Ideas Worth Spreading #5: What makes us happy

The latest entry in our regular blog which reviews the most inspiring videos on offer in the TED Talks series. This month we look at what really makes us happy, in life and work

Jane McGonigal: The game that can give you 10 extra years of life


I was recently emailed a photo of the inside of a forest. Multiple shades of green from woodland floor to treetop, with patches of blue shining through the gaps in the lush leaf cover and a fallen tree in the foreground, ripe for climbing. The caption at the bottom of the screen: The Original Playstation.

I raised one fist in the air in salute to the real adventure playground of my childhood over a computer-generated equivalent. I’ve often wondered why seemingly sane individuals choose to spend so much time in darkened rooms, playing computer games on a 2D screen when they could be moving through this original play station, breathing clean air, running around, connecting with nature, developing hand to eye co-ordination skills outside the matrix; less of an on-screen zombie, more of a joyful open-space hopper.

But, though it pains me to admit, this Talk has turned my outdated view of computer gaming on its head. Jane McGonigal promises that by the end of her presentation she will have extended the lifespan of each audience member (and in turn, online viewer) by seven and a half minutes. The hopeful cynic in me was engaged.

She openly describes how a computer game she has created has literally saved and extended her life. Her game and intention are simple: build emotional, physical, mental and social resilience to stress, mental illness and physical disability. I let my resistance subside and allowed the palpable joy and connection moving between McGonigal and her audience to filter through the computer screen and into my front room. This is an unexpectedly moving and inspiring talk. The question is, how will you choose to spend the extra seven and a half minutes of life she delivers and the further ten years of life she promises?

Shawn Achor: The happy secret to better work


I suspect the speed of Achor’s delivery is down to a need to get as much information into this punchy little talk as possible. I also suspect it’s because he lives and breathes his ideas with a palpable urgency and passion. Achor’s delivery is full of razor-sharp wit and pinpoint precision. His conclusions on how to make our working lives less driven, happier and more fulfilling are drawn not only from years of empirical research as a psychologist, but also from the evidence and experience of his own life. He is using this knowledge to drive forward a revolution in how we approach earning a living in the world.

Achor argues that if happiness is about achievement and success, as it so often seems to be, we will never truly attain it. We are presented with evidence based on the transformative, long-term impact of a new approach to our often heavily pressured working lives; the need to always strive for the unattainable, reaching one goal, quickly dissatisfied, relentlessly ploughing onto the next.

Achor’s solutions include random acts of kindness, journaling positive experiences and daily meditation. It’s a tough call to remain positive in the present moment and not fear for our future when we dwell in a world focused on so much negativity. A negativity he suggests is based on a global belief that the world we live in is inherently dysfunctional and ultimately doomed – a tidal wave of negativity that this very newspaper is pushing against.

Achor’s challenge to us is to drop the desire to repeatedly move on to the next target or goal, and value what we have and are doing right now. Easier said than done? Watch this talk.