The 11 Greatest TED Talks for Anyone Over 50
These talks, given by some of the world's smartest thinkers to fuel the spread of important ideas, may just change your life
Donna Sapolin is the Founding Editor of Next Avenue. Follow Donna on Twitter @stylestorymedia.
I’m a TED addict and, over the years, along with legions of others around the world, have been deeply inspired by the wisdom of various speakers. I’ve also been blessed to write about and converse with some of them.
While most TED talks are enlightening, not all of them address the specific concerns of boomers — the issues that Next Avenue deals with every day. So I decided to dive deep into the overwhelming pool of TED content to find the ones that deliver on that score.
These talks may not change your life, but I guarantee they will intrigue you, open your eyes and make you think differently.
Here are my favorite boomer-to-boomer presentations, which I culled from the TED site along with portions of their accompanying text descriptions.
1. Potent ways boomer parents can encourage their twentysomething kids
Meg Jay: Why 30 Is Not the New 20
Clinical psychologist Meg Jay has a bold message for twentysomethings: Contrary to popular belief, your 20s are not a throwaway decade. In this provocative talk, Jay says that just because marriage, work and kids are happening later in life, doesn’t mean you can’t start planning now. She gives three pieces of advice for how twentysomethings can reclaim adulthood in the defining decade of their lives.
2. A reminder that music and a playful spirit are the keys to joy — and we all hold them
Bobby McFerrin: Watch Me Play … the Audience!
In this fun, three-minute performance from the World Science Festival, musician Bobby McFerrin uses the pentatonic scale to reveal one surprising result of the way our brains are wired.
Listening to Bobby McFerrin sing may be hazardous to your preconceptions. Side effects may include unparalleled joy, a new perspective on creativity, rejection of the predictable and a sudden, irreversible urge to lead a more spontaneous existence.
(MORE: Singing the Praises of a More Satisfying Life)
3. Insight into what we spend about one-third of our lives doing and why it’s the best medicine there is
Russell Foster: Why Do We Sleep?
Russell Foster posits that the eye has two jobs: creating vision, but also managing our perception of light and dark, providing the clues that our circadian rhythms need to regulate sleep-wake cycles.
The research on light perception hits home as we age — faced with fading vision, we also risk disrupted sleep cycles, which have very serious consequences, including lack of concentration, depression and cognitive decline. The more we learn about how our eyes and bodies create our sleep cycles, the more seriously we can begin to take sleep as a therapy.
4. A better understanding of the stunning capacities we possess that fly in the face of our increasing vulnerabilities
Jill Bolte Taylor: My Stroke of Insight
One morning, a blood vessel in Jill Bolte Taylor's brain exploded. As a brain scientist, she realized she had a ringside seat to her own stroke. She watched as her brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, memory, self-awareness ...
Amazed to find herself alive, Taylor spent eight years recovering her ability to think, walk and talk. She has become a spokesperson for stroke recovery and for the possibility of coming back from brain injury stronger than before. In her case, although the stroke damaged the left side of her brain, her recovery unleashed a torrent of creative energy from her right.
5. How we can get the collaborative support we’re going to need at work and at home as the aging population explodes
Rodney Brooks: Why We Will Rely on Robots
Scaremongers play on the idea that robots will simply replace people on the job. In fact, they can become our essential collaborators, freeing us up to spend time on less mundane and mechanical challenges. Rodney Brooks points out how valuable this could be as the number of working-age adults drops and the number of retirees swells. He introduces us to Baxter, the robot with eyes that move and arms that react to touch, which could work alongside an aging population — and learn to help them at home, too.
6. Insights into aging in place, big demographic shifts and creating a more environmentally sustainable way forward
Ellen Dunham-Jones: Retrofitting Suburbia
Award-winning architect Ellen Dunham-Jones teaches at the Georgia Institute of Technology and is a board member of the Congress for the New Urbanism. She shows how design impacts some of the most pressing issues of our times — reducing our ecological footprint and energy consumption while improving our health and communities and providing living options for all ages.
(MORE: What ‘The End of the Suburbs’ Means for Boomers)
7. A look at our capacity to realize our dreams at any stage of life
Benjamin Zander: The Transformative Power of Classical Music
Benjamin Zander, a leading interpreter of Mahler and Beethoven, has two infectious passions: classical music and helping us all realize our untapped love for it — and by extension, our untapped love for all new possibilities, new experiences, new connections.
8. Why you can decide to be happy, whatever your circumstances
Dan Gilbert: The Surprising Science of Happiness
Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want. Our "psychological immune system" lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.
9. A bright light cast on a common sentiment that’s never too late to deal with
Brene Bown: Listening to Shame
Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has spent the past 10 years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame. She poses these questions: How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection we need to recognize we are enough – that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy?
10. A newly appropriate metaphor for age that captures what it means to be human
Jane Fonda: Life’s Third Act
Within this generation, an extra 30 years have been added to our life expectancy -- and these years aren’t just a footnote or a pathology. In this talk, Jane Fonda asks how we can think about this new phase of our lives.
11. The possibility of taking on new challenges on a consistent basis (the speaker’s not yet 50, but he sure makes a good point for those of us who are)
Matt Cutts: Try Something New for 30 Days
Is there something you've always meant to do, wanted to do, but just ... haven't? Matt Cutts, an engineer at Google, suggests: Try it for 30 days. This short, lighthearted talk offers a neat way to think about setting and achieving goals.