The most inspirational TED Talks don’t just leave you feeling uplifted, they leave you with ideas and information that can actually change your life. From scientifically-studied paths to happiness to psychological tools you can use to see the world differently, the following talks have plenty to offer.
To help you make the most of your time (because that’s what we’re all about) we’ve ordered our list of inspirational TED talks about life from shortest to longest. That way you can decide whether you want your life-changing content to be bite-sized or something that will get you through that 30-minute commute.
The Inspirational TED Talks That Will Change Your Life
First up for short inspirational TED Talks is a simple talk that presents a simple idea: Trying something for 30 days can lead you to experience new things, build confidence in yourself, change your habits, and even change your life. Matt Cutts, an engineer at Google, shares his personal experience with the 30-day concept.
How long is it? 3:27
Practical takeaway: If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do but have never quite had the courage to start, set yourself a 30-day challenge. By making a commitment to do that thing—whether it’s walking to work or writing fiction—you’ll make more progress than you ever thought possible.
Does less equal more? Writer and designer Graham Hill thinks so. And so do we. That’s why Hill tops our list of best short TED Talks. He makes the case for living minimally and lays down three key rules for getting the most out of less.
How long is it? 5:43
Practical takeaway: Having less stuff and taking up less space equals a smaller environmental footprint, more money in your pocket, and more ease in your life. Edit ruthlessly, think small, and make things multifunctional.
Psychiatrist Judson Brewer breaks down a simple formula for how habits are formed—trigger, behavior, reward, repeat—and explores how mindfulness can be used as an effective tool to put bad habits to bed. This is the last of the inspirational TED Talks on our list that comes in under ten minutes.
How long is it? 9:25
Practical takeaway: When you feel the urge to indulge in a bad habit, try to pause and tap into your natural capacity for curiosity. Being mindful of what’s going on in your mind and body in that moment will give you the option to step out of the habit cycle and change your behavior.
What exactly is a “growth mindset?” Hint: It’s something you’ll want to have in order to succeed in every area of life. In sharing her research, pioneering positive psychologist Carol Dweck highlights how important the right mindset is in overcoming challenges and seeing failures as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks.
How long is it? 10:21
Practical takeaway: Whether you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset has everything to do with how you perceive your failures. Did you fail to solve that problem…or have you simply not solved it yet? Switch your mindset to the latter, and you’ll become more resilient, more enthusiastic, and more likely to succeed.
Ignoring controversial or offensive opinions won’t make them go away. So the best we can do, argues Zachary R. Wood, is listen to those opinions and try to understand where they’re coming from. As head of a student group called Uncomfortable Learning, Wood wants us all to engage in conversations with people we disagree with in order to gain a deeper understanding of humanity and progress toward a better, fairer world.
How long is it? 11:23
Practical takeaway: These days it’s so easy to ignore opposing opinions—especially when our social media feeds only show us the side of the story we want to see. To foster true understanding, remain open to discussion. It may not convince anyone to change their view, but it can build empathy and help us to better get to know the world we live in.
Are happy people grateful…or are grateful people happy? In this inspiring TED talk, Benedictine Monk Brother David Steindl-Rast defines gratitude in his own words and explores the relationship between thankfulness and happiness.
How long is it? 14:27
Practical takeaway: Brother Steindl-Rast gives us an easy method for living gratefully: “It’s so simple,” he says, “that it’s actually what we were told as children when we learned to cross the street. Stop. Look. Go. That’s all.” (Well, almost all. Watch the full talk to get a better grasp of putting this method into practice.)
Here’s something you may not have considered: It’s not a bad idea to have bad ideas. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant asks what it takes to be an original thinker—and the answer might surprise you.
How long is it? 15:25
Practical takeaway: “Originals are not that different from the rest of us,” says Grant. “They feel fear and doubt. They procrastinate. They have bad ideas. And sometimes, it’s not in spite of those qualities but because of them that they succeed.”
“Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life,” says psychologist Susan David. The key concept of her TED Talk is emotional agility. To put it simply, we are not our emotions; our emotions are a source of data. If we can learn to take the bad with the good, the negative emotions with the positive, we can become more emotionally flexible—and more able to face the world with resilience and courage.
How long is it? 16:49
Practical takeaway: When you feel an emotion, try to notice it for what it is rather than judging it as being good or bad. Recognize that all emotions are valuable in some way, and you can free yourself from what David calls “the tyranny of positivity.”
Last on our list of inspirational TED Talks is a heavy hitter on happiness by someone who studies it. According to Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, we don’t find happiness: We synthesize it. Using psychological studies, Gilbert demonstrates that each and every one of us (yes, you included) has the capacity to manufacture our own happiness—even when we don’t get what we want.
How long is it? 21:01
Practical takeaway: Don’t wait for the right situations to arise in order to feel happy. Studies show that, more often than not, your happiness will arise to meet the situation.
Your turn: What did you take from these top inspirational TED talks? Do you have any other favorites to add to the list? Let us know in the comments.
Want to get inspired to lead? Here are 12 TED Talks to light your leadership flame.
Author: Tania Braukamper
Tania Braukamper is an Australian-born writer and photographer. She believes in curiosity, kindness, and adventure as a state of mind.