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10 TED Talks That Will Enhance Your Social Life

TED Talks began in 1984 as a way to bring technology, entertainment and design together.  Today, you can find almost anything in a TED Talk, making them a go-to resource for discovering new ideas. But with tens of thousands of talks on their website, how do you find the right ones to benefit you and your social life? 

First, you need to understand what you want to get out of it. TED Talks are a great way to broaden your perspective, boost creativity and improve your knowledge, and all of them are free and publicly accessible. However, to really improve your life, what you watch needs to inspire, motivate and guide you. While learning about astrophysics is a great way to spend 19 minutes, finding meaningful and effective TED Talks that can really help your personal growth can be a challenge. Instead of scouring thousands of videos, check out our list of 10 TED Talks that will enhance your social life.

Table of Contents

1. The power of introverts – Susan Cain

Introverts encapsulate half of the population, and yet leaders are expected to be extroverts. Susan Cain weaves together psychology and history to explain why extroverts are valued over introverts, and why that’s wrong. Cain, an introvert herself, describes her journey from feeling compelled to prove herself to the world as someone capable of being outgoing and assertive, to accepting that she is happiest quietly reading with her friends and family.

She beautifully conveys her former thought process with the following statement: “I was always going off to crowded bars when I really would have preferred to just have a nice dinner with friends.”  Her journey is one of self-acceptance and growth, and her TED Talk message is one that champions being true to yourself in both personal and social settings.

2. Are you a giver or a taker? – Adam Grant

American psychologist, author and former professional magician Adam Grant parses through 38 studies of 3,611 different work units to break down how givers, takers and matchers perform in the workplace. Givers help others so much that they can fall behind in their own work, takers take all of the help they can get and give little back, and matchers provide as much as they receive.

Grant concisely explains who does well, who does poorly, and how you can identify which group you fall into. This TED Talk is great for helping you understand what kind of person you are – not just in the workplace, but in your social circle as well – and recognizing those characteristics in others. Developing this awareness is a great first step in enhancing your social life.

3. My year of saying yes to everything – Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes is the woman behind Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. A renowned writer, director, creator and producer, Rhimes presents a memorable TED Talk describing how saying “yes” every time her child asks to play has saved her career.

The titan of the TV industry recounts her journey of self-discovery that began when she was forced to admit that she preferred going to work over being at home. She explores how her uncomfortable step away from work to spend time with her children rekindled her love of both. Though blowing bubbles in the garden and leaving her phone behind aren’t things that come naturally to Rhimes, she describes how sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone has surprising benefits. This simple idea of saying yes to things that scare you is actionable advice that can lead to big improvements in your social life.

4. Who are you, really? The puzzle of personality – Brian Little

With an air of levity, Brian Little shows how every individual is intriguing and why. He dives into people’s defined characteristics, which can be seen to either set us apart or connect us, and then he breaks them down. Little’s own story of being a decidedly introverted person who often acts in an extroverted way demonstrates that people do not fit neatly into boxes.

In life, you have to understand what you need to do to succeed and what you need to do to be happy. Little explains that he succeeds in his morning lectures by waking his students up with the humor and boisterous attitude of the greatest extroverts, but he also “sometimes goes to the men’s room to escape the slings and arrows of outrageous extroverts.”

So, if you find yourself confined to a box, you might just want to explore the uncomfortable so that you can grow as a person.

5. The gift and power of emotional courage – Susan David

Susan David seems at times more of a poet than a psychologist as she calls for the radical acceptance of all of our seemingly negative emotions so that we can build resilience and find true happiness. She illustrates how accepting and listening to your emotions is an essential skill for you, your family, and your community. The people in your social network are the ones who join you for the most significant moments in your life; they are also the pillars that support you when you experience difficult times. When you build a wall between yourself and your negative emotions, you also create a wall between yourself and those around you. Breaking down this barrier and sharing your negative emotions brings you closer to other people and enhances your social life.

6. The Social Animal – David Brooks

Political and cultural commentator David Brooks draws you in with the incongruity of how people can be incredibly gifted socially in one scenario yet distant and unsocialable in another. This idea is conveyed perfectly by Brooks in one question: “Why are the most socially-attuned people on earth completely dehumanized when they think about policy?” 

Brooks uses the example of public figures, who often have exceptionally strong social skills yet sometimes come across as aloof or out-of-touch, to explain that we are not self-contained. Interpersonal relationships are deeply important for our happiness and development.

Brooks not only explains why social life is essential, but he also provides guidance by emphasizing the positive traits of the most social people. This allows you to better cultivate your social network by providing a simple framework to guide your actions.

7. The secret to living longer may be your social life – Susan Pinker

Susan Pinker is a psychologist, author and columnist for The Wall Street Journal. She explores how social isolation is a public health risk by examining an Italian island in the Mediterranean where there are six times the amount of people over the age of 100 than on the Italian mainland, and ten times more than in North America. It is also the only place in the world where men live as long as women.

This opening by Pinker is as intriguing as it is exciting. Pinker’s explanation for their extended lifespan is the constant support of social groups. Family, friends, neighbors, and the people who are always present in our lives give us the support we need to continue living.

If you’ve ever wondered about the importance of having a social life, this Ted Talk is the perfect place to start.

8. The hidden influence of social networks – Nicholas Christakis

TED Talks are a fantastic way to explore complex ideas in a short amount of time, and this TED Talk shines a light on the influence of social networks. Nicholas Christakis is a sociologist and physician who is known for his advanced research on social networks and the reasons behind people’s behavior. He explores the relationship between social groups and how they inform our actions. Motivation drives our actions; therefore, the question we must ask ourselves is, ‘How are we motivated?’

Social networks span from those closest to us to people we have never met, and Christakis shows how we are in a web of social connections that has a genuine effect on our behavior. When we know the reasons behind our actions, we’re better aware of why we do the things we do.

9. How to disagree productively and find common ground – Julia Dhar

During family dinners, work meetings and personal conversations, we often find ourselves in debates over all kinds of topics, both important and trivial. Julia Dhar offers three techniques to change the way people communicate so that disagreements become productive in your relationships instead of destructive.

Dhar advocates for the acceptance of uncertainty, which can then empower you to change your own opinions while having meaningful conversations both publicly and privately. Her approach promotes becoming a more accepting person, with the bonus of introducing your mind to new ideas.

10. The difference between healthy and unhealthy love – Katie Hood

Katie Hood shares five signs that you might be in an unhealthy relationship and, in the process, shows you how to have a healthy one. This extends to romantic partners, friends, family and everyone else in your social life.

Understanding the signs of an unhealthy relationship is the first step to improving it, and while not every unhealthy relationship can become healthy, you can improve your behavior while recognizing the unhealthy relationships you are in. The skills Hood outlines are ones you can practice every day to make a real difference in your life and enhance your social network.

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