The Best TED Talks On Happiness

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated April 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In 1984, Richard Saul Wurman, architect and graphic designer, founded and chaired the TED Conferences 1984 to celebrate the convergence of technology, entertainment, and design. The TED conferences occurred every year in Monterey, California, with speakers who were invited from diverse backgrounds of disciplines. 

Twenty years after the creation of TED conferences, TED Talks was released free online as an audio and video podcast series with a central focus under the slogan: "Ideas worth spreading." This Silicon Valley initiative focused first on technology and design but later expanded to include other topics, such as culture, science, research, and popular events. TED Talk has no commercial, political, or religious agendas, making it an inclusive event and idea platform worldwide. 

The conference is held annually, moving from Long Beach, California, to Vancouver, Canada. Its format and style are different from usual conferences, as speakers have approximately 20 minutes to speak, which can make for a concise presentation. These talks can also be viewed online via Youtube or the TED Talk website. One of the popular topics discussed through this platform is happiness. Looking at TED Talks on happiness may offer the chance to widen your view on this emotion and state of being. 

Feeling like you need a new perspective?

TED talks on happiness

Philosophers, psychologists, and individuals have long studied what makes people happy and what constitutes true happiness. With the advent of the internet came a growing public awareness of worldwide events. While this awareness led to a significant understanding of psychology, it also led to increasing anxiety over the current state of events in the world and a drop in happiness.

Awareness of negative and traumatizing events can cause a lapse in well-being and contentment that may reduce happiness if not balanced with moments of reflection. If you feel it would benefit you to contemplate how you can increase happiness in your life, you might enjoy a few TED Talks on the research and dissemination of the topic, including the following. 

The surprising science of happiness - Dan Gilbert

If you aren't sure what makes you happy, you might enjoy The Surprising Science of Happiness. Gilbert, a high school dropout and Ph.D. psychologist from Harvard University, explains how your brain may trick you about what makes you happy. Gilbert claims that the brain misjudges what truly brings happiness, making assumptions about bliss that aren't accurate. He backs these ideas with research done by himself and his Harvard team. Since he gave this talk in 2004, it has become a blockbuster garnering millions of views and continuing to change how people think about happiness. Ten years after giving the talk, Gilbert wrote a blog post about this event.

He states, "I thought I was speaking to a small group of people who'd come to a relatively unknown conference in Monterey, California, and had I realized that ten years later, more than eight million people would have heard what I said that day, I would have (A) rehearsed and (B) dressed better." Gilbert also wrote a book, Stumbling on Happiness, a humorous read on the topic of finding happiness.  

What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness - Robert Waldinger

In his 12-minute talk on the longest study of happiness, Waldinger, psychiatrist, psychologist, Zen priest, and director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, discusses one of the longest studies in human history on happiness. In this talk, he explains the background of the study about what makes humans happy and briefly discusses its findings. 

The study tracks the lives of 724 male Harvard college sophomores from 1928, focusing on all aspects of their lives, asking them, "What makes life good?" Some subjects from the study are still alive and participating in it in the 21st century. They were chosen from all income brackets, including boys living in poverty and the wealthiest, most privileged individuals. Years later, some of the wives of these men joined in the study. Short and focused, this talk discusses the results of this study. 

Happiness and its surprises - Nancy Etcoff

Nancy Etcoff is another Harvard researcher and psychologist whose research centers on the science of beauty, also called neuroaesthetics. Etcoff is the instructor of The Science of Happiness class at Harvard Medical School and the program director in Aesthetics and Well-Being at Massachusetts General Hospital. 

In her talk, Nancy answers riddles, like why people find some aspects of life and how we have evolved to notice beauty. Her research shows beauty is not a social construct but a function of evolution and survival. Her talk, Happiness and its Surprises, discusses this topic further. 

Happiness in body and soul - Eve Ensler

Best known for her controversial show, The Vagina Dialogues, Eve Ensler relates a gently humorous and personable account of how these dialogues and her journey changed her ideas and views about happiness. In her talk on happiness in the body and soul, she states, "I think that before the Vagina Dialogues, I didn't believe in happiness. I thought that only idiots were happy." In this talk, she continues to raise awareness of violence against women through her accounts of how courageous women worldwide find happiness through service.

The habits of happiness - Matthieu Ricard

French biochemist-turned-Buddhist monk, author, and photographer Matthieu Ricard is sometimes called the happiest man in the world. His move to the Himalayas to become a monk was done to find happiness for himself and to study the subject scientifically. This associate of the Dalai Lama subjected himself to intensive clinical tests at the University of Wisconsin so the brain science behind happiness could be better understood.

In this informative Ted Talk on happiness, he explains how individuals can teach themselves to be more serene by cultivating habits of well-being. He also published a book called Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill. 

How to buy happiness - Michael Norton

According to social science researcher and Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton, you may be able to buy positive feelings and a sense of contentment due to over a decade of research on the topic. 

This humanitarian academic spent a decade analyzing information about global economic equality. He states, "While we might expect that the rich and poor, or liberals and conservatives, would hold different beliefs about their ideal distributions, we observe striking consensus across the political and economic spectrum. Every group reported ideal distributions far more equal than their estimated distributions (or the actual distribution)." 

Other TED talks on happiness 

Deliberately focusing on positive news instead of looking at distressing topics may be beneficial in increasing daily joy. If you're looking for positive topics to listen to, consider the following TED Talks on happiness: 

Feeling like you need a new perspective?

How to find professional support

It can be commendable to support yourself in increasing moments of happiness. However, many factors can make it difficult to feel happiness without support. You can fine-tune your approach to happiness through therapy sessions with professional guidance. Licensed professionals can offer resources to understand what might keep you from happiness.  

If you have a busy work schedule or personal life and do not have the time to attend in-person sessions, you may also consider online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp. Online therapists often offer a diverse variety of schedules and treatment plans. Plus, clients can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions. 

A growing body of evidence has revealed that online therapy is an effective option for mental health treatment. A study published in the peer-reviewed research Journal of Clinical Psychology examined information from several online counseling trials. Researchers found that overall attitudes between counselors and participants were positive in both in-person and online sessions. Clients felt comfortable and content with the video format of sessions.  


Happiness is an elusive subject that many people strive to understand. There are several theories on what makes someone happy, and watching TED Talks is one way to learn more about these ideas. If you're interested in personalized support, however, you may benefit from reaching out to a licensed therapist for support and guidance.
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