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Is the glass half full or half empty? The final proof! Leo Bormans at TEDxGhent


Translator: Els De Keyser
Reviewer: Rik Delaet 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 organisation. 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,
a small province in Belgium. 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. 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 I hopefully
get an ice cream afterwards. That’s the way it works. We all became
the people we are thanks to positive strength, thanks to someone
who 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 travelling the world, in Nepal and in India I met
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. I bow deeply for that. Wouldn’t we live in another world if people would say that
and mean it? Life is not a party. I’m not driving the country
in a car full of balloons. We are all entitled to 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 to
‘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. 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. We found that we have been focusing on the wrong things. We have been studying psychology,
sociology, economics. That’s what’s it about:
not only 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 if we could study
what makes people happy and broaden that knowledge, we could become
happier citizens. We know that the relationship
between optimism and happiness is 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 from science that 50 percent
of optimism is about genetics. It’s about what we got from our parents,
our grandparents and so on. 10 percent is
due to the circumstances, that is the house we have,
the job we have. 40 percent is left
for what is between our ears. That’s the mindset,
the way we look at things. The 50 percent of genetics,
we cannot change. The 10 percent of circumstances,
are what we focus on all day long. And the 40 percent
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 behaviour. You start believing
that things will turn out and you behave like that. 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. You notice immediately
when you talk to someone, in 3 minutes. I immediately know
whether you are a green or a red button. Shall I teach you? You can know it
in 3 minutes. The red buttons are always talking
about themselves, the past and problems. The green buttons are talking
about we, us, the future and solutions. It’s not about me,
it’s about us. It’s not about the past,
it’s about the future. It’s not about problems,
it’s about solutions. And when you succeed
in connecting the green buttons in an organisation, in a school,
in a street, in your family, the red buttons become irrelevant. A woman came to me last week.
She said, “Nice story about green and red buttons, but I’m married to a red button.
What do I have to do now?” (Laughter) So we know that optimism and pessimism are spreading like a virus. It’s the optimism
as well as the pessimism. You know that. When an optimist
enters the room, you become an optimist. We see in research that in regions full
of optimists, they influence each other Workfloors influence each other. I’m not talking
about stupid things. Just a few weeks ago, the United Nations,
for the first time in history, published a World Report on Happiness. It’s full of statistics
that really prove that new priorities are needed. The report talks
not only of gross national product, but of gross national happiness. This system works in Bhutan, a country in the Himalayas. The prime minister of Bhutan
was invited to New York to come and talk there. We have been making fun of Bhutan, but now it has become
an example of good practice. They are not only
measuring work, they are measuring harmony: work
and the hours of sleep. They are measuring physical health
and mental health. In education, they are measuring
knowledge and values. It’s about harmony
and we can learn quite a lot of that. When Herman Van Rompuy
wrote a letter to 200 leaders of the world to make “happiness, hope
and positive thinking, quality of life in our policies and our social behaviour
a priority”, I was glad. I was holding his hand
while he was writing that letter. He says, “Cynics will immediately
dismiss these proposals as naive, but positive thinking is no longer
something for drifters and dreamers.” It’s a science.
We can measure it and we can do positive interventions. If we measure
on a scale of 1 to 10, Zimbabwe has 2.8 on happiness, China 6.4, Denmark 8.3. There is an influence of social policy
on the numbers of people who are happy and we can change that. We can set these new priorities. Do you know — When you see the publicity
of lotteries world wide, it’s always about sunshine and palm trees. I don’t know whether you know
how many palm trees there are in Denmark, but not that many. It’s not about sunshine. When we compare
the happiest countries to the countries
that are not happy at all, we don’t see a difference
in sunshine or palm trees. It is about trust. When people trust each other,
and trust the institutions, they are happier. And when there is
more equality in a country, then people are happier,
the rich and the poor, the men and the women. Everybody can be happier. Let’s go for a happier world for all and not only for less misery,
but for a better world. The best-selling sign in the west no longer is ‘Welcome’
but ‘Beware of the dog’. We have become afraid of everything. There is fear of everything. We are afraid of the muslims,
of the Chinese, of everything. Locked up in our houses,
we are killing ourselves. We have bought our dogs
and our alarm systems. But the great problem in our society
is not aggression or violence. It’s about solitude. There is fear in our houses. We could change that. The media
play an important role. There was a time
when magazines were called ‘Der Spiegel’, the mirror. They are not the mirror
of society any more. They have become
the keyholes of society, focusing on conflict,
on measuring conflict, again and again,
making people afraid. A lot of research states
that people who see the news and read the papers,
become more and more afraid. The reality is the same,
but they become afraid reading all these stories. They are focusing
on a message of distrust and fear. Do you know the opposite of fear? The opposite of fear
is hope. And a crisis
is an opportunity. The pessimists
will never solve the crisis. Statues are never built
for pessimists. There are more optimists
in the world. There are more. But the pessimists
make more noise. At meetings and gatherings, the pessimists
always make more noise. The pessimists are still living
in the holes and the caves. The optimistis came out
of the caves and holes watching the fire,
and the future. Publicity knows that very well: watches all over,
always at 10 past 10. Would you buy this watch
if it would be 20 past 7? You wouldn’t buy it.
It’s the smile that sells. (Laughter) If they tell me
that happiness doesn’t sell, I don’t believe that. Do you know what’s
the best-selling meal in the world? Happy meals! Don’t tell me
happiness doesn’t sell! (Laughter) But it is not about pleasure.
We found out in positive psychology. We thought that happiness
was about pleasure. It’s not about pleasure, about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. I hope you have lots of it,
but you won’t be happy for that. It is about satisfaction. We are moving from a money economy
to a satisfaction economy. There are five elements
that build up our satisfaction. World wide, these 5 elements
build up our satisfaction. First, the quality of our relationships. The most important thing: our family, our friends,
our colleagues, our neighbours. The second thing is
our health. Optimists live longer. They have better immune systems. And it’s about work. Work doesn’t only give you
an income, work gives structure and meaning to life. Losing your job
is as important as losing your wife. It is dangerous. In regions with less employment,
people are also less happy. Money is important,
but not as important as we thought. Once you have enough money
to cover the basic needs, more money
makes you more jealous, more envy, more trouble,
more competition; so more money
doesn’t make us happier. That’s the reason why Mexico is happier than France. The gross national product of Mexico
is one tenth of that of France. And the last thing that is important
for our satisfaction is freedom. Not only political freedom,
democracy, but freedom
of choice. And then we can go
for a movement for happiness. That’s not naive. We’re meeting people
all over the world. I’m travelling as an ambassador
of happiness and quality of life now. All over the world.
We meet quite a lot of people who are expressing their dreams. In the factories, in business,
in schools, we have seen
that the old priorities don’t work. It’s not that we don’t know
what to do. We don’t do
what we know. And then we need infospiration, evidence-based material. We will not change the world
by information, but by inspiration. and meetings like this
will inspire people. Based on evidence-based knowledge, we’ll inspire people
by infospiration. In a complex world,
people have lost their way. It’s a labyrinth. But we make each other happen. Not only
do we make each other happy, we make each other happen. Let’s become trustful lighthouses
for each other. Everybody has that strength
in himself. We don’t have to wait that long any more. We don’t see the things and the people
as they are. We see the things and the people
as we are. So we don’t have to change
the things and the people. We have to change
ourselves, the way we look at things. There was a grandfather
who came to see me in the Netherlands,
after a lecture. He told me,
“I have eight grandchildren.” He showed me
a picture of a young girl, fifteen years old, fair hair,
and he said, “This is my favourite grandchild.
She was born blind. But when I walk with her
through the woods and the city, I hear more, I smell more,
I see more, I feel more. She is the pearl of our family.” He could easily have said, “She was born blind
and that’s the burden of our family.” He could not change
that reality. He could change
the way he looked at that reality. And that’s the final answer: is this glass half full
or is it half empty? We know. Stop looking at your life
and your work like this glass. Watch your life
and your work and your family and your own strengths like this glass. There’s the same water in it, but if you keep on focusing
on all the things you don’t have and you still aspire,
and you want and you want, you will never become happy. If you are satisfied
with the life you have, you see
your strengths, many possibilities,
experiences, things you did,
where you felt ‘My God!’. Luckily this glass
is not full. It’s a stupid thing to think
that we will be happy for 100 percent one day. It’s not the aim. But we have the choice
to look at our life like this glass,
full of emptiness, things we will never achieve, or to see what is the strength, and still leave a few things that make us believe
that we can set some goals, that we can still
do something. Light was discovered
in darkness. The only thing
you really need on the journey of your life, is this thing. I wish for this thing to accompany you
wherever you go. It’s a telescope. The telescope dramatically changed
the way we look at the stars. A pessimist focuses
on all the troubles at the end. Paralysed by fear,
he will never take action. An optimist focuses
on all the possibilities and dreams and driven by hope,
he takes action. Of course he knows
there are some obstacles. But a telescope
has this universal characteristic that you can turn it around. That obstacle,
that might seem huge, might be a small one. You will take action. A pessimist focuses
on who he is. An optimist focuses
on who he might become. To the man with a hammer,
everything looks like a nail. To the man with a telescope,
everything looks like a thing that can be seen
from a new perspective. I wish you all a very good telescope
in the journey of your life. (Applause)

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