13 TED Talks that can teach you how to live a happier life

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Want to be happier? These TED Talks can help.
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amber litzinger/flickr

It’s a fact universally acknowledged that most people want to be happy.

The ideal approach, however, is far more of a mystery.

From the beginning of time, philosophers and researchers alike have pondered how humans can achieve ultimate bliss, and thankfully, some of them have appeared on the TED stage to share their findings.

Some of their tactics are surprising, and some are surprisingly simple, but regardless, each of these talks will bring you one step closer to understanding happiness and how to achieve it.


Dan Gilbert’s ‘The surprising science of happiness’

The Harvard psychologist explains the fallacy behind the notion that to achieve happiness, one must get what they want. He uses psychology and neuroscience to explain that what we think makes us happy is, oftentimes, completely wrong.

“Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted, and synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we wanted,” he says. “In our society, we have a strong belief that synthetic happiness is of an inferior kind.”


Sheena Iyengar’s ‘The art of choosing’

Iyengar, a psycho-economist, debunks the idea that the more choices you have, the better decisions you make. In fact, she says, when you give people 10 or more options, they tend to make poorer decisions in areas like healthcare and investing.

Ultimately, Iyengar says it’s important to understand that constraint can in some contexts be more satisfying than freedom.


David Steindl-Rast’s ‘Want to be happy? Be grateful’

This monk and interfaith scholar’s approach to happiness is simple: slow down, look where you’re going, and above all, be grateful.

“A grateful world is a world of joyful people,” he says.


Graham Hill’s ‘Less stuff, more happiness’

In less than five minutes, journalist Hill makes the case for having less stuff in a smaller space and lays out three simple rules for editing your life.

“By all means, we should buy and own some great stuff. But we want stuff that we’re going to love for years, not just stuff,” he says.

Time for a little life editing.


Andy Puddicombe’s ‘All it takes is 10 mindful minutes’

Puddicombe, a mindfulness expert, former Buddhist monk, and cofounder of meditation app Headspace, describes the transformative power of doing nothing for 10 minutes, undisturbed, each day.

“The sad fact is that we are so distracted that we’re no longer present in the world in which we live,” he says. “We miss out on the things that are most important to us, and the crazy thing is that everybody just assumes, that’s the way life is, so we’ve just kind of got to get on with it. That’s really not how it has to be.”


Ron Gutman’s ‘The hidden power of smiling’

When it comes to happiness, there may in fact be a way to fake it until we make it: by smiling more.

Gutman, CEO of HealthTap, shares surprising research that suggests a simple smile has a measurable effect on your overall well-being and help you live a longer, healthier, happier life.


Matthieu Ricard’s ‘The Habits of Happiness’

Happiness, as defined by this biochemist-turned-Buddhist monk, is a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment, a state of being that underlies all our emotional states, and a conscious choice.

In his TED Talk, he explains how we can train our minds in the habits of well-being as an antidote to destructive emotions.


Shawn Achor’s ‘The happy secret to better work’

As the CEO of Good Think Inc., a psychologist, and author of “The Happiness Advantage,” Achor has spent a lot of time researching where human potential, success, and happiness intersect.

He suggests the common belief that we should work to be happy is misguided, and instead happiness inspires productivity.


Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘Flow, the secret to happiness’

Flow, according to Csikszentmihalyi, a psychology and management professor at Claremont Graduate University, is a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities like art, play, and work. This, he says, makes life worth living.


Daniel Kahneman’s ‘The riddle of experience vs. memory’

According to the behavioral economist, every individual is divided into an experiencing self and a remembering self. The differences between these two selves are critical to our understanding of human happiness.

He explains that what makes you happy in the immediate present won’t necessarily make you happy when you reflect on your life overall – and it’s important to consider that idea the next time you’re making a big decision.


Michael Norton’s ‘How to buy happiness’

Money can actually buy happiness according to this social science researcher – the key is not spending it on yourself.

In this ten-minute talk, Norton shares fascinating research about the many ways pro-social spending can benefit you, your work, and other people.


Pico Iyer’s “The art of stillness.”

Iyer, a travel writer, believes that in our ever chaotic and noisy lives, we need to slow down, tune out, and give ourselves permission to be still.

He explores the insight that comes from stillness and the strategies we all can use to take back a few minutes every day.


Matt Killingsworth’s ‘Want to be happier? Stay in the moment’

Killingsworth, a happiness researcher, designed an app, Track Your Happiness. It lets people report their happiness in real time, and he discovered some key insights into the big causes of happiness.

The researcher says much of our happiness boils down to the contents of our moment-to-moment experiences, and one key determinent involves our ability to focus our attention on something other than the present. Simply put, a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.