The 30 Best TED Talks of All Time That Will Open Your Mind and Inspire You to Take Action

The 30 Best TED Talks of All Time Matthieu Ricard TED

Seeing as TED 2015: Truth and Dare started today, and people all around the world are waiting to see what groundbreaking TED talks will be given this year, I thought I'd look back on what I believed to be some of the best all-time TED talks and my personal favorites.

For those not familiar, TED stands for Technology Entertainment Design and is a series of conferences started by Chris Anderson that happen throughout the year. But despite the title, TED has really turned into a place for just about every topic imaginable.

From technology to education, to meditation, speech, mathematics, medicine, happiness, and dozens more. There really is no topic TED hasn't covered. If it's "an idea worth spreading" as the TED motto goes, it fits TED.

But there's another reason I wanted to write about TED. "TED talks", as they're called, hold a very special place in my heart. You see, I began listening to TED talks some 2 1/2 years ago, a little over 1 year before I started Buddhaimonia.

At the time, I knew what I wanted to do- meditate, study Buddhism, and help others find peace, freedom, and joy in life through meditation and the other things Buddhism had taught me. But alas, with a growing family of my own, running off to a Zen monastery and becoming a monk wasn't a choice for me.

Because of that, I was forced to try to find my way within my everyday life as it was then. And I'm so grateful it happened the way it did because, otherwise, I think it would have taken me much longer to learn what I know now.

I'd later discover that being a monk is more of a particular occupation than it is a position which allows someone to have a better chance at attaining peace through enlightenment, as the best place to meditate and the only place you can find peace is right where you are now, and running off somewhere is only running from that.

Because I had no choice, because I felt backed into a corner, looking everywhere to try and find out what else I could do with my life with this thing that I loved but which sadly had no ability (by itself) to bring food to the table for my family, I began feverishly searching for answers. And it was because of that search that I happened upon TED.

For about a year, off and on, I was repeatedly struck and inspired by TED talk after TED talk. Mind you, none of them gave me the answer I was looking for, that is, how I could take what I knew and what I loved and find out how I could devote my time to it while still supporting my family, but I felt like my mind was being open to the whole world, and that I would eventually find my answer.

TED really does open you up to the world. There's so many people doing so many different amazing and positive things that just sitting around watching a bunch of TED talks really is a great way to discover- or get a better idea of- what you want to do with your life.

And then it happened. It was no more than a week after my second son Azriel was born that I listened to a TED talk by Neil Pasricha of That was when it all changed.

I can't even remember at this point what inspired me, maybe it was his story about how he got a book deal from starting a blog. I had done a lot of writing and intended on writing a few books down the line, but knowing what it was like to try to make a living as a writer just turned me away from the whole thing.

Whatever it was, it was Neil Pasricha and his TED talk that inspired me to start what would eventually become Buddhaimonia. That is, along with a little pep talk from my wife, who always encouraged my writing.

So I hope these talks can have a similar effect on you as they did I. Whether that means inspiring you to take action on something important to you, discovering your calling, giving you an important insight, or all the above. Without exception, each one of these TED talks carries with it a powerful message that can not only open your mind but inspire you in so many ways.

1. Matthieu Ricard: How to Let Altruism Be Your Guide

What you'll learn: True goodness really does exist, and we need to start using it if we want to change what's wrong with the world. Compassion, loving-kindness, meditation. Definitely one of my favorite TED talks of all time.

2. Matthieu Ricard: The Habits of Happiness

What you'll learn: The power of meditation. Enough said.

3. Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

What you'll learn: One of the most popular TED talks to date, Brene Brown's The Power of Vulnerability is an eye-opener into what really holds so many of us back in life and what can truly help us find peace. And this isn't just her talking at you, she brings with it years of research to back up her claims.

4. Brene Brown: Listening to Shame

What you'll learn: This is the follow-up to Brown's first talk, one of the most popular TED talks of all time. In this talk, Brown uncovers more insights from her research on vulnerability, shame, empathy, and courage. I'd suggest listening to both talks together as they really complete the picture of her incredible research findings.

5. Tony Robbins: Why We Do What We Do

What you'll learn: This is classic Robbins. He's someone who has contributed a lot to my life and who has an immense amount of wisdom especially when it comes to his talk title: why we do what we do. And what's exactly what you'll learn from his (far too short!) talk.

6. Shawn Achor: The Happy Secret to Better Work

What you'll learn: Interesting insights (via his own research and research from positive psychology at large) about what makes us happier and the surprise correlation it has with our professional success as well as our ability to work at our best in essentially all areas of our life.

7. Kevin Robinson: Schools Kill Creativity

What you'll learn: This is THE most popular TED talk of all time (still, some 9 years later). In this TED talk, Kevin Robinson will teach you why the old rigid school system can kill a child's creativity and steers us away from discovering our passion. This one hit me pretty hard, and judging by its popularity, it probably hit a lot of other people pretty hard too (not to mention the guy's hilarious).

8. Chip Conley: Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile

What you'll learn: This was the first talk I heard of Bhutan and their GNH index (Gross National Happiness). Luckily, this is a conversation happening more and more often not just in the U.S., but throughout the world. In this talk, you'll learn why our current system (GDP) for gauging the "success" or overall health of a country is flawed and in need of reshaping.

9. Diana Nyad: Never, Ever Give Up

What you'll learn: The title says it all. Diana Nyad tells an amazing story of her 100-mile journey swimming from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64 (yes, you read that right) and in the process shows us all why we should never give up.

10. Kelly McGonigal: How to Make Stress Your Friend

What you'll learn: Stress might not be the dark force we all consider it to be. After all, it naturally arises from our mind-body. See what recent research uncovered that could turn our understanding of stress on its head (and what that means for your life in everyday terms).

11. David Steindl-Rast: Want to Be Happy? Be Grateful

What you'll learn: Joy and gratitude exist all around us in each moment, you just have to open your eyes.

12. Neil Pasricha: The 3 A's of Awesome

What you'll learn: Aside from just being a talk that means a lot to me, it has some really insightful points in itself. I love the part where he tells the story about how he and his father bought a date and looked up where it came from. I also love when he talks about the importance of awareness and what is typically called "beginner's mind" Buddhism. Lots of gems in this talk, definitely worth watching.

13. Graham Hill: Less Stuff, More Happiness

What you'll learn: Graham Hill's talks are short and sweet, and this is no exception. The title says it all.

14. Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius

What you'll learn: This is one of my favorite TED talks of all time and it very closely echoes the understanding of art in Zen Buddhism. In this talk, you'll learn that art doesn't necessarily come from the individual, but that the source of our creativity might come from some place much more universal which we all tap into (as well as how this can release the pressure of the creative mind to keep creating better and better work).

15. Benjamin Zander: The Transformative Power of Classical Music

What you'll learn: Another one of my favorite TED talks of all time, and one I just listened to recently. When this guy says by the end of his talk he'll get you to love classical music, he's not lying- you will. Intrigued? That's just the beginning. Zander's talk shows us how music can open us up and unearth hidden feelings and emotions like few other things can.

16. Guy Winch: Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid

What you'll learn: A simple but powerful message: we need to talk care of our minds as much as we take care of our bodies (with data as to why- if you really needed it).

17. Graham Hill: Why I'm a Weekday Vegetarian

What you'll learn: Another short but important talk from Graham Hill, this one on the reasons for going vegetarian. He sums up the information quickly, gets straight to the point, and offers an insightful solution for those who just couldn't ever imagine completely giving up meat.

18. Andrew Solomon: How the Worst Moments in Our Lives Make Us Who We Are

What you'll learn: Forewarning: Andrew Solomon talks are intense. Both this and his second talk below have the ability to make you cry- seriously. This talk will show you why our challenges aren't things to hide or regret, but rather the things which define our very identity and give us strength.

19. Andrew Solomon: Love, No Matter What

What you'll learn: Another amazing talk from Solomon. The title sums up the talk: how (and why) to love those around us, no matter what.

20. Krista Tippett: Reconnecting with Compassion

What you'll learn: A great talk on the importance of compassion and the universal religious appreciation for the quality itself. You'll learn why compassion is important and why it's a better answer to differences among people than simple tolerance.

21. Carl Honore: In Praise of Slowness

What you'll learn: Before I listened to this talk, I had no idea there were "slowness" movements in Italy. Aside from that, you'll learn why it's so important to not live your entire life just rushing around from place to place and to change our default setting from fast to slow, an idea echoed in everything I talk about here at Buddhaimonia.

22. Jill Bolte Taylor: My Stroke of Insight

What you'll learn: WOW. This is one of my favorite TED talks of all time, and man will this talk blow your mind. This is the second most popular TED talk of all time, still, despite the fact that it was given by Taylor around 9 years ago. In this talk, Jill Bolte Taylor describes how a brain hemorrhage and stroke might just have caused her to have a very unorthodox enlightenment. You heard me. Yes, I'm talking about a spiritual awakening. It's difficult to describe what you'll learn from this talk. Just watch it.

23. Benjamin Wallace: The Price of Happiness

What you'll learn: This talk might not be a surprise to some, but Benjamin Wallace gives a pretty interesting account of his personal experience with many of the finest "things" in the world and how they, well...might not have made him any happier than he was before.

24. Barry Schwartz: Our Loss of Wisdom

What you'll learn: This talk echoes a similar message to Matthieu Ricard's second talk, How to Let Altruism Be Your Guide. This talk will teach you why everyday wisdom is important, why we're losing touch with it, and how we can get it back.

25. Dan Pallotta: The Way We Think about Charity is Dead Wrong

What you'll learn: This is actually the talk I was listening to the day I had to leave my wife Edith and our newborn son Azriel at the hospital to pick up my son where his grandma (my mom) had been taking care of him while we delivered the baby. Needless to say, for that reason, it's etched pretty deep into my memory. But this talk stands on its own as one of my personal favorites as well and one which has a powerful and potentially world-transforming message.

This talk will teach you the disturbing truth about the stigma non-profits are treated with that downright kills their ability to grow to their full potential. It's a way of thinking that starts with us and can only be changed by us.

26. Daniel Kahneman: The Riddle of Experience vs. Memory

What you'll learn: This talk will teach you about our two "sides": the experiencing side of our brain and the memorizing part of our brain. It sheds a lot of light on happiness in general and why finding happiness can seem so confusing at first.

27. Matt Killingsworth: Want to Be Happier? Stay in the Moment

What you'll learn: A compelling set of evidence for living in the present moment. It's not like research supporting the benefits of meditation and mindfulness are lacking, but this talk specifically focuses on the aspect of being totally focused on the present moment experience and how happy it makes us feel versus living distracted (even distracted on positive thought!).

28. Joan Halifax: Compassion and the True Meaning of Empathy

It takes a strong back and a soft front. - Buddhist proverb (via Joan Halifax)

What you'll learn: Through her work, and her Buddhist practice, Zen Buddhist Roshi Joan Halifax has acquired a keen insight into the nature of compassion: what activates it, the benefits of it, and ultimately its part in life. A powerful and emotion-infused talk. Listen to this short 13-minute talk to discover why compassion is so important.

29. Dan Gilbert: The Surprising Science of Happiness

What you'll learn: In this talk, you'll learn what synthetic happiness is, why it's important, why we completely overlook it, and why it's a key ingredient in real happiness.

30. Tania Luna: How a Penny Made Me Feel like a Millionaire

What you'll learn: One word: gratitude. One talk with three powerful stories of three difficult lives coming together to discover a deep sense of happiness that's uncovered not when we get everything we've ever wanted, but rather when we learn to deeply appreciate our life as it is (even a penny).

This is just a sliver of the over 1,000 TED talks which have been given to date. If you're looking for inspiration or guidance then this is a great place to get it.

So, which of these TED talks impacted you the most? Did any give you a powerful insight that could change the way you live your life? I'd love to hear what you thought of them.