Leo Bormans, the author of The World Book of Happiness, presents Is The Glass Half Full Or Half Empty? The Final Proof! at TEDxGhent (Transcript)
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Leo Bormans – Author of The World Book of Happiness
We are in crisis, left behind, always harder, seldom kind. Then we feel what might be missed is the power of an optimist. The question we always ask, worldwide, when we are talking about happiness, is whether the glass is half full or half empty.
Well, I promise you that we’ll give the answer to that question today. But then we have to go back to our personal youth. You have become an ambassador of creativity, you are an ambassador of courage, of innovation, of organization. We all are ambassadors of some strength.
Where did we learn that? When I was a kid of 4, 5 years old, my father was a salesman. He took me to small grocery shops in Limburg, that’s a small province in Belgium. And they turned upside down an old vegetable box. I would be standing on it and recite poems. And then I got an ice cream. I got lots of ice cream in my youth.
And in fact, when I’m talking today on this thing, what did they do? They turned an old vegetable box upside down, I’m standing on it, reciting a poem, and hopefully get an ice cream afterwards. That’s the way it works. We have all become the people, we have become thanks to positive strength, thanks to someone who has told you you are good at something. We learn to support through positive engagement, through encouraging each other. We don’t learn anything through cynicism or through indifference.
When I was traveling the world, I met in Nepal and in India the word ‘namaste’. ‘Namaste’ means ‘hello’.
But when an American says ‘hello’, it doesn’t mean anything. Namaste means three things: I bow for the god in you. I’ve seen you. There is something positive in you and I bow for that, deeply. Teachers tell this to students. Students to teachers, all over, everyday, 100 times. I’ve seen you. There is a positive strength in you. And I bow deeply for that.
Well, wouldn’t we live in another world if people would say that and mean it? And life is not a party. I’m not driving the country in a car full of balloons. We all have our ride on sadness. If I open the door of your heart, there is a lot of sadness and trouble and sorrow in it. We all have that. It’s not about that. I hate the song ‘Don’t worry, be happy’. I changed the motto into ‘Do worry, be happy’.
There is something going wrong in the world, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be happy. Everyone is looking for happiness all over, it’s a universal quest.
And I asked 100 professors in 50 countries to summarize in 1000 words what we know about happiness, not what we believe, but what we know about happiness. Well, we found out that we have been focusing on the wrong things. We have been studying psychology, sociology, economics. That’s what’s it about: It’s not only about philosophy. It’s not about sunflowers and balloons, it’s about science. We have been studying the wrong things. We know quite a lot about schizophrenia, paranoia, but most of the people are not schizophrenics or paranoiacs.
The opposite of bad is ‘not bad’, but that’s not the same as good. The opposite of unhappy is ‘not unhappy’, but that’s not the same as happy. So when we could study what makes people happy and broaden that knowledge, we could become happier citizens.
And we know the relationship between optimism and happiness is quite big, it’s quite important. The relationship between smoking and lung cancer is the same as the relationship between optimism and happiness. When you smoke, you get lung cancer. When you are an optimist, you become happy. And when you’re happier, you’re healthier and successful: in sports, in science, in friendship.
Why don’t you want to become an optimist? We know out of science that 50% of optimism is about genetics. It’s about what we got from our parents, our grandparents and so on. So 10% is due to the circumstances, that’s the house we have, the job we have. 40% is left for what is between our ears. That’s the mindset, that’s the way we look at things. This 50% of genetics, we cannot change. This 10% of circumstances, we’re we focusing all day long. And the 40% is what we have in our own hands.
Don’t you think that happy people experience more happy things than unhappy people? We all experience more or less the same things in our lives but the optimists give a double weight to the positive things, and the pessimists give a double weight to the negative things. That’s the choice we have. Optimism is a combination of belief and behavior. You start believing that things will come out and you behave like that.
Well, one of the professors taught me the lesson that there are red buttons and green buttons in society. The red buttons are the pessimists. The green buttons are the optimists. And you can see that immediately when you talk to someone, in 3 minutes, I immediately know whether you are a green or a red button.