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Two TED Talks That Inspired and Motivated Me

January 9, 2011

A funny thing happens when you start to focus on something: you suddenly become more aware of everything related to it. Kinda like when you think of buying a new car and seem to see it everywhere.

The same thing happened to me since I started thinking about writing letters to the people who have influenced and helped me in my personal development. I started noticing books that talked about thank-you letters, quotes that alluded to gratitude, and videos like the ones I’m about to share with you.

The first one is a talk from Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania about “positive psychology”.

Just in case you, like me, are guilty of reading blogs during work hours and cannot watch it right now, here’s a very quick summary of the aspects of this talk that I think relate to this blog:

Over the last 15 years, a science of positive psychology developed. The goal of positive psychology is to build on people’s strengths, understand how to improve their lives, and make them happier. There is a website you can go to www.authentichappiness.com, with tests to do to learn more about your level of happiness.

There are three different happy lives:
1. The pleasant life: having as many pleasures as possible and learning the skills to amplify them.
2. The good life: When you are fully engaged in something.
3. The Meaningful life.

Then Martin Seligman talks about several different experiments he and his team designed to evaluate how each of these different types of happiness influences our lives. For example, he asked people to design a beautiful day and use savouring and mindfulness to enhance the pleasures. Then he would rate how they felt at different points after the experiment.

But here’s why I think his talk is really linked to this blog: the gratitude visits. Here’s what gratitude visits are, in Mr. Seligman’s words: “Remember someone who did something enormously important that changed your life in a good direction, and that you never properly thanked. The person has to be alive. Your assignment is to write a 300-word testimonial to that person, ask if you can visit (don’t tell them why), show up at their door and read the testimonial”. He then adds “Everyone weeps when this happens. When we test people one week, month, or a year later, people are both happier. It is something that lasts”.

Now that’s an encouraging fact! Although my blog slightly differs from this idea, I still plan to write testimonials, express gratitude, and say thank-you to people I probably never thanked properly. I’m not going to have time and money to fly to their homes and say what I want to say face-to-face, but the letters will be a good step in that direction, and should at least make some of the recipients of the letters happier. Let’s call it a step in the right direction.

The second talk I want to share with you has just been uploaded on TED.com a few days ago, and the best word to describe it is… Awesome!

This talk is less specifically related to what I’m doing in this blog. It is however, very inspirational for several reasons. Neil Pasricha, author of the 1000 awesome things blog tells us how awesome life can be. Despite the sometimes disheartening and awful setbacks we experience, there are hundreds of things to rejoice over. This talk is about gratitude.

I related this concept to the letters I’m writing. After all, maybe what I’m actually doing is showing gratitude to people for the sometimes little things (according to them)  they may have done for me. Little, but awesome.

And the second way I related this talk to my blog is the way he closes his speech: “The cashiers at your grocery store, the foreman at your plant, the guy tailgating you home on the highway, the telemarketer calling you during dinner, every teacher you’ve ever had, everyone that’s ever woken up beside you, every politician in every country, every actor in every movie, every single person in your family, everyone you love, everyone in this room, and you will be dead in 100 years.”

According to this, he goes on saying that the best moment to enjoy life is now (you have to watch this video, it almost made me cry). Of course his main point is that there is no better time for living than right now, but I also understood it this way: you should not wait to tell the people around you that you care about them. If you have something important to tell them, do it now. You may not get the chance to do it in a week, or in a year.

I had a neighbor who could have been on the list of people I’m writing to. He was a very intelligent and creative man, with tons of experiences and cool stuff to teach me. He genuinely cared about my development when I was growing up. He would take my brother paragliding, he used to take me fishing or catching crawfish, taught me how to build a fire. He made me meet older piano players and musicians that helped me improve my piano skills. But after a long depression and a divorce, he hung himself.

My godfather was an awesome man too. He saved money to make sure I would go to college. He taught me that “true generosity is giving what you want the most to keep” (he had a garden and always gave the first vegetables he grew to his neighbors). He had climbed the highest summit of the Alps and had a successful career by the time he was 25. He was a someone who had great values and a great outlook on life. I learned all that from his wife, because he killed himself in a paragliding accident when I was 10.

Both of these deaths have been big blows in my personal life. I cried for a whole day when my mother told me my godfather was gone. And I felt guilty of not having been there for my neighbor. He had always been there for me growing up, but I turned my back on him when he was going through the most challenging period of his life. I did not visit when he asked me to, I was busy doing other things.

I’ve experienced other painful losses, but these are the two times I wished I had written, said hello, told these persons they were important to me before they died. After the sad events, there was no way to let them know that, and I had to live with what I had not said. That’s another great motivation for writing those letters. Everybody will die sometime, so the time to show gratitude is now.

How about you? How do you usually show those around you that you appreciate them? And why not write letters to these people, as a start?

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2 Comments
  1. this is a very inspiring post. I wrote to a history teacher once and have been thinking about writing to one of my English teachers. She was very strict and we all dreaded her classes but she is the one who helped me most in the long run and instilled a love of language into me. You have prompted me to write to her.

  2. Awww that’s great! One of my (not so) secret goals when starting this blog was to encourage people, like you, to write to someone important for them. So thanks a lot!

    It’s very interesting how your teacher maybe wasn’t the friendliest one, but the one who helped you most. It sounds like you might have learned more than just English thanks to her 😉

    If she writes back, let us know! There’s a whole page for that in this blog.

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