TED talks on psychology rank as some of the most-watched and highest-rated of all-time, most likely because people are endlessly fascinated with themselves.
Some of the talks deal with happiness and success, and others with memory and motivation. But all of them provide an important window into what makes us tick.
Here are a handful to get you better-acquainted with the organ between your ears.
“The optimism bias” by Tali Sharot
Sharot, a cognitive neuroscientist, discussed in her 2012 talk the value of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. There are three main benefits to optimism, she says.
The first is that high expectations (not low ones) lead to greater happiness, since people tend to believe in themselves and explain away bad outcomes. The second is that anticipation alone makes us happy — we feel good looking forward to something.
Lastly, optimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It isn’t just related to success, Sharot says. It leads to success.
“The riddle of experience vs. memory” by Daniel Kahneman
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman spoke in 2010 about the two ways we find happiness: in the moment and in our memories. People must keep each in mind when trying to create happiness, he says.
For example, according to Kahneman’s research, the experiencing self is twice as happy on a two-week vacation over a one-week vacation, but the remembering self isn’t, since no new memories are being formed.
“What makes us feel good about our work?” by Dan Ariely
Humans aren’t motivated by money or power alone.
As behavioral economist Dan Ariely explained in his 2012 talk, people need to feel like their work is valued and that they’re making progress toward a goal.
Ariely recounted an experiment in which people stopped working far earlier when the researchers destroyed their work before assigning a new task. The takeaway: People are motivated when they feel appreciated.
“The surprising habits of original thinkers” by Adam Grant
UPenn psychologist Adam Grant remarked in 2016 that some of history’s most original thinkers organized their time in interesting ways to achieve maximum creativity.
Specifically, Grant says people should put off their projects for a bit so they can let disparate ideas congeal into something original. It’s not quite procrastination since it’s intentional, but it comes close.
In other words, waiting until the 11th hour really might help you work better.
“The psychology of your future self” by Dan Gilbert
People are really good at remembering the past, but pretty lousy at imagining the future, psychologist Dan Gilbert remarked in his 2014 talk.
As a result, we tend to underestimate how much we’ll change in the coming years. We succumb to what Gilbert calls the “end of history illusion,” in which we constantly assume now is when we’re our most authentic selves.
Except, now is always a different time, and we do change whether we imagined it or not.
“Grit: The power of passion and perseverance” by Angela Duckworth
We say some people are “mentally tough” or “gritty” as if they were mere personality traits. But UPenn psychologist Angela Duckworth has found that stick-with-it- quality to be vitally important in accomplishing our goals.
In her 2013 talk, Duckworth highlights how repeatedly getting up after failing cements what the psychologist Carol Dweck has called a “growth mindset.” People see themselves as fluid creatures, capable of adaptation and progress.
“How we read each other’s minds” by Rebecca Saxe
MIT neuroscientist Rebecca Saxe explains in her 2009 talk the concept of “theory of mind.”
As the brain forms, kids develop the skill of placing themselves in other people’s heads around age 5. It’s a key skill for developing empathy, because it allows people to imagine what life would be like in someone else’s shoes.
Adults rely on this mind-reading ability all the time; it’s how we know when to ask if everything is alright and when to stay quiet, just to listen.
“How to buy happiness” by Michael Norton
Harvard professor Michael Norton shared in his 2011 talk the findings from research on giving.
While we may want the newest toys as kids, Norton’s research has shown the quickest way to boost your happiness is to give, not receive.
No matter the size of the gift, his studies have shown much larger increases in wellbeing when people spend on others instead of treating themselves.