4 Lessons from Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown

In her most recent book, Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown explores the geography of human emotions. She builds here on her research and her previous books including Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, and Dare to Lead. Here are my 4 lessons from Atlas of the Heart.

1. Understanding Emotions

Brown explores the landscape of 87 human emotions. She pulls from her previous work, her most recent grounded theory research, and other’s scholarly research. The 87 human emotions are organized into categories and each category is a chapter. Each emotion is clearly, precisely, and succinctly defined. She also describes what it can feel like to experience these emotions. Brown discusses ways to navigate these emotions for ourselves and with others. She also contrasts emotions and distinguishes them from others that are similar, conflated, or confused, such as shame and guilt or hope and optimism.

2. Language Shapes Our Experiences

A central premise to the book is that the language we use shapes not just how we communicate with others but also how we experience them ourselves. Therefore, understanding and naming our emotions accurately is so important. Being able to name precisely what it is that we are feeling is often one of the first keys to emotional intelligence, processing emotions, and trauma healing. When our language for our emotions is clumsy, overly broad, or inaccurate it can lead us to misunderstand ourselves as well as others. The language we use shapes our experiences from our emotions to relationships to cognitive processing to our neurobiological experiences.

3. Thoughtfully Designing a Physical Book

Brown designed the physical book specifically for the topic as well as for audiences in modern times. The book includes full-color artwork, images of captures from social media, pull quotes set on full-color pages, and original comics, artwork, graphics, and more. This is why the book is currently available primarily in hardcover with the paperback, unusually, costing more than the hardcover. Priya Parker kicked off hosting the book launch event by sharing that the physical book feels “embodied.” It has heft, vivaciousness, and life. The book also seems designed for folks to be able to capture images of the comics and pull quotes and share with others or on social media. This may seem like a gimmicky tactic but it is also very useful if you have ideas you want to share with the world. In just my initial skimming of the book, I snapped a photo of this pull quote and sent it to a coaching client as it spoke directly to what we had talked about earlier that day. Brown uses short paragraphs and Atlas of the Heart feels very Instagrammable.

From Atlas of the Heart

4. Writing to Be of Service

Although the book is essentially a research report, it doesn’t read that way. Brown weaves in research, science, and story together to help the reader understand their own emotions and the emotional lives of others. She clearly has a foundation of empirical research and one impressive literature review, but she doesn’t make them the book. Instead, she uses them as background to build on for a clearly written book that is helpful to the general audience she is writing for. Brown also uses her own personal life and experiences throughout the book skillfully. She shares her successes and triumphs as well as her own challenges, difficulties, and unhelpful patterns. She uses herself not to show off and be impressive nor to be small and generate sympathy but as a tool to be of service to the reader.

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