15 Atlas of the Heart Quotes to Help Understand What You Are Feeling

It’s no secret that I’m a major fan of Dr. Brene Brown’s work. And her new book Atlas of the Heart is probably my favorite book she’s ever written. It’s filled with quotes that will really get you thinking!

I have to admit that when I first read the title I was skeptical. The book seemed maybe a bit too academic. Still, I went ahead and ordered it.

To no surprise, I discovered that this book is seriously amazing! It’s written in a style that held my attention. Brown uses photos and illustrations to drive home messages that might otherwise be difficult to grasp. Most importantly, this book helped me to recognize and understand my emotions.

Sometimes I find it hard to articulate the way I feel to those around me, and to myself. This book serves as a brilliant guidepost. It provides the words, descriptions, source, and deeper meaning of 87 commonly felt emotions.

Here I’m sharing 15 of my favorite Atlas of the Heart quotes. Let’s get started!

1. Human emotions and experiences are layers of biology, biography, behavior, and backstory.

I love this quote because it validates how complex we all are. The way we all move through and process the world is the result of so many factors.

Learning more about how and why our emotions exist and digging deep to accept them offers an inroad to connect with ourselves fully. And Brown says this is the only way we can truly connect with others.

2. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.

Brene Brown has dedicated so much of her work to the study of vulnerability. Even though I’m familiar with this work, reading it always feels like I’m learning it again for the first time.

Maybe that’s because we’re conditioned to believe vulnerability is a weakness, and it’s my default to avoid this uncomfortable emotion. This section of the book offers a great reminder to see again how powerful vulnerability is.

3. Amusement differs from happiness in that happiness is a general sense of pleasure whereas amusement appeals specifically to one’s sense of humor.

I enjoyed Brown’s breakdown of happiness and amusement. And just the word amusement is so good – I need to bring it into my life more!

She also shares how amusement incorporates playfulness and a sense of the unexpected. Yep! Sign me up :-)

4. We define nostalgia as a yearning for the way things used to be in our often idealized and self-protective version of the past.

Nostalgia is an emotion with mixed reviews. Sometimes we yearn for a past that wasn’t as wonderful as we think it was. Reading this reminded me of the concept of rosy retrospection.

Thinking about the past also takes us out of the present moment, where life is happening in the here and now.

5. Hope is a way of thinking – a cognitive process. (Best A-ha quote from Atlas of the Heart)

According to Brown, hope is not actually a feeling. It’s a way of thinking.

Brown goes on to describe hope almost as a framework. It is the fuel that gives us the ability to set goals, create actionable steps to achieve those goals, and the feeling that we can (actually) achieve them!

Her quote and description of hope from Atlas of the Heart made me envision a ladder. When I’m in a tough spot, hope is the ladder I have access to that can help me to climb my way out of a challenging place to get to where I want to be.

6. Hope is a function of struggle – we develop hope not during the easy or comfortable times, but through adversity and discomfort.

I felt a wave of peace wash over me when I read this. Sometimes I still find myself wanting to avoid discomfort at all costs. To see that my most challenging moments serve a very high purpose brings relief and comfort.

Brown teaches us that hope is learned. She shares how children learn hope from parents who set consistent, loving, safe examples and allow their children to struggle.

This is powerful stuff!

7. Compassion is a daily practice and empathy is a skill set that is one of the most powerful tools of compassion. (Eyeopening quote from Atlas of the Heart)

Brown teaches that compassion is a state of openness to another’s whole experience as well as the ability to access and lean into our own. She says we feel a sense of oneness with others while in this state. And this takes bravery.

She says that empathy is a unique tool that allows us to recognize and understand what someone else is feeling and to reflect that understanding onto them.

8. Boundaries are a prerequisite for compassion and empathy. We can’t connect with someone unless we’re clear about where we end and they begin.

A lightbulb went on for me when I read this section. Seriously! It seems so obvious, yet I’d never seen the words jump out at me so clearly.

Brown talks about how setting boundaries allows you to hold others accountable for their behavior. Only then can you begin to experience compassion and empathy for them.

When I read this, I also saw it another way. A lack of boundaries has blurred the lines literally between myself and my loved ones. This makes it hard for me to have compassion for them because, in some ways, I can’t even truly see them. I could only see my version of them through my tinted lens perspective. Having clear boundaries allows me to place fresh eyes on them, seeing them as they are (instead of as I am).

Boundaries are a lifelong challenge for me. After reading this, I understand even more how important it is to keep learning and trying to understand and to be the most authentic, compassionate version of myself that I can be.

9. If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in. (Favorite Altas of the Heart quote and section)

This was my favorite section of the book. Brown describes how true belonging requires us to be who we authentically are.

You must read this section. It is absolutely beautiful.

10. Betrayal is so painful because, at its core, it is a violation of trust.

Trust is a core foundation of Brown’s work. In a talk she gives on trust, she describes how trust is earned little by little, like by placing one marble at a time into the jar. She created the acronym BRAVING to tell how trust is earned.

That’s why betrayal is so gutting and so scary. We trusted that person. And betrayal hurts so deeply.

11. Joy is sudden, unexpected, short-lasting, and high-intensity. (Illuminating Atlas of the Heart quote)

Brown shares that fellow researcher Matthew Kuan Johnson says, “While experiencing joy, we don’t lose ourselves, we become more truly ourselves.”

Brown also shares a story of witnessing her daughter’s pure joy, and I felt I could relate. When I think of joy, I also think of my daughter when she was around 8. I remember feeling awe at the joy she radiated throughout the day over. The simplest things could light her up with joy! I wonder if maybe that’s why we love being with young children. They seem to have easy access to joy, and we get to remember how it feels when in their presence.

12. Happiness is stable, long-lasting, and normally the result of effort. It’s lower intensity than joy, and more self-focused.

Brown says that happiness is more external and doesn’t take us down to the deeper, more fulfilling emotions like joy and gratitude. She describes that we feel “a sense of control with the happiness.”

Reading this, I thought to myself how we can help to invite happiness by managing certain aspects of our days and moments. But I get what she’s saying about joy and gratitude. Joy seems like something to almost surrender to – it’s so big and so vast. And, to me, gratitude is a bottomless inner well of my heart that feels vast, deep, and enduring.

13. While gratitude is an emotion, if we want to experience its full power, we must also make it a practice.  (This Atlas of the Heart quote inspires!)

It seems the practice of gratitude is aligned with spiritual practice. Gratitude means more than words can say. It means thank you for everything. Dr. Maya Angelou’s words, “Let gratitude be the pillow you lay upon to say your nightly prayer.”

We can cultivate gratitude by building our gratitude musculature through daily practice. Brown references Robert Emmons’ work, and I recently picked up his book, The Little Book of Gratitude. (I highly recommend it!)

I also love the book Attitudes of Gratitude, written by M. J. Ryan, and I share some of my favorite thoughts here. 

14. With contentment, we often have the sense of having completed something; with tranquility, we relish the feeling of doing nothing.

Okay, who doesn’t want to feel moments of tranquility daily? Brown shares that this might be her new favorite emotion, and I couldn’t agree more!

We’re so hard-wired to produce, execute, and complete tasks. I’m grateful that the word tranquility even exists and hope to make it part of my daily (I know – maybe a stretch!) emotions.

15. Language matters. It’s the raw material of story, it changes how we feel about ourselves and others, and it’s a portal to connection.

Sharing our stories and ourselves with others is what brings lasting connection. Without the correct language to identify our own emotions and convey our emotions to others with clarity, we’re left feeling alone and separate from those around us.

Reading this made so much sense to me. My emotions are constantly changing, and giving them a name and a voice can help me learn more about myself and everyone around me. I need the tools and words to understand myself and what I feel.

I’m so profoundly grateful to Dr. Brene Brown for creating this guidebook for us all to use to work through our many layers of feelings. I could not recommend this book more! Many quotes from Atlas of the Heart resonate deeply.

I feel this book will remain front and center on my bookshelf for many, many years to come.  It’s helping so much already, and I’m sure it can help you, too!

Buy this book here: Atlas of the Heart.


Have you read Atlas of the Heart? Please share any thoughts or quotes you enjoyed in the comments below!



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