We bring to you the five best happiness talks by some of the most famous names in the world of psychology. We hope this compilation will enrich you, inspire you, and perhaps prod you to re-map your ideas on happiness. We apologize if any personal bias might have crept in unintended.
Happiness, indeed, is more than feeling cheerful in the moment. It is also about having the psychology flexibility, grit, altruism, and other character strengths.
1. Abigail Marsh:
Why Are Some People More Altruistic
Abigail Marsh is a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience at Georgetown University. She has been awarded the Cozzarelli Prize for scientific excellence and originality from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Having received her PhD in social psychology from Harvard in 2004, she works extensively on empathy and altruism.
Marsh is interested in finding answers to the questions as: How do people understand what others think and feel? What drives us to help other people? What prevents us from harming them?
What made her go into the study of altruism was an incident that happened 20 years back.
That night, I was 19 years old and driving back to my home in Tacoma, Washington, down the Interstate 5 freeway, when a little dog darted out in front of my car. And I did… swerve to avoid it.
I hit the dog anyways, and that sent the car into a fishtail, and then a spin across the freeway, until finally it wound up in the fast lane of the freeway faced backwards into oncoming traffic and then the engine died.
And I was sure in that moment that I was about to die too.
But a stranger spotted her at that precise moment and ran across four lanes of freeway midnight traffic to pull her back to safety. That stranger’s altruism is what directed her to devote her work to understanding why humans selflessly put their lives in danger to care for others.
2. Adam Grant:
Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers
Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology, is recognized as the highest-rated professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He has topped the rating charts among Wharton professors for five straight years.
In this TED talk filmed in February 2016, Grant talks about three habits of original, nonconformist thinkers:
- Originals are quick to start but slow to finish. They are moderate procrastinators.
- They feel doubts like the rest of us, but they handle it differently. They rework their doubts about their idea.
- The greatest originals are the ones who fail the most because they’re the ones who try the most.
3. Angela Duckworth:
The Power of Passion And Perseverance
Angela Duckworth is a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. In her book GRIT, which climbed to #2 in New York Times bestsellers list within two weeks, she explores the question of whether it is talent or effort that makes people successful.
She convincingly proposes that a sustained volley of efforts toward a long-term goal is the biggest predictor of success in life. This she calls grit, which trumps talent almost every time.
She says we can increase our chances of beating temptations by developing grit in the following ways:
- Grow a fascination toward your desired goal.
- Work every single day to hone your skill.
- Remind yourself of a bigger purpose or meaning.
- Embrace a growth mindset: you can improve whatever your abilities.
4. Steven Hayes:
How Love Turns Pain Into Purpose
Steven Hayes is a top psychologist, highly respected for his 500+ scientific articles and widely loved for his book Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life.
Professor Zindel V. Segal, the Morgan Firestone Chair in Psychotherapy at the University of Toronto and author of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression, writes of Hayes’ book:
This is the quintessential workbook on acceptance and commitment therapy. Written with wit, clinical wisdom, and compassionate skepticism, it succeeds in showing us that, paradoxically, there is great therapeutic value in going out of our minds.
In February 2016, Steven Hayes gave a talk at TEDx, University of Nevada. This was an emotional and dramatic talk that doesn’t talk much about science. Instead, he presents the audience with almost a ringside view of his harrowing journey through his panic attacks.
He tells us of the choice he made that changed his life; a choice we all can make:
I will not run from me.
5. Brian Little:
Who Are You, Really
Brian Little is a widely celebrated researcher and professor of psychology at Cambridge University. He was elected as a “Favorite Professor” by the graduating classes of Harvard for three consecutive years.
His expertise lies in personality and personal motivation. He is the author of Me, Myself, and Us.
In this talk, he talks about the extrovert-introvert difference from the Big Five, or OCEAN model. The last is an acronym for our 5 personality traits:
- O – Openness (curiosity)
- C – Conscientiousness (carefulness)
- E – Extroversion (outgoing-ness)
- A – Agreeableness (warmness)
- N – Neuroticism (anxiousness)
In this talk, he is at his hilarious best. Sample this:
I remember one particular day when I was retired to a cubicle, trying to avoid overstimulation. And a real extrovert came in beside me — not right in my cubicle, but in the next cubicle over — and I could hear various evacuatory noises, which we hate — even our own, that’s why we flush during as well as after.
Soon after, something happens which disturbs this English/Canadian professor’s peacefulness. What? Go watch and laugh your hearts out!
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, mindfulness, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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