How to Be Happier: 7 Ted Talks on Happiness

how to be happier - ted talks on happiness

Would you like to know how to be happier?

You’re not alone. Pretty much every human ever would love to know the answer to that question.

Luckily for you, I’ve rounded up some books and TED talks on happiness to help you with that.

Grab some coffee and snacks and settle back. You’re in for a treat (and I’m not just referring to your plate of Oreos).

International Day of Happiness

March 20 is the International Day of Happiness. A global initiative spearheaded by the United Nations, the day serves as a reminder that happiness is a fundamental human goal. The theme for 2022 is happier, kinder, together.

I get that the day is still two months off, but it’s been a tough couple of years. I figured why not share some TED talks on happiness to bolster the spirits. If you’ve been in the doldrums of late, hopefully they’ll help you figure out how to be happier. 

They certainly lifted my mojo!

How Happy Are You?

happy young women in a sunflower field - how to be happier - ted talks on happiness

How happy are you? More importantly, how consistently happy would you say you are? These days I fall into the ‘pretty much always happy’ camp. I wasn’t always like this, however.

I used to let circumstances dictate my mood, which meant that on any given day I’d score an eight, a five or even a zero out of 10 on the happiness scale. It wasn’t unusual for me to have multiple scores in a single day. 

Yeah, a real pill to be around.

I viewed happiness as an extrinsic goal to be pursued rather than an intrinsic state of being, accessible to me in any given moment. I believed I’d be happier when I reached my goal weight, found my ideal partner, got that promotion or better yet, won the lottery. 


By pinning my wellbeing and life satisfaction on these ‘if’ and ‘when’ goals, I robbed myself of the opportunity to be happy in the moment. Saying I’d be happy ‘when’ by its very nature implied I wasn’t happy now.

Here’s How to Be Happier

In The How of Happiness, for example, research psychologist and University of California professor of psychology Sonja Lyubomirsky, offers easy-to-follow advice to increase happiness both in the short term and over the long term.

Self-taught philosopher, lover of wisdom and founder of Optimize, Brian Johnson, has read 600+ books of the top optimal living books ever and he rates The How of Happiness as his favorite. 

I’d say that makes it a good place to start.

Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by former Harvard lecturer and happiness expert Tal Ben Shahar also has a lot to offer. In it he outlines the four archetypes of happiness: the rat racer, the hedonist, the nihilist and the happy person. 

Hint: the happy person is the archetype we should be striving for.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin chronicles her year-long experiment to discover how to create true happiness. An epiphany on a bus one rainy weekday afternoon led Rubin to spend the next 12 months trying to have more fun.

They’re all worth reading, but if you’re in the market some instant inspiration on how to be happier (let’s face it, who isn’t?), these TED talks on happiness will definitely do the trick. 

From living with less stuff and nurturing relationships to spending money on others, finding your flow state and raising your level of positivity, each of them will help you understand that happiness is indeed within your control. 

The Happy Secret to Better Work by Shawn Achor

The CEO of Good Think Inc., Shawn Achor researches positive outliers —people who are well above average— to understand where human potential, success and happiness intersect. In his witty and super interesting TED talk The Happy Secret to Better Work, Shawn explains why success won’t make you happier.

He says we have it backwards. Rather than pursue success in the hope of happiness, we should raise our level of positivity in the present. When we do that our brain experiences what’s called a happiness advantage.

Your brain at positive, says Shawn, is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed. Intelligence, creativity and energy all go up. The good news is you can train your brain to become more positive.

Which is why Shawn and his team at Good Think Inc. ‘prescribes’ positivity exercises like journalling about positive experiences, expressing gratitude and performing conscious acts of kindness in their work with companies. Visit his website to learn more about the Happily app.

If you only watch one TED talk on happiness, make it this one. I found all of them to be on point, but this one in particular is my absolute favourite. Although…that said they all have merit in their own right. Watch them all, you won’t regret it.

What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness by Robert Waldinger

The Harvard Study of Adult Development is probably the longest study of adult life that’s ever been done. For nearly 80 years researchers have sought to understand what makes a good life. What they found is that good relationships keep us happier and healthier.

People who are more connected to family, friends and their community are happier, physically healthier and live longer than people who aren’t that well connected. But it’s not about how many friends you have or if you’re in a committed relationship, it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.

In their youth, the study’s participants thought fame, wealth and career success were goals worth pursuing for a good life, but in the end they discovered that happiness and meaning came from the relationships they’d nurtured.

Side note: This wisdom is echoed in The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest by Dan Buettner

Flow, the Secret to Happiness By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The New York Times calls him a man obsessed with happiness. A leading researcher in positive psychology and someone who has devoted his life to studying what makes people truly happy, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has certainly earned the title.

In his TEDx talk he looks at what makes a life worth living. What Csikszentmihalyi found is that after a certain point, which corresponds to just a few thousand dollars above the minimum poverty level, increases in material wellbeing don’t seem to affect how happy people are.

If that’s the case, then where in our normal everyday life do we feel really happy? The short of it is, we find immense pleasure and joy in creativity. When we are immersed in a creative endeavor, we have a sense that we’re living more fully.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term ‘flow’ to describe this creative state when we’re completely involved in an activity for its own sake. Creativity implies art in some form or another, but you can be in a state of flow whether you’re cooking, writing, painting or creating a spreadsheet.

It’s not so much what you’re doing, but how you feel when you’re doing it. Which makes me question whether we’re overthinking this whole business of how to be happier. Perhaps the secret is simply to notice when we’re in the flow state and do more of that?

How to Buy Happiness by Michael Norton

Think money can’t buy happiness? Think again. Social science researcher Michael Norton shares some fascinating research on how money can indeed buy happiness. There’s a small caveat, however. This theory only works when you don’t spend it on yourself.

Michael offers surprising data on the many ways prosocial spending can benefit you, your work and the people around you. If you’re at all curious about how we feel about what we buy and how we spend, then you’ll really enjoy Michael’s talk. If nothing else, it’ll prove your mom right. Because giving really is better than receiving.

Want to Be Happier? Stay in the Moment by Matt Killingsworth

Matt Killingsworth studied people from all over the world across a broad range of demographics to discover when humans are most happy. He sent participants the same three questions at various time throughout the day and they responded in real time using an app called Track Your Happiness.

1. How happy are you right now?
2. What are you doing?
3. Are you thinking about something other than the task at hand?

What he discovered is that we’re often happiest when we’re lost in the moment. Conversely, the more our mind wanders, the less happy we tend to be. A simple approach to happiness, but one that clearly works.

If you’re interested, you can download the app and track your own happiness to find out what factors contribute to your personal wellbeing. You’ll also be helping Matt and his team in their ongoing research efforts.

Less Stuff, More Happiness by Graham Hill

Using a cardboard box to drive home the point, Graham Hill explains how less stuff can lead to more happiness. In his short but thought-provoking talk, he explains how less stuff and less space results in a smaller footprint, helps you save money and provides a little more ease in your life.

He started a project called Life Edited to explore the idea further and crowd-sourced the renovation of his 420 square foot Manhattan apartment to create his ideal living space. What he ended up with is mind-blowing.

Graham’s three rules for editing your life are super simple. You need to edit (declutter) ruthlessly, adopt the ‘small is sexy’ mantra, and opt for multifunctional when it comes to your home and the things you put into it.

As a card-carrying minimalist since 2008, I can promise you: the less you own, the more you have. And by more I mean happiness. It’s true, decluttering makes you happier. There’s just something about having less stuff around.

The Price of Happiness by Benjamin Wallace

In this bonus sixth TED talk, Benjamin Wallace —journalist and author of The Billionaire’s Vinegar embarked on a quest to find out why people are inclined to spend ridiculously large amounts of money on things like wine or food.

Essentially, he wanted to know if happiness could be bought. To find out, he set out to sample the world’s most expensive products, including a bottle of 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc, an overpriced bar of Cor soap and a pair of $800 Jomons jeans. (The latter now retails for an eye watering $1,184.00.)

And there I thought my R800 pair of Diesel jeans were wildly overpriced.

Learning how to be happier has never been more important. My hope is that by diving into the books and TED talks on happiness that I’ve shared here you’ll soon have your happy set point dialled up.

Remember though, knowledge without action means nothing. You need to take responsibility for your happiness. One way to do that is to join Optimize. It’s 100% free and the amount of personal growth goodness available is mind boggling.

Photos by Antonino Visalli and Jacqueline Munguía on Unsplash