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Hey, it's minutiae, and I just want to let you know that the TED Radio Hour team and I are spending these last few weeks of summer working hard on new episodes for the autumn.
We're going to be diving into topics like how we hear sound and the role of deception in our lives and so much more. I can't wait for you to hear these shows because we want to keep giving you space to think big picture and sometimes even escape from everything that's going on in the world. That's actually what we had in mind with the episode I've got for you today. It's called Pure Joy. We taped it back in April, but if you didn't hear the episode then or you could use another dose of joy right now, please relax and get immersed in these amazing and sometimes silly ideas.
Thank you, as always, for listening. This is the TED Radio Hour. Each week, groundbreaking TED talks. Our job now is to dream big delivered at TED conferences to bring about the future we want to see around the world to understand who we are. From those talks, we bring you speakers and ideas that will surprise you. You just don't know what you're going to find, challenge you, which we have to ask ourselves, like why is it noteworthy and even change you?
I literally feel like I'm a different person. Yes. Do you feel that way? Ideas worth spreading. From Ted and NPR, I'm a new roadie and on the show today, Pure Joy. Ted talks that spark the most pleasure, delight and frankly, relief from thinking about covid-19 for this woman.
My name is Helen Walters and I am the head of curation at Ted. Helen has handpicked a selection of TED speakers for you. Some of them have been on the show before, but others you'll be hearing about for the first time. All of them will surprise, inspire and maybe even soothe you, because as we spend our days muddling through this tough period, lots of us might be feeling discouraged, depleted. So let's take a break from the all consuming headlines and treat ourselves to some more therapeutic ideas and emotions.
And let's begin by getting to know Ted's lovely and incredibly sharp Helen Walters and understanding her criteria for joy.
OK, so Helen, I am coming to you from what I call my Harry Potter closet. It's remember in the first book where he lives underneath the staircase because that's the only place they would let him live. It's the only place where I can get some peace and quiet. So you will likely hear people stomping above me as they walk up the stairs. What about you? Where are you?
Well, I'm pretty equally as glamorous. I am coming from my bedroom where I'm sitting on the floor. Not entirely sure why I'm sitting on the floor, but I am sitting on the floor and there could easily be the delicate pitter patter of some thumping thing, five year old feet coming and coming our way any minute now.
We're making the best of a very cozy situation for all of us. And we've got a pretty good that we have the ability to talk to each other. So let's get to it indeed.
So the team and I were kind of talking about what you do and like the head of curation, what does that mean? And one of the producers was like she's like the Anna Wintour of Ted. You know, that is like kind of puts it exactly right. You are you you are it's you're the tastemaker is how I think of you. But can you just describe, like, what your job actually entails?
Oh, I see. I thought you were going to say I'm just super stylish. Well, that to that to the. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that more. So yeah. I'm not really I really my name and Anna Wintour, his name are not often mentioned in the same sentence, but that is exciting. So I have the just immensely huge responsibility and privilege of getting to work with the curators at TED to put together our programs.
And together we all kind of, you know, conspire and concoct these conferences of the world's most interesting people. So it's pretty amazing.
I I think the first time we met, though, wasn't I was thinking about it. I was like, I think the whole reason why I'm now host of the TED Radio Hour actually goes back to you, Helen, because I think you were the person who nominated me to give a talk in twenty seventeen. Right.
I mean, I, I how embarrassing. If you're like actually no, I was minutia, you know. So I mean here's the reality is I've been obsessed with you for many years particularly. And I don't know if I've ever actually told you this, but when I had my son in twenty fifteen and I was home with him as one tends to do, and one has a baby and I have no brain and I don't really know what to do with myself and you on NPR.
And you were my friend. And then when it came to Ted in twenty seventeen and I just thought well hey guys, what about, what about my best friend. And luckily, you know, people went for it.
All right. What we asked you to do for this episode, I'm blushing by the way. I have to get over the fact that, like you said, I was your friend even from the radio. Oh, my God. OK, I have to get over myself.
Best friend you. Yes. Correct. Yes. We asked you and you very generously complied. We said, you know, in these strange times of coronavirus and uncertainty, we need some more joy in our lives.
And Helen, as chief curator, could you, like, pick could you curate a selection of talks that have brought you joy?
And that doesn't have to be happiness, because I think that's a different sentiment. I feel very strongly that joy is different than happy.
Joy to me is like just a nugget of humanity and delight and deliciousness that that you're alive.
Does that what is it to you?
I was trying to think about Joy in different ways, because as you know, as you rightly say, that's the kind of the polarity factor and the warmth and the just like that was great. I just thoroughly enjoyed that. And then there's other people, you know, as you'll see, like some of these talks and not exactly ones you would immediately. Into the joyful camp, but for me, the person just exemplifies a spirit that I aspire to, you know, I just want to be more like those people.
I just I just think the world is a better place for having them in it. And that brings me joy. So, yeah, some of it's going to be a bit tangential, but I swear these ones will bring me joy.
Yeah, I think that's a really good preamble, actually. Listeners, you are going to be surprised by some of these choices. OK, so let's start let's start with Symphonia. Tell us about Samon and her talk, which is about why we should make useless things.
I mean, who doesn't want to make useless things, right? She I make them daily. But Samona celebrates that and I really appreciate and respect that. She's awesome, as she puts it in the talk. She is the queen of useless robots. And she she just has this way of approaching life and the world and objects and products. She's making you think and she's making you laugh and she's charming everybody along the way.
So I do a lot of things like this. I see a problem and I invent some sort of solution to it. For example, brushing your teeth like it's the thing we all have to do. It's kind of boring and nobody really likes that. So what about if you had a machine that could do it for you?
There's this moment in her TED talk where she actually describes her toothbrush, helmet. I call it the toothbrush helmet. Do you remember that?
I mean, how could I not remember a toothbrush helmet? It's a helmet and it has a toothbrush attached to it.
And then basically the idea of the toothbrush helmet is that it cleans your teeth or you just have to kind of smile and then the toothbrush will merrily brush your teeth for you and it doesn't work very well. Did we mention that they use this robots? Because it really is. It's not practical.
So my toothbrush helmet is recommended by zero out of ten dentists and it definitely did not revolutionize the world of dentistry.
But it did completely change my life because I finished making this toothbrush helmet three years ago. And after I finished making it, I filmed a seven second clip of it working. And by now this is a pretty standard modern day fairy tale of girl posting on the Internet.
Thousands of men voyaged into the comments sections to ask for her hand in marriage. She ignores all of them, starts the YouTube channel and keeps on building robots. Since then, I've carved up this little niche for myself on the Internet as an inventor of useless machines, because, as we all know, the easiest way to be at the top of your field is to choose a very small field.
I mean, right. I love that. Yes, yes, I think that's what I felt about podcasts to begin with. Not anymore, but that is what I felt about. I guess so.
The other thing that's really worth mentioning is that Simon suffers from extreme performance anxiety.
And it's actually was in some ways the reason why she got into making these useless robots, because as a teenager, she was such a perfectionist and so scared of failing that she almost went in the opposite. She did a 180 and only started making things that had no purpose. And that, like the kind of the point was to watch them fail because it was so kind of entertaining and freeing for her. Right.
That's why she wanted to excel at failing. So I have to ask, like, was she terrified about giving the talk? Were you there?
I was that I didn't work with her so closely, but I got to hang out with her a little bit. And she's she's just charming. And she's actually she is a perfectionist. She really wanted to make sure that everything worked. She did a number of demos on the stage for us, which were amazing and so unexpected. I think people didn't really know what was happening right at the beginning of the talks. She she comes on and she was talking about how the advice that people give you and your public speaking is to imagine everybody in front of you has no clothes on and said, that's really weird in the time of me, too.
I really don't want to be doing that kind of thing. We should probably back away from using that as any kind of advice. And then she had made herself a jacket with googly eyes on it.
It took me 14 hours and two hundred and twenty seven googly eyes to make this shirt and being able to look at you as much as you're looking at me. It's actually only half of the reason I made this.
The other half is being able to do, though, and you kind of got like a number of heads kind of tilting to one side as people were like, wait, what and who? Who and is this what is happening right now? And I love that seeing a speaker who's really good and she just had the audience in the palm of her hands and she knows it, but there's just that split second where people aren't quite sure. And she just and then she just took it from there and ran with it.
She so someone was actually on the TED Radio Hour before my time. And she said that her motto is, if I find it interesting, then there are probably other people who will find it interesting, too. I've been thinking a lot about that. But I also think, especially in this time, where a lot of people are home more than they ever have been probably in the last year combined, and have extra time on their hands, which, you know, can be a gift.
Like I also now really trying to lean into the idea of, like, I don't care if anybody else finds it interesting. If I find it interesting, I am going to pick up needle points and I'm thinking about embroidering a single germ of the coronavirus just to like feel like I need to empower, like I have some control over something with this whole thing. That's a really weird idea that I did not plan on sharing with you at all.
But there's no I suppose there's no use for that.
Well, thanks. But the point is, you don't need to if if I find it useful in calming me or giving me an artistic outlet or giving me some joy, then that's OK.
That's what I learned from Samon. What about I?
Yeah, I think that's really well said. I think that's absolutely right. And I think she reminds us all to just give it a go, you know, just give it a try. You know, it's not going to be good probably. And that's OK. You know, like it doesn't actually matter. But it's the doing and it's the trying and it's the messing up and it's the, you know, not being kind of down caused by that, but being delighted by that.
Like it's a real mindshift, I think, for a lot of people who are nervous about taking a step into the unknown or, you know, be new at something again. And I think it's the most important thing that you can do for yourself and for your own kind of satisfaction is to keep rubbish.
And and the only way is up, right?
That's right. Set the bar so low. Yeah. That actually you can't fail. Exactly.
If this expression of joy and humility that often gets lost and engineering to me, there's the true beauty of making useless things because it's this acknowledgement. But you don't always know what the best answer is. And it turns off that voice in your head that tells you that you know exactly how the world works. And maybe a toothbrush helmet isn't the answer, but at least you're asking the question. Thank you.
More ideas that spark joy with Helen Walters in just a minute. I'm a new Shahmoradi and you're listening to the TED Radio Hour from NPR. Stay with us. Oh. Hey, everyone, just a quick thanks to our sponsor, 3M, 3M is supporting communities in the fight against covid-19. Since the outbreak, 3M has responded with cash and product donations, including surgical masks, hand sanitizer and respirators through local and global aid partners. 3M is also on track to produce two million respirators globally by the end of 2020.
Learn how 3M is helping the world respond to covid-19. Go to 3M Dotcom Slash covid. 3M Science Applied to life. With civil unrest, the pandemic and the economic crisis, you want to know what's happening right when you wake up, and that's why there is up first, the news you need in about 10 minutes from NPR News. Listen. Every day. It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR, I'm a new summary on the show today we go behind the scenes with TED curator Helen Walters and her pick of talks that over the years have brought her the most joy.
This actually is someone who makes things.
He doesn't invent them. But I would say that he reinvents them. It's about music, which I think we can universally agree brings people joy, but we don't usually analyze why music is so joyful.
And in fact, just the thought of saying, well, let's analyze why music is so joyful, like kind of stamp's the joy out of being crushed. The theory way to crush it.
Thanks, but the person you chose is the conductor, Benjamin Zander, and he makes us understand the transformative power of classical music. Are you a classical music fan, Helen? Is that why you decided to share this talk?
Well, so I am a classical music lover, even while I know nothing about it. But it does bring me great joy.
Classical music is for everybody because, you know, my profession, the music profession doesn't see it that way. They say three percent of the population likes classical music. If only we could move it to four percent, our problems would be a I say, how would you walk?
How would you talk? How would you be if you thought everybody loves classical music, they just haven't found out about yet?
You know, he's kind of the perfect he perfectly exemplifies that half glass full. He just everything is an opportunity. And I think it's really heartening and reassuring and inspiring, not in a goofy way, but just how cool is that? I want to live my life like that totally.
I think one of my favorite parts of his talk is where he goes through and he plays the piano as a child at different stages.
I want to remind you of what a seven year old child sounds like when he plays the piano. Maybe you have this child at home. He sounds something like this.
I see some of you recognize this child. Now he's 10. At that point, they usually give up. Now, if he'd waited, if he'd waited for one more year, you would have heard this. Now, what happened was not maybe what you thought, which was he suddenly became passionate, engaged, involved, what actually happened was the impulses were reduced.
You see, the first time he was playing with an impulse on every note.
And a 10 year old and every eight notes. And the 11 year old, one impulse on the whole phrase. I know I don't know how we got into this position, and I didn't say I'm going to move my shoulder over, move my body, you know, the music pushed me over, which is why I call it one buttock playing. Can be the other button. So what did happen, Helen? I mean, we've all I've been that child, I've also heard that many children trucking along, playing music like that.
But what he says is that something happens with age, that it stops being about one note after the other and it becomes about musical phrasing. But it's also about taking the long view at the risk of making a metaphor for life. I think I think that's what he's saying. How do you how do you explain it?
It's not the practice makes perfect, but it's like it becomes less about reading the music.
And suddenly you're thinking about the whole piece and the whole way that you can express what the composer was trying to kind of put down on paper when they wrote that piece. You know, we were just in South Africa and you can't go to South Africa without thinking of Mandela in jail for 27 years. What was he thinking about lunch? No, he was thinking about the vision for South Africa and for human beings. That's what this is about, vision.
This is about the long line, like the bird who flies over the field and doesn't care about the fences underneath.
She hadn't put this together until until you did this, you are good at this stuff, but like there's a connection to someone here, right, of like, you know, you've got to try things. You've got to do things. And then with this, you've got to do them and you have to keep doing them. And, you know, every musician I know, you know, they have to practice every day. There's no it's not like you get there and then you're done and it's all good.
It's like you've got to keep going.
But there's just something about that practice and that just ability to transcend what's on paper, make it into something just truly beautiful for me that that description is particularly helpful right now. Right. I think a lot of us can feel overwhelmed if we think about how am I going to get through tomorrow, how am I going to get through what's next week even going to be like?
And so it helps to think bigger in some ways about the idea of family or idea of creativity and sort of not get bogged down in the details. And I also think, you know, on another note, of course, music is a wonderful way to manage your feelings, to cope, to escape.
Yeah, I think there's nothing wrong with a bit of escapism right now, and, you know, the one thing that gives me hope and heart and, you know, it would be so easy to skitter into bleakness over what's happening in the world right now. But what I look at is the way that people are responding and the heart and the care that people are bringing to the community. And we talk about this as a team internally, like, you know, people are scared and people are worried and they're worried about all sorts of things and all sorts of ways.
And all of those fears are valid. And so there's nothing to be done. Like there's no kind of no words are going to dispel those fears. But one thing I said is the community truly stepping up to support. I see elderly neighbors who are being cared for by people who are bringing them food. And I see people who are sharing things in a sanitary way, of course. But, you know, people are looking out for each other.
And I think that that is really amazing. And I've kind of a bigger picture of what is a pretty darn dark time.
It does make me wonder if we're going to somehow redefine success for ourselves personally after this Korona chapter, as it were.
And I had to go back and listen to it twice, was when Benjamin Zander says in his talk he's been conducting for 20 years. And he suddenly had this realization that as a conductor, like he doesn't make a sound, he he depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful.
I realized my job was to awaken possibility in other people.
And he said, you know, how would he know if he was doing it? You look at their eyes, he would look in their eyes. And if their eyes were shining, he knew he was doing it.
If the eyes are not shining, you get to ask a question. And this is the question, who am I being? Who am I being that my players eyes are not shining? And he says that that is how he has defined success for himself for the last thirty five years, that it's it's not about wealth and fame and power. It's about the shining eyes. Yeah, I think it's beautiful.
I mean, I think it's one of the reasons that this talk has stayed with me since I think it was 2008 that he gave it right. And I think that it's not about what they're doing wrong. It's about what you can do better. I have decided that, like, I can't be the most amazing parent every hour of the day, especially now. But if I can get my kids eyes to shine once a day, yeah, that's the win for me.
That's what I just going to take it one day, find one shining I at a time. All right.
I want to move forward to your third pick, OK?
This one is more of a quintessential TED speaker, a person who wants to change the world, make it a better place, usually phrases that make me squirm a little bit. But Andrew Ugne, the speaker you chose, is the real deal. Yeah. Can you tell us about him and the kind of work that he does?
So Andrew is a social entrepreneur. He works in Rwanda mainly, but across sub-Saharan Africa. And he runs a nonprofit called the One Acre Fund, which is about basically training and providing subsistence farmers with the tools and the techniques they need in order to survive and thrive.
I run a nonprofit organization and I also live in the field where I see our operations every day. So let me shed a little bit of light on how nonprofits help us to achieve a better world. The first thing we do is to buy professional agricultural seed from local companies.
Next, a tiny micro dose of conventional fertilizer is required to nourish each plant to its full potential.
We purchase life improving goods with the aggregated power of hundreds of thousands of families and store them in 30 warehouses like this. Then we get it out to where people live. We then follow up in the field every two weeks with training, and then farmers pay us back for our services a little bit over time.
In fact, farmer payments cover the majority of our expenses, and that's why it costs us less than thirty dollars to serve a family for a year when humanity puts its money where its mouth is.
When we put real resources into social change, anything is possible.
It's weird to me how real he is, like he just is goodness exemplified and everything about what he does and what he stands for in the way that he does.
It just brings me great joy.
So Andrew actually has been rather successful in his endeavors to solve some of the least joyful problems the world has poverty, hunger.
And it's kind of an interesting story, his relationship with actually. Ted, can you tell us about his work specifically?
So he's given a couple of TED talks at this point, and he is one of the first recipients of. Funding from the audacious project, which is this really cool kind of crazy project that Ted runs on the side and does this particular small team that basically seeks submissions and then vets these projects and gets gets entrepreneurs to dream of what they could do if they didn't have to worry about trying to raise funding. And Andrew, he just he has this moral fortitude and strength.
And you just you believe him. You know, you just you just feel better for knowing that there are people like Andrew in the world who are devoting their entire lives to trying to fix a problem that most people just throw up their hands at and say, look, that's big, couldn't possibly do anything about that, or maybe I'll give you 100 dollars at Christmas or I'll do something in some way and I'll try and feel better about it or I'll just think about it because it's too difficult.
Yeah. Having people like Andrew in the world who's just like so outraged that we are not fixing this and so smart that he has a really just he has a plan. Yep. Yep. And it's a good one and it's working.
I've only been doing this work for about one decade, but I have at least three more decades to give to this fight. How incredible it is. What a powerful gift it is to be told relatively early in one's career that you can dream. This gift has totally transformed. My organization believes it's possible. Three years in, we've roughly tripled in size and looking forward to the next three years, we have to scale the graph. By twenty twenty we will have grown six fold in total size.
We will directly serve one million two hundred fifty thousand families per year with more than five million children living in those families. This is the power of major philanthropy.
This really works. And he presents the plan on the stage to the point where, you know, let's be honest, there are a lot of people with a lot of wealth in that audience who give the money so that he can get the funding from the audacious project and that goodness and that explanation of the problem. But also the way that he describes his own professional trajectory is so moving. He is so pumped about the next several decades to come and what he will be able to do.
And I was like, this guy's on like in his own mild mannered way. And he's like, you know, khaki pants. He's he's on fire. It is a wonderful way. And like you said, it's like, oh, Andrew, I'm just so glad you're here.
You know, so glad he's just this combination of just mild mannered, kind, generous, and then do not get in his way.
Yeah. He will mess you up.
I just I would never want to say no because he's going to he's going to do this work and he is going to save you know, he's just going to he's going to change the world.
So I do have to ask, though, what do you think the rest of us can learn from Andrew Young? Because I think listening to him like it is easy to feel like a garbage person.
I just thought, like, there is no way I will ever be as good a person. So what's the lesson, do you think?
Maybe that's what we maybe maybe that's just the lesson is just we're all rubbish. Andrew is the best.
Oh, alternatively, you know, I don't know, maybe we could all think about the ways we can help or I don't even know if it has to be like that. I really for me, the joy is I'm not giving up on it.
How come I love it? All right.
This next one is actually one of my favorite talks because it speaks to all my insecurities.
Tim Urban, how do you describe who Tim Urban is and what he does?
So Tim writes a blog. It's not really a blog, but it's called Wait But Why? And he basically unpacks and dives into the things that you kind of never knew that you needed someone to dive into and unpack. And then he does it in this most ridiculously charming way where he will illustrate these often extremely complex ideas with stick figures just so the mortals among us can keep up. And yes, he is just a restlessly curious individual who makes the world a better place for all of us.
A couple of years ago, I decided to write about procrastination. My behavior is always perplexed the non procrastinators around me.
And I wanted to explain to the non procrastinators of the world what goes on in the heads of procrastinators and why we are the way we are now. I had a hypothesis that the brains of procrastinators were actually different than the brains of other people.
And to test this, I found an MRI lab that actually let me scan both my brain and the brain of a proven non procrastinator. And so I could compare them and I actually brought them here to show you today. And I want you to take a look carefully to see if you can notice a difference. And I know that if you had a trained brain expert, it's not that obvious. But just take a look. OK, so here's the brain of a non procrastinator.
At this point, Tim reveals a drawing of a stick figure, the so-called rational decision maker looking confident behind the wheel of a non procrastinator's brain. Now here's my brain.
Then he reveals a line drawing of a monkey, the instant gratification monkey. There is a difference.
Both brains have a rational decision maker in them, but the procrastinator's brain also has an instant gratification monkey. Now, what does this mean for the procrastinator?
Well, the rational decision maker will make the rational decision to do something productive. But the monkey doesn't like that plan. So he actually takes the wheel and he says, actually, let's read the entire Wikipedia page of the Nancy Kerrigan Tonya Harding scandal, because I just remember that that happened.
His talk is called The Mind of a master procrastinator. So did you approach Tim?
Do you remember how the whole thing went down in terms of like and I feel like I should also ask you to explain, like, what the process of writing a TED talk entails and why Tim did so badly at it.
The first time I came across the talk was when he came in for rehearsals. So we always have rehearsals before a conference. And Tim came in and he gave the talk and it started, well, I have to give it to him, started strong and then I'd say about 40 percent into the talk. It began to head south fairly quickly. It was like we were watching the implosion of a human being just in front of us, really, as he just began to kind of stammer and slightly panic.
Oh, and you could see the panic and he kind of became a bit manic. You know, it was this awkward and kind of hilarious and awful. So he he lived it, you know, he lived what he laid out on stage.
We'll keep bringing you talks that spark joy, including laughing with Tim Urban and his impulse to procrastinate to the extreme. In just a minute. I'm Anoush Zamara and you're listening to the TED Radio Hour from NPR.
Stay with us. Support for NPR and the following message come from our sponsor, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company founder Ken Grossman shares why he thinks of his company as a family and not just because his daughter and son help run the brewery. We've been focused from our beginning on trying to do the right thing. Our focus is to treat people fairly, to produce great products, to try to build a company, the culture that's sustaining. But it's also a community, a family.
To learn more, go to Sierra Nevada. Dotcom, please drink responsibly. Good question. That's a really good question. It's a great question. This is free therapy. Thank you for asking me that. God, that's such a good question.
That's an interesting question. But what fresh air interviews are really about are the interesting answers. Listen and subscribe to Fresh Air from why an NPR. It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR, I'm Anoush Semrad. Today on the show, TED curator Helen Walters brings us her pick of talks that spark joy. So let's continue with writer Tim Urban. Tim was struggling to stop procrastinating and finish writing his TED talk. In the end, he dissected his excruciating mental process for the talk itself.
Very Medoff procrastinator has a guardian angel, someone who's always looking down on him and watching over him. In his darkest moments, someone called the panic monster.
So the panic monster in Tim's world is a red stick figure who looks nervous.
Now, the panic monster is dormant most of the time, but he suddenly wakes up any time a deadline gets too close or there's danger of public embarrassment, a career disaster or some other scary consequence.
And importantly, he's the only thing that the monkey is terrified of.
Now, he became very relevant in my life pretty recently because people have Ted invited me to do a TED talk.
Now, of course, I said, yes, it's always been a dream of mine to have done a TED talk in the past, but it's it's a it's a meta meta talk.
Helen, how weird was it for the TED team to see their process laid out as a TED talk because you ended up being the subject of the talk in addition to your your colleagues at TED about what the process was like, why he sucked at it, but then he managed to pull it off.
He just it was delightful. I think we were all charmed by it. And he's just so funny. The reality, too, is that there's a deeper truth in what he's saying.
We all I defy anyone to tell me that they've never procrastinated or don't in any way relate to what he's talking about.
I don't think non procrastinators exist. That's right. I think all of you are procrastinators. Now, you might not all be a mess like some of us, but remember, the monkey sneakiest trick is when the deadlines aren't there.
Now, he is extreme and he definitely, I think, probably gave people a few palpitations. But we have to roll with it.
It is live and it is people and it is it's OK. And he who taught us a lot.
I want to show you one last thing. I call this a life calendar. That's one box for every week of a 90 year life.
Not that many boxes, especially since we've already used a bunch of those, so I think we need to all take a long, hard look at that calendar.
And we need to think about what we're really procrastinating on, because everyone is procrastinating on something in life, we need to stay aware of the instant gratification monkey.
That's a job for all of us, and because it's not that many boxes on there, it's a job that should probably start today.
Well, maybe not today, but, you know, sometime soon. Thank you. Thanks.
All right, Helen, the last talk that you've brought us, perhaps the most needed talk of us, because, boy, could we use a laugh these days.
Yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo.
We took that that those those weird peals of laughter from Sophie Scott's TED talk, which is about why we laugh and tell us. I mean, I think this is the most obvious one, but tell us why you love Sophie Scott.
Well, so Sophie is a neuroscientist who studies laughter and she is a joyful person. She exemplifies joy herself. And her work is so interesting as well as being just a really good excuse to listen to a bunch of people laughing and then to find yourself crying with laughter for no particular reason, which I think we could all use round about now. Yeah.
And she actually explains like physically, in addition to like what happens in the brain, she talks about where laughter comes from physically in the body, not to understand laughter.
You have to look at the part of the body. The psychologists, neuroscientists don't normally spend very much time looking at, which is the ribcage. So you use the intercostal muscles, the muscles between your ribs. So bring it in and out of your lungs just by expanding and contracting your ribcage. So that's breathing. You're all doing it. Don't stop.
What happens when you laugh is those same muscles start to contract very regularly and you get this very marks through zigzagging and that's just squeezing out of you. And each of those contractions gives you a sound and the contractions run together. You get these spasms and that's when you start getting these kind of things happening.
I'm really into this, OK? I did not know, Ellen, that humans are we're not the only creatures that laugh, but we're the only ones who physically make our laughter that way. Did you know that?
I think I'd forgotten that. It's so interesting that humans are not the only animals that laugh. I mean, obviously, those primates and monkeys. But then there's I think that's a ticklish yes, that's OK.
So any time that you're feeling sad, I'm just going to imagine a rat having a chuckle.
Right. It's like it's so good. Right. And she she tells this story in her talk about being a little girl and hearing her parents laugh and wanting to get in on it. And it's so reminds me of, like, when my my kids will come to the room. If I'm laughing with my husband, I'll be like, what? What would survive?
What what's happening? What's going on? Yeah, but I was a little girl. I would have been about six. I came across my parents doing something unusual, but they were laughing. They were laughing very, very hard. They were lying on the floor laughing.
They were screaming with laughter.
I did not know what they were laughing at, but I wanted in I wanted to be part of that and I got to go.
So I totally understand what you're talking about like that you want to be in on the laughter. I can only guess that as a curator, some of your most joyful moments, happiest moments even are when the audience is is is having a good old jest knee slapper all at the same time when you are able to have a speaker who gets everyone laughing.
I mean, there's nothing there's nothing better. Right? And then when you have everybody laughing, it's infectious. And then before you know where you are, you're just rolling around crying, holding onto your sides, all the rest of it. And there's nothing better. Nothing better.
Everybody underestimates how often they laugh. And you're doing something when you laugh with people that's actually letting you access a really ancient evolutionary system that mammals have evolved to make and maintain social bonds and clearly to regulate emotions, to make ourselves feel better.
In other words, when it comes to laughter, you and me, baby, nothing but mammals.
So, Alan, I want to ask you, like, what do you hope people take away from listening to some of the best thinkers and makers ideas today?
What what is the version of your shining eyes for? Like what you want someone to think after they hear a TED talk or they listen to this show?
I just think it's about making new connections in your brain and just learning. I'm thinking about things that maybe you hadn't thought about before. It's a reminder just to be constantly curious, we don't know anything. And that's OK. And all we can do is take one day at a time and tell everyone we need to tell that we love them and and to find little bits of joy where we can right now.
And and that can be getting to know your neighbor because you're helping them out, as you mentioned. Or, you know, the weird conversation that my sister and I had about canned beans versus dry beans the other night. And I think that it's almost like an opportunity for a reset. So that brings me joy.
And that's and, you know, I have a five year old who doesn't understand any of this and thinks that we're all weird and everything is odd and the whole school is real rubbish, which is not wrong about. But for me, like, he's actually that's pretty grounding because it's just like I can't be a basket case. We've got to keep some form of normality around us and that involves tickle fights and all of that kind of stuff and just just trying to be present.
And all we have is now. So let's make the most of it. Helen Walters, Ted's head curator, thank you so much for sharing some of your favorite, most joyful talks and letting us go a bit behind the scenes with you. So welcome. That was very joyful. Thank you. Manage my life.
Many, many thanks to Helen Walters, Ted's head of curation. You can see all the talks that Helen mentioned at Ted that unpeg and hundreds more TED talks at Ted Dotcom, where the TED app. Before we go, we want to share an audio postcard from a TED speaker who has brought me a lot of joy, the writer Pico Iyer. Peekapoos given multiple TED talks, my favorite is about stillness. And back in the spring when we first ran this episode, we asked Pekoe how the pandemic was changing him and all of us.
Here's what he sent us. Hello, my name is Pico Iyer, and I'm a writer looking at my quiet residential street here in Nara, Japan. There's nothing at all special about the anonymous suburb in which my wife and I have lived for 28 years, but I really feel lucky to be here.
And although restrictions have been tightening the last few days, to a surprising extent, this part of Japan looks and feels as it always does. There are avenues of cherry blossoms lining the park across the street, and all my neighbors are gathered on the lawns for picnics and ball games and the brilliant blue spring morning, the twelve hundred wild deer who pretty much rule the city roaming freely around downtown, looking sleek and well-fed as they shed their winter fur.
And I think we all know this can change at any moment. But Japan has been living with uncertainty, with fire and earthquake and tsunami for 4500 years. And the reason my friends are flocking out to observe the cherry blossoms is precisely because those blossoms remind us that nothing lasts for very long. Now, as it happens, my 88 year old mother was taken into the hospital back in California a couple of weeks ago for reasons unrelated to the virus. And so, of course, I got a seat on the next flight over.
I packed my bags. I was all set to take the bus to the airport when I heard that visitors are not allowed in California hospitals in any case. So if I'd flown over there, I just have been stuck in an empty house, really no closer to my mother there than I am here. And so, of course, like all the world and living in a state of uncertainty with mortality, perhaps quite close, my mother, my wife and I will suffer from asthma.
All of us were over 60. So we're all at risk. But I feel in some ways this moment dramatizes what's always the case. I could never tell you what's going to happen tomorrow or even tonight. A death could be at the door right now.
And that's exactly the reason why I try really hard to cherish the beauty of this radiant spring day and not take anything for granted.
I've always felt that what happens to us is much less important than what we make of what happens to us. I once lost my home and every last thing I earned in the world in a forest fire and 450 other houses were similarly destroyed. And I think everybody, of course, was scarred. But maybe a year later, there were some of our neighbors who clearly were unsettled for life by this event. There were others who no doubt unsettled nonetheless thought, well, maybe this is a chance to remake our lives in a slightly different direction with fewer things in a place of our choosing, a less imprisoned in the illusion of control.
Everything changes all the time, including grief and affliction. And the fact that nothing lasts is the reason that everything matters. I've been lucky enough to spend 45 years now travelling and talking with the Dalai Lama, and when I've seen him recently, the phrase he keeps coming back to is emotional disarmament. And of course, the Dalai Lama, more than anyone always stresses, we need to keep our hearts open. We need to feel for others and always to practice compassion and sympathy.
But we equally need to diffuse those destructive emotions, panic, confusion, rage that don't bring us closer to the truth, but keep us away from it. And I always find that if I fill my head with the news or with social media, it cuts me up instead of opening me up. And I don't think it's fruitful for me or the people around me to be whipped into a state of anger or agitation. I think one of the graces of suffering is that it cuts through on ideology and essentially reminds us that we're all in this together.
I heard from an old friend of mine who says that the best cure for anxiety is thinking of others, and I think maybe the best thing that could come out of this crisis is the reminder that all of us. I think young and old, Eastern and Western, Republican and Democrat, and in this really divided world, in the curious way, maybe this crisis has reminded us of how much we share.
So now I'll be returning to the bright blue spring day around me in the hope, of course, that everyone, everywhere will get to enjoy such days very soon.
My neighbors are worried, of course, because the number of virus cases has been spiking in our cities. And even the single most sacred Shinto shrine in Kyoto was closed this week, as I think it's never been closed, even during warfare. But even so, the TV announcers are drawing our attention to the supermoon. And just yesterday, my wife and I took a walk in our neighborhood and we suddenly came upon this thick bamboo forest with lines of cherry blossoms in front of it and nightingales teaching their young to sing five minutes away from this apartment.
But had it not been for this enforced moment of quiet, never would have seen it. We hadn't seen it in 28 years. That's writer Pico Iyer. His latest book is Autumn Light, and you can hear his talks at Ted Dotcom. Thanks so much for listening to our show, Pure Joy this week. If you want to find out more about who was on it, go to Ted Unpeg and to see hundreds more TED talks, check out Ted Dotcom or the TED app.
Our production staff at NPR includes Jeff Rogers, Sanaz Myshkin, poor Rachel Falkner, Deba Matushka, James Delahoussaye, J.C. Howard, Katie Montalbán, Maria Paz Gutierrez, Christina Carla, Chiara Brown and Hannah Bolaños with help from Daniel Shukan. Our intern is Matthew Clouthier.
Our theme music was written by rompin our employee, our partners at Ted or Chris Anderson, Colin Helms and a felon and Michelle quit. I'm a new summer roadie and you've been listening to the TED Radio Hour from NPR.