It's easy to lose perspective when you get caught up in office drudgery, have an argument with a loved one, or push yourself too hard in the pursuit of success. As our lives grow more chaotic and stressful, many forget about the importance of achieving happiness and enjoying the ride.
Increasingly, psychologists, neuroscientists, business leaders, and spiritual advisors have studied the mechanics of happiness and how we can utilize them in our everyday lives. Many of them have shared their findings at TED conferences.
We've gone through TED's expansive online library of presentations and picked out some of the best on happiness. You'll learn why smiling more can improve your health, why giving to others is more than a nice gesture, and why the happiest people are also the most productive.
Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert says we have a "psychological immune system."
In "The Surprising Science of Happiness," Gilbert says our brains can create happiness if we choose not to give into misery when faced with an undesirable situation. His talk explores the science behind the way the brain has evolved to adapt to unmet expectations.
"[O]ur longings and our worries are both to some degree overblown, because we have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing," he says.
Cognitive researcher Nancy Etcoff explains how humans are wired to live in harmony with others.
Etcoff goes through the interesting evolutionary history of human happiness in "Happiness and Its Surprises," and explains that focusing too intently on the self could be keeping us from a more satisfied life because it goes against our nature.
"Because when you think about it, people are happiest when in flow, when they're absorbed in something out in the world, when they're with other people, when they're active, engaged in sports, focusing on a loved one, learning, having sex, whatever. They're not sitting in front of the mirror trying to figure themselves out, or thinking about themselves," she says.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes what it's like to get into the zone.
Csikszentmihalyi is renowned for his research on "flow," which is the state of intense focus some people call being in "the zone." He explains why he thinks it is the key to a fulfilled life in his talk, "Flow, the Secret to Happiness."
"There's this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback. You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though [it's] difficult, and sense of time disappears. You forget yourself; you feel part of something larger. And once the conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake," he says.
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