I am a psychologist and have written and taught about the essential inner skills of personal well-being, psychological growth, and contemplative practice – as well as about relationships, family life, and raising children.
I grew up in a loving and stable family, mainly in the suburbs of Los Angeles; my mother was a homemaker and my father was a zoologist. A shy and bookish kid who loved the outdoors, I entered UCLA at 16 and graduated summa cum laude in 1974 (and was honored to be one of four “outstanding seniors” chosen by the UCLA Alumni Association). Over the next several years, I founded a successful seminar company, worked for a mathematician doing probabilistic risk analyses for things like the odds of a nuclear power plant melting down, and did management consulting. After fulfilling the course requirements for a Masters in developmental psychology at San Francisco State University, I received a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the Wright Institute in 1991, with a dissertation titled, “Gratifying control: Mothers offering alternatives to toddlers.”
My clinical practice includes adults, couples, families, and children, as well as psychological assessments of children and adults related to temperament, school performance, and educational and vocational planning. I have worked as a school psychologist for several independent schools, and have given many talks to meetings of parents or child development specialists. For many years, I served on the Board of FamilyWorks, a family resource agency in Marin County, California, and chaired it for two years. I currently serve as a Trustee of Saybrook University.
When my wife, Jan, and I had the first of our two children, we were delighted by what has continued to be the most fulfilling experience of our lives. But we were also startled – to put it mildly (stunned is more like it) – by the stress and depletion of parenthood, especially when the so-called “village it takes to raise a child” is more like a ghost town these days. In particular, I was struck by the effects on mothers – especially the more vulnerable ones – who (unless they adopt) ride the physiological roller-coaster of pregnancy and childbirth, and often breastfeeding and weaning, and who also typically handle most of the stressful aspects of making a family. While there are many books about childrearing – certainly a vital subject – there is almost nothing about how to actually address the impacts of making a family on mothers, fathers, and couples. So, with Jan – who is an acupuncturist specializing in clinical nutrition – and Ricki Pollycove, M.D., an OB-GYN, I wrote Mother Nurture: A Mother’s Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships (Penguin, 2002), which shows how to support the long-term health, well-being, and intimate partnership of mothers. Written for the general public, that book is solidly referenced, and was endorsed by Christiane Northrup, M.D., among others. Many related articles and other resources can be found at www.NurtureMom.com.
As our children grew older – they’re now college-age – I became increasingly interested in the historically unprecedented meeting of modern brain science and ancient contemplative practices. With Rick Mendius, M.D., I founded the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. The Institute publishes the monthly Wise Brain Bulletin, hosts the www.WiseBrain.org website and sponsors the Skillful Means website (a growing encyclopedia of psychological and spiritual methods).
In 2009, I wrote Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom (with Rick Mendius, M.D.; Foreword by Dan Siegel, M.D. and Preface by Jack Kornfield, Ph.D.). Praised by Sharon Salzberg, Roger Walsh, Joseph Goldstein, Jennifer Louden, Fred Luskin, Tara Brach, Jerome Engel, James Baraz, and numerous others, the book shows readers many effective ways to light up the brain circuits that relieve worry and stress, and promote positive relationships and inner peace.
Related offerings include my series of audio programs from Sounds True and PESI.
In 2011, I wrote Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time, which presents 52 powerful yet down-to-earth ways (practices) to build up a “buddha brain” for more peace of mind in stressful times, greater inner strength and confidence, and an unshakeable sense of contentment and worth. The practices are grounded in modern neuroscience, positive psychology, my background in the very real world of business and raising a family.
My latest book, Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, was published in October 2013 and became a New York Times bestseller. It shows you how to tap the hidden power of everyday experiences to change your brain and your life for the better.
It’s also the fundamental text for my online, experiential Foundations of Well-Being program, which uses the science of positive neuroplasticity to grow the “12 Pillars of Well-Being” – key inner strengths, including self-caring, mindfulness, intimacy, courage, and service.
My writings have been published in Psychotherapy Networker, Tricycle Magazine, New Beginnings (the magazine of the Le Leche League), and Inquiring Mind; in the Insight Journal, my latest article is Mind Changing Brain Changing Mind. I have a regular blog, Your Wise Brain, at Psychology Today & Huffington Post, and I also offer a free e-newsletter – Just One Thing – which presents a simple practice each week (that’s not in my book) that you can do a few minutes a day to help you feel greater happiness, love, and wisdom.
I’m a Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and have been invited to speak at Oxford, Harvard, and Stanford universities. I really enjoy teaching continuing education courses for mental health professionals (e.g., taking in the good, self-directed neuroplasticity, natural happiness, being and doing, steadying the mind, equanimity, calming fear, the loving brain, relaxing the “self”). Some of these courses are available on DVD from CMI or FACES. I also have a YouTube channel where you’ll find lectures, interviews, and teachings.
I began meditating in 1974 and have studied and practiced in several traditions. At the end of 2008, I completed a nine-year term on the Board of Spirit Rock Meditation Center. A graduate of the Community Dharma Leader training program, I lead a weekly meditation group in San Rafael, California, and I’ve taught at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, New York Insight, the Sati Center, and other meditation centers.
My personal interests include rock-climbing, sailing novels, travel – I lived one year in Finland and one in Germany – and having fun with my family and friends. You can reach me through my administrator, Jenna Chandler.