 35 years, led Harvard’s 70+ year Study of Adult Development. (You learn a thing or three when you follow the development of teenagers as they grew into great-grandparents.)

In this book, he tells us that we can evolve spiritually. Leaning on his experience running Harvard’s study plus cultural anthropology, ethology and neuroscience, he walks us through the biological underpinnings of the positive emotions that make up our spirituality: faith, love, hope, joy, forgiveness, compassion and awe. (Get a copy here.)

I picked the book up after reading Barbara Fredrickson’s great book Love 2.0. She quoted George as saying “Love is the shortest definition of spirituality I know.” I thought that was pretty amazing and here we are.

As you’d expect, the book is packed with Big Ideas. I’m excited to share some of my favorites so let’s jump straight in!

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About the author

Authors

George Vaillant

Psychiatrist and one of the pioneers in the study of adult development.