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 administrator, and my father was a zoology professor. 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 working on 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 (now closed to new clients) has included adults, couples, families, and children, as well as psychological assessments of children and adults. I have worked in several independent schools, and have given many talks to meetings of parents or child development specialists. I served on the Board of FamilyWorks, a family resource agency in Marin County, and chaired it for two years. I am a former Trustee of Saybrook University.
My first book, Mother Nurture: A Mother’s Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships, (co-authored with my wife, Jan Hanson, M.S., L.Ac., an acupuncturist specializing in clinical nutrition, and Ricki Pollycove, M.D., an OB-GYN), was published by Penguin in 2002. Many related articles and other resources can be found at www.NurtureMom.com. Jan and I have two adult children, and being parents has been the most fulfilling experience of our lives.
As we’ve learned so much more about the brain over the past twenty years, I’ve been deeply interested in the historically unprecedented meeting of modern neuroscience 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, and hosts the www.WiseBrain.org website.
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.; preface by Jack Kornfield, Ph.D.). 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.
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 practices for building up a “buddha brain” for more peace of mind in stressful times, and a deep sense of contentment and confidence.
My fourth book, Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, was published in 2013 and became a New York Times bestseller. It shows how to tap the hidden power of everyday experiences to change your brain and your life for the better.
My book after that, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness, was published in 2018. It explains how to use positive neuroplasticity to develop 12 vital inner strengths – such as grit, gratitude, and compassion – in order to cope with challenges, pursue opportunities, and find lasting well-being in a changing world. It’s based on my online program – the Foundations of Well-Being – an experiential journey of personal healing and growth.
My latest book, Neurodharma: New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness (May 2020), is a follow-up to my first book, Buddha’s Brain. In it, I share seven practices for strengthening the neural circuitry of profound contentment and inner peace—qualities that offer essential support in everyday life while supporting the exploration of the most radical reaches of human consciousness. It is the basis for my Neurodharma Online Program, released in 2019.
A recurring theme in my work is the need for mental resources such as mindfulness, self-compassion, and positive emotions. We acquire these resources through learning, but there has been remarkably little attention paid to the actual “how” of growing such inner strengths. So I developed the online Positive Neuroplasticity Training to teach the general methods of self-directed brain change, and the related online Professional Course in applying these methods when working with others, such as in psychotherapy, coaching, and human resources training.
I’m a Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and have been invited to speak at NASA as well as at Oxford, Harvard, Stanford, and other major universities. My books have been endorsed by leading scholars, meditation teachers, and self-help experts, including Thich Nhat Hanh, Lori Gottlieb, Stephen Porges, Tara Brach, Kristin Neff, Jack Kornfield, Lori Deschene, Dan Siegel, Harville Hendrix, Steven Hayes, Geneen Roth, Robert Emmons, Paul Gilbert, Mark Williams, Sharon Salzberg, Roman Krznaric, Jim Doty, Jennifer Loudon, Stan Tatkin, Michael Singer, Paul Gilbert, Christine Carter, Frank Ostaseski, Philip Zelazo, Jerome Engel, Christina Feldman, Shauna Shapiro, Ruby Wax, Joseph Goldstein, Roger Walsh, Shawn Achor, Joan Borysenko, Jim Gordon, Dacher Keltner, Daniel Levitin, and Deepak Chopra.
I have a free weekly e-newsletter, Just One Thing, which offers a simple practice taking only a few minutes to help you feel greater happiness, love, and wisdom. I have created a number of online programs and courses and my YouTube channel has many free talks, interviews, and guided experiential practices.
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 their Community Dharma Leader training program, I lead a weekly meditation group in San Rafael, California, and I’ve taught at major meditation centers around the world.
My personal interests include rock-climbing, sailing, novels, travel – I lived one year in Finland and one in Germany – and having fun with family and friends. You can reach me through my administrator by using this form.