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5 TED Talks That Will Give You Hope

Feeling hopeless? These talks will inspire you for whatever occasion.

It wasn’t too long ago that I used to dread the holidays. For two months, it seemed like the same Mariah Carey Christmas ballads, twinkle lights and forced merriment served no other purpose but to invade every public space, reminding sad, lonely people like myself about everything that was wrong with our lives.

Even now, with my life more or less together, I still harbor mixed feelings about the holidays. Aside from the stress of long-haul air travel and family obligations, the state of the world, both political and natural, makes it a challenging time to feel perpetually jolly, let alone have hope for the future.

When this happens, I usually turn to a higher source: ted.com. TED is home to thousands of talks billed as “ideas worth spreading,” and I’ve watched many of them. Some are not as spreadable, but the following are the ones that I have watched, loved and from which I have derived hope. With hope, you will too.

When you need hope… that you'll find love

How I hacked online dating (17:14)

Love and algorithms. You might not think these two concepts go together, but in this hilarious talk, award-winning journalist and future thinker Amy Webb credits finding her husband to the power of math-based matchmaking, albeit with a few tweaks.

If you’ve ever struggled to find romance online, you will empathize, cringe and crack up as you learn the lengths to which Webb goes to reverse-engineer the traditional online dating system to create the ideal profile, find her perfect partner and come to the conclusion that yes, you can still be picky and find love.

When you need hope… for the state of the world

The risky politics of progress (18:09)

Whatever your politics, it’s difficult to deny how fractured many developed countries are today. From impeachments and immigration to climate change and terrorism, it seems governments are either powerless or simply dismissive of the fact that their divisive policies have only served to weaken and destabilize their states. In other words, it’s hard to watch the news these days and feel good about anything.

This is why Canadian writer Jonathan Tepperman investigated the strategies of world leaders who overcame the impossible and led their countries through positive and sweeping systemic change in Canada, Indonesia and Mexico. If you’ve lost hope in your elected leaders, fear not. His optimistic talk will convince you that light can appear, even in the darkest hour.

When you need hope… that you’ll be a good parent

Lessons from the longest study on human development (12:17)

In this talk, scientist Helen Pearson explains the rules of good parenting based on a study of more than 17,000 children born in the U.K. While the first is beyond our control (i.e., don’t be poor), the research found that what mattered most was having loving parents. Those children that were read to regularly, talked to warmly and were closely engaged with their parents during the first years of their life were more likely to thrive in school and later on.

This is not to say that all that children need to be successful in life are good conversations and books, but it certainly helps. And as a soon-to-be parent myself, I can’t tell you how much of a relief this is to hear.

When you need hope… that your life will turn out OK

The beauty of being a misfit (12:58)

Maybe it’s my pregnancy emotions in overdrive, but Lidia Yuknavitch’s talk made me cry like a baby. Her story is filled with heartache and hardship: an abusive upbringing, two “epically failed marriages,” stints in homelessness and jail, substance abuse problems and a daughter who died the day she was born. In spite of these challenges, though, she is able to cultivate a talent for writing. One that results in winning a giant literary prize, complete with a free, all-expenses-paid trip to New York City to meet her hero writers and numerous agents and publishers, all clamoring to help get her published. But things go in a different direction. Paralyzed by her past failures and not feeling deserving of anything good, Yuknavitch returns home empty-handed except for some napkins she swiped from a few fancy New York restaurants (mementos that would later remind her that this trip really happened).

Years later, she finds the courage to confront her shame and, through her words, learns that the life of a misfit is indeed beautiful, flaws and all.

When you need hope…. for redemption

Why your worst deeds don’t define you (11:43)

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Shaka Senghor, and his story is nothing short of extraordinary. At 19, Senghor was a drug dealer who went to prison after he shot and killed a man and was convicted of second-degree murder. While spending the next two decades in prison, Senghor found responsibility and atonement through mentorship, love and literature. Today, Senghor is an author, activist and advocate for prison reform.

His story is gripping, powerful and will make you believe in true transformation.

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