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The Best TED Talks on Happiness Advantage, Positive Psychology and Wellbeing

The Best TED Talks on Happiness Advantage, Positive Psychology and Wellbeing

Gus Ryan
Gus Ryan
Gus Ryan
January 1, 2022

World-class speakers, compelling topics, delivered in a nice snappy format… we do enjoy a good TED Talk in PepTalk HQ. Here are six of our favourite TED Talks on Happiness Advantage, Positivity and Wellbeing. Loads of ideas and inspiration to take back to your workplace.

The running time of all six back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back is about 64 minutes, so you could easily fit them in on the coffee break each day in a workweek.


The happy secret to better work | Shawn Achor

TED Event: TEDxBloomington | May 2011

Title: The Happy Secret to Better Work

Speaker: Sean Achoris a psychologist, the CEO of Good Think Inc., and of The Happiness Advantage

Views: 23 million

This is a personal favourite of mine. A superb blend of disarming humour and provocative insights.

The Talk in a nutshell:- Positive psychology - escaping the cult of average

  • How we measure performance in work is all wrong. We have performance curves that try to describe what normal performance is. But normal is merely average. If this is what we set as expectation [normal] this is all your people will achieve. Not innovation nor greatness, just normal.
  • The lens from which you view the world is what shapes your reality. If you change the focus of your lens to happiness, you can change your reality and therefore any business outcome.
  • One of the biggest myths in life is that to be more successful you have to work harder, and then you’ll be happier. If happiness is on the opposite side of success your brain might never get there.
  • Following on from the last point, business outcomes improve when your brain is in a positive state rather than a negative, neutral or stressed state. Therefore happiness is a good leading indicator of success.

8 lessons on building a company people enjoy working for | Patty McCord

TED Event: The Way We Work video mini-series

Title: 8 Lessons on Building a Company That People Enjoy Working For

Speaker: Patty McCord served as chief talent officer of Netflix for 14 years and helped create the Netflix Culture Deck.

Views: 3.2 million

The Talk in a nutshell:-“Best practice” means copying what everyone else does

Patty McCord is an HR powerhouse. Best of all, she has a pretty irreverent view of the status quo. In fact, Patty’s views on the status quo are quite damning. Suggesting people in work talk to each other like human beings, seems like a massive over-simplification, but sadly it’s so true of many places.

These are Patty’s powerful lessons on how to get more done.

  1. Adults, not children, go to work. Ease up on the processes and systems and let your people come to work to do amazing, rather than prescriptive things.
  2. Management should not be about control. It should be about building great teams and letting them do amazing things.
  3. People moving jobs is OK. If you treated them right they’ll be an ambassador for your company.
  4. Everyone should truly understand what the business is about and this means they can collaborate in a meaningful way with colleagues.
  5. Feedback is the truth and it needs to be practised. A once a year performance review is wholly inadequate. Give feedback in realtime when amazing work is being done.
  6. The company values have to be real. It’s pointless saying you’ll put your people first but reduce the headcount at the first sign of trouble.
  7. New ideas are not stupid ideas. They are just new. Just because nobody did it before, doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. At least give it a try, it could be amazing.
  8. Don’t think about how it’s always been done. Get excited about how it’s going to be done in the future.

For bonus points… check out The Culture Deck that Patty created at Netflix, which Sheryl Sandberg called one of the most important documents ever created in Silicon Valley.

“So let's rethink the word "feedback," and think about it as telling people the truth, the honest truth, about what they're doing right and what they're doing wrong, in the moment when they're doing it. ‘That good thing you just did, whoo! That's exactly what I'm talking about. Go do that again.’ And people will do that again, today, three more times.”
- Patty McCord, All-around HR Superhero

Why good leaders make you feel safe | Simon Sinek

TED Event: TED2014

Title: Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe

Speaker: Simon Sinek is synonymous with TED and has discovered some remarkable patterns in how we think, act and communicate.

Views: 14 million

The Talk in a nutshell:- People don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers

Simon Sinek’s legendary TED Talk in 2009 “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” was the first one I ever saw. It blew me away. It’s been watched over 52 million times since it debuted 11 years ago. I have a feeling this one will probably get to 52 million views as well.

  • Modern leaders prioritise authority over leadership. In the military, they give medals to those who sacrifice so others can gain. In lots of businesses, big salaries are the reward for making others sacrifice so the company can gain.
  • The environment is what attracts and keeps good people in an organisation. In these organisations, high performance is predicated by the behaviour of the leaders. The leader sets the tone. Employees will respond based on the idea that “they’d do it for me”.

How work kept me going during my cancer treatment | Sarah Donnelly

TED Event: TED@Westpac | December 2017

Title: How Work Kept Me Going During My Cancer Treatment

Speaker: When lawyer Sarah Donnelly was diagnosed with breast cancer, she turned to her friends and family for support and found meaning, focus and stability in her work.

Views: 1 million

The Talk in a nutshell:- If work plays a role in our happiness then it can play a role in our wellbeing

Similar to Patty’s TED Talk the basis of this talk is in Sarah’s ability to have adult conversations and work through her rehab. Instead of retreating to the path of least resistance and not letting the sick person into work, the law firm was able to help Sarah’s recover by giving her the autonomy to decide how and when she came into work.

  • Adam Smith was wrong. Doing meaningful work and the strength of the relationships with our colleagues play a major role in our wellbeing. As we heard in an earlier talk, happiness is a leading indicator of success.
  • If work plays a role in our happiness then it can play a role in our health and even in recovery.

The cost of workplace stress and how to reduce it | Rob Cooke

TED Event: TED@Westpac | December 2017

Title: The Cost of Work Stress and How to Reduce it.

Speaker: Financial Adviser, Rob Cooke shares some strategies to help put your mental, physical and emotional well-being back at the forefront.

Views: 2 million

The Talk in a nutshell:- Stress doesn’t just affect the employee, it costs the company Money

I think the thing I like about this talk is that Rob Cooke is not a psychologist, HR professional or a behvioural scientist. He’s a financial adviser that recognised the effect stress was having on people. By helping people with their debt and retirement savings, Rob was able to reduce stress in his clients’ lives. He understood that this goes far beyond finances and applies to everybody.

  • The impact of stress on the economy is a double-edged sword. It affects the productivity of employees and costs the economy money in the form of healthcare.
  • Is stress a consequence of work or is it a result of the culture at work? Have we created a culture where personal care is not a priority, because if you can’t handle it, someone, else will?
  • The DNA of the company is its culture, it should be measured with the same precision as a profit margin.
  • Companies and governments can only do so much. People have to play their part. People need to be honest about their emotional, physical and mental wellbeing. We need to be the ultimate gatekeepers for our personal wellbeing.

Dare to disagree | Margaret Heffernan

TED Event: TEDGlobal 2012 | June 2012

Title: Dare to disagree

Speaker: Most people instinctively avoid conflict, but as Margaret Heffernan shows us, good disagreement is central to progress.

Views: 4.1 million

The Talk in a nutshell:- Openness is not the end, it’s the beginning

Margaret Heffernan has four fantastic TED Talks and any one of them could have made this shortlist. Everything she talks about applies to wider society rather than just the workplace. I think we’ve all been in situations in work when we disagreed with what was happening, but either chose not to say anything or were reminded that’s how things are done around here or were ‘shouted down’ and told to get on with it. Openness is not the end game, it’s only the beginning.

  • It’s easier to associate/find/hire people with similar world views. This is what creates echo chambers and ensures ‘the way we do things’ persists. Breakthroughs are often based on a challenge or disagreement, which is why you need people that don’t have the same world view as you.
  • To have a thinking organisation and society we need to teach and encourage people, from school-going age to disagree if it’s the right thing to do

Honourable Mentions

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