Do You Want To Be Happy? – Five TED Talks on Happiness With Actionable Advice

5 Ted Talks on Happiness_Facebook image

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Let me get this out there: I want to be happy! And so do you! I do not know a single person who is not looking for happiness in one way or another.

And to be honest, not many people seem happy. Most of my friends and colleagues spend a large amount of their day complaining about their parents, partner, work-colleagues or boss.

I am a big fan of Ted Talks. First, because I love conference. Second, because the format and the story-telling at Ted is often second to none. 

That is why I turned to Ted to search for the talks which attack the question of how to be happy. I went through 20 plus talks and these are my five favorites, mainly because they bring actionable advice which you and I can implement in some form or another.

Can I guarantee that they will make you happy? No. 

Will they help you have a better understanding of how to seek happiness. Absolutely.


Plug Into Your Hard-Wired Happiness

Speaker: Srikumar Rao

Duration: 18min 01sec

In this talk, best-selling author and former business school professor, Srikumar Rao, argues that we were taught a wrong mental model when it comes to happiness. Currently, we all live in an “If…, then…” model. 

“If I go to university XYZ, then I will be able to get a job at ABC”.

“If I hit my sales target of XYZ, then I will get a promotion to the position of ABC”.

This is very much an outcome based approach. We follow the mental model that if we take some specific steps, then we will be able to achieve something which will make us happy.

Rao asks the audience: “Imagine yourself 10 years ago and the targets you had set yourself. Look at yourself today. Did you achieve those targets you set yourself 10 years ago?

Most likely, yes. And are you happier than you were 10 years ago?”

For most people (including myself) the answer is: no. I am still stuck in this model of “If…, then…”. I am just chasing a different kind of outcome.

What Rao proposes is that we change our mental model. We should stop focusing on outcomes and put more emphasis on the process. 

Defining an outcome as a target is great, because it gives you an initial direction to go towards to. But the ultimate satisfaction and happiness should come from the process. You should focus on getting happiness out of a skill which you are learning, not what the skill will help you to achieve.

Lessons Learned

  • Focus on the process, not on the outcome.
  • Set targets (annual, monthly, life) based on experiences and skills, not on outcomes.

How to Buy Happiness

Speaker: Micheal Norton

Duration: 10min 58sec

Michael Norton, a Harvard Business School professor, shows in this talk that you can indeed buy happiness, just not the way think. 

He walks us through different studies conducted around the world, with a particular focus on the relationship of where we spend our money and how happy we are in doing so.

The underlying message is simple: It does not matter what you buy. What matters is who you buy it for.

Buying something for yourself, does not make you happier. Your happiness level stays constant, no matter the item.

Buying something for someone else, is what makes you happier.

This does not matter whether it is your sibling, your friend or a complete stranger. As long as you do not spend it on yourself, the purchase will make you happier.

What is interesting is that you do not see any differences in happiness based on the amount of money you spend (e.g. USD 5 vs USD 20) or which country you are in (high-income vs low-income country). The act of “giving” makes you happier in itself.

Michael Norton also wrote a book in 2013 which outlines the principles of how to spend your money and its effect on your happiness: Happy Money: The New Science of Smarter Spending.

Lessons Learned

  • Spending money on someone else makes us happier.
  • Spending money on myself, has little to no impact on my happiness.

Want to be happy? Be grateful

Speaker: David Steindl-Rast

Duration: 14min 29sec

Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast opens his talk by showing the interlink between happiness and gratefulness, namely that you are not grateful because you are happy. But that happiness comes from being grateful.

Simply look at people who have everything you could possibly want in the world. Not everyone is happy. However, there are many people who have experiences tragedies in their life, both personal and professional, and still they are happy.

Happiness comes from being grateful.

Gratefulness comes from something we appreciate that was given to us freely. We did not buy it or work for it. 

He then goes on to explain that there is a simple method to be more grateful and therefore happier. First, we need to understand that every moment we have on this planet has the potential for opportunity and gratefulness.

We were given the chance to live and enjoy life. Therefore, every moment, every second, is a “given moment” as David likes to say and has the potential for gratefulness.

Now, not every moment is going to be one for which we are grateful and will be happy. Tragedies such as death, job loss and heartbreaks are definitely not joyful experiences.

But the underlying assumption remains: every moment has the potential to be a happy moment.

What do we need to do? Simple:

Stop. Look. Go.

We need to make sure that we have stop signs in our life that force us to look around and appreciated our life, be grateful for the good things in our life. Looking around also helps us see that there are opportunities. Once we see these opportunities, we need to act on them.

Very simple: Stop. Look. Go.

And the good thing is that if you miss an opportunity, a new one will come. Because every moment in our life has the potential to be a moment we will be grateful for. No matter our age or life situation.

Lessons Learned

  • Gratefulness leads to happiness. Not the other way around.
  • Stop. Look. Go.
  • It is important to systematically create stop signs in our life which force us to take a step back and be grateful.

The Price of Happiness

Speaker: Benjamin Wallace

Duration: 14min 40sec

In this funny talk, journalist Benjamin Wallace shows us how he felt when trying out some of the most expensive items in the world. The underlying question being: Does something expensive make us happy?

He tries objects such as the most expensive bed in the world, the most expensive street-legal car in the world and some of the most expensive food (such as white truffles). 

On the one hand, it is extremely entertaining to see the prices of some of the most expensive items out there. On the other hand, Benjamin’s Wallace’s comments are very funny and straight to the point.

“White truffles, one of the most expensive luxury foods by weight in the world. (…) And the charm of the white truffles is in their aroma. It’s not in their taste really. Not in their texture.

It’s in the smell. These white pearlescent flakes hit the noodles, this haunting, wonderful, nutty, mushroomy smell wafted up.

10 seconds passed and it was gone.

Then I was left with these little ugly flakes on my pasta that their purpose had been served.”

At the end of the talk Benjamin mentions a study where they were able to show that price does have an effect on happiness. The researchers were able to show that when people consumed higher priced items, even if they were the exact same in nature as lower priced items, they actually feel happier.

Lessons Learned

  • Price does not equal happiness. Just because something is expensive it does not mean that you get value from it.
  • You decide what makes you happy. An expensive bed which gives you a good restful sleep can make you happy. An overpriced white truffle that gives you ten seconds of good smell, will not make you happy.
  • From a marketing perspective, giving customers a high-priced item makes them feel happy.

Measuring what makes life worthwhile

Speaker: Chip Conley

Duration: 14min 40sec

Chip Conley is an entrepreneur and former Airbnb executive who sets out to discuss how me measure happiness as nations. His main question is: why do we look at GDP as a measure to determine whether a country is doing well or not? Why are we not looking at measure more related to happiness?

He recounts both the tale of a maid in one of his first hotel ventures as well as his experience meeting the monarch of Bhutan. Both of which showed him that happiness and well-being should not be measured by any monetary value or anything tangible, but by intangible aspects.

For example, employees are much more satisfied when they identify with the mission statement of the company. Or people are much happier, not when they have more money, but when they spend more time on things that they value.

Chip Conley proposes that we focus less on trying to get what we do not have, and more on finding happiness in the things that we have. 

What is particularly interesting is that in 2008, Bhutan implemented a so-called gross national happiness index which has become part of their constitution. It is a measure of the countries happiness as such based on many different indicators.

In total, this talk is a broad discussion on how to measure happiness and whether the governments are going in the right direction nowadays. It has less actionable tips for the individual on how to create a happier life. But I absolutely loved the talk and thought it worthy of mention in this post, because it helps us also rephrase how lead and interact with other people around a mission, rather than a pre-defined target.

Lessons Learned

  • Focus on finding happiness in what we have, rather in what we would like to have.
  • Intangibles are key for absolute happiness.


I must have watched around 20 different ted talks on happiness for this post. What makes these five special is that they give me either a mind-set to adopt or an actionable advice I can implement to live my life more intentionally.

Some are very much focussed on having the right mind-set, such as focussing on the process and not the outcome. Others are more actionable, for example in showing that it is important to spend money on others.

What I have come to realize is the depth of information on ted as a whole. And that opposed to brainless youtube videos, I do not have the capacity to watch more than one or two per day. 

But if you can do so consistently, for example watching one every day or week, then you will get a wealth of information to improve any aspect of your life.

Actionable Items

  • Set stop signals in a systematic manner to look for opportunities. For me:
    • 1. On a monthly basis create a “Chocolate Aspects of Life: Monthly Review” focused on gratefulness.
    • 2. On an annual basis, do a “personal retreat” where I look at my plans for the next year and beyond.
  • In my personal and professional annual goals, focus on the process and skills I want to learn, rather than achieving certain targets.
  • On a monthly basis, make sure to spend money on someone else and document it.
  • On a monthly basis, highlight one item which gives you joy and why it gives you joy.

Which of the above Ted Talks did you take a chance to look at and what inspired you? Are there any other presentations or talks which have inspired you in a different way as it relates to intentional living and happiness?Let me know in the comments or send me an e-mail at Any questions, concerns, feedback and constructive criticism is highly appreciated.

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