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Talking heads

SARAH OLOWOFOYEKU looks into the online TED Talks, which challenge the way people think

People want to have their eyes opened to new ways of looking at the world

Prepare to be amazed. Next Tuesday (10 April), TED will host its annual conference in Vancouver. The Age of Amazement – as this year’s event is being called – runs for five days and will feature talks from leading lights in various fields, including a physicist, a rock climber and an illustrator. As with all TED speakers, they will share their experiences and innovative ideas with the aim of inspiring audiences.

TED is a US-based non-profit organisation devoted to spreading ideas, particularly in the fields of technology, entertainment and design – hence the name TED. Since its first conference in 1984, it has expanded globally, holding talks in more than 100 languages around the world and online. In the past, Al Gore, Bono, Pope John Francis, Serena Williams and Sting have all given TED talks. But most speakers are simply forward-thinkers within their own fields and not necessarily in the public eye.

Talks have covered a range of topics, from activism to work-life balance and ants to wind energy. The most popular online talks, highlighted on the organisation’s website, have titles such as Do Schools Kill Creativity?, The Power of Vulnerability and Why We Do What We Do. Their virality shows that many people want to be challenged in their thinking and to have their eyes opened to new ways of looking at the world.

In 2015 psychiatrist Robert Waldinger gave a talk titled What Makes a Good Life? Lessons From the Longest Study on Happiness, which has had more than 20 million views on the TED website. In it, he tells his audience about the Harvard Study of Adult Development, of which he is one of the directors.

Since 1938, these researchers have tracked the lives of two groups of men – students at Harvard College in Boston and teenagers from disadvantaged families in the city’s poorest areas. Seventy-five years later, 60 of the original 724 men are still alive and participating.

Over the years, researchers have studied the men by using blood tests, brain scans, other medical exams and interviews with them and their families in their homes.

Robert explains what they have learnt about a good life: ‘The lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.’

He tells the audience that in early interviews with the men, many of them ‘believed that fame, wealth and high achievement were what they needed to go after to have a good life. But … over these 75 years, our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships, with family, with friends, with community.

‘This is wisdom’, he says, ‘that’s as old as the hills.’

And it is wisdom that can be found in the pages of one very old book, the Bible. Jesus told his disciples: ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another’ (John 13:34 New International Version). Jesus invites us to lean into a relationship with him by receiving his love and then to connect with others by sharing that love with those around us.

It’s an idea worth spreading.

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