Best TED Talks on Happiness

If you’ve never heard of TED Talks, you’re in for a treat. TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a non-profit “devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading”. The organization holds two annual conferences each year for world-class speakers to provide new ideas on a variety of topics – the “talk of their lives” – in 18 minutes or less. The best talks are then posted at Many of them are quite funny – not your typical documentary style presentation.

Here are my top 5 best TED Talks on happiness, specifically, on Thinking Happier – from very different perspectives. The top 3 of these are also in the list of 20 most watched TED talks. If you’re looking for more, TED also has a “What Makes Us Happy?” theme with over 80 talks to browse through.

# 1 – Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight

Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain researcher who, at the age of 37, had a first-hand look at what it’s like to have a stroke. In this presentation she masterfully tells the story of her realization that she was having a stroke and what she felt and thought as her brain was losing the ability to function normally, including the capacity to speak and to get medical attention. What she felt and thought will surprise you. This talk is beautiful and powerful and opens the heart to the wonder of life. If you watch only one TED Talk, this is the one I’d recommend you see.

#2 – Brene Brown: the power of vulnerability

Brene Brown is a research professor, but she’s also a master storyteller. With a self-deprecating sense of humor, she practices what she preaches as she unveils her discoveries about how vulnerability (that which we avoid at all costs) is closely linked to happiness (that which we tirelessly pursue). Highly entertaining and eye-opening. If you’ve seen it and liked it, she has a second talk – “listening to shame”, taking the topic deeper, to understand how shame may be a negative in our lives, but failure can be a positive.

#3 – Dan Gilbert: the surprising science of happiness

Dan Gilbert is a Harvard psychology professor with a sense of humor and lots of research studies and individual anecdotes to describe how and why we feel happiness. Apparently it’s not because we get the things we think we need to be happy. And it’s not because we think we’ve made the right choices. It’s because our brains know how to synthesize happiness from whatever’s happened. Sometimes. Complex, but fascinating.

# 4 – Nigel Marsh: how to make work-life balance work

Nigel Marsh is the author of “Fat, Forty and Fired” and “Overworked and Underlaid”. When he turned 40 he took a year away from employment to study work-life balance. In this 10 minute talk he describes four points that are critical to developing work-life balance. My favorite quote from this talk: “there are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet screaming desperation where they work long hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like”. Lack of work-life balance is a common source of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Nigel suggests we can take charge of our lives without dramatically changing them.

# 5 – Shawn Achor: the happy secret to better work

Shawn Achor is the CEO of Good Think Inc, a consulting firm that studies the connections between human potential, success and happiness. And he’s quite a comedian in his own right, not to mention a fast talker. My favorite point from this talk expands on what Dan Gilbert expressed in his talk (#3) – Shawn explains that of the things that have an effect on our happiness, only 10% can be found in the external world – what’s actually happening to us and around us. The remaining 90% has to do with the way our brains process the external world – and we can have some control over that.

I currently have a list of over 20 excellent TED Talks on happiness as well as lists of inspiring talks, talks on human behavior and on science and natural wonders. So you’ll be seeing more in later posts.

One of the great things about TED Talks is that they’re easily downloadable to your computer or other devices. When you click to play the video in this post, “download”, “share” and “embed” buttons display in the upper right corner of the video. Downloading gives you the freedom to watch or listen to the videos when you’re doing something else – walking, driving, cooking, cleaning, waiting.

Enjoy, and please feel free to make further suggestions for my lists.

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Best TED Talks on Happiness — 2 Comments

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