The key to happiness: 5 Lessons Received from the Happiest Man on Earth
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin have called Tibetan monk of French origin, Matthieu Ricard, Ph.D. in molecular genetics, as “the happiest man in the world”.
Over the last decade, at the urging of the Dalai Lama and prestigious neuroscientists in the field of neuroplasticity, Ricard joined a group of advanced meditation practitioners in order to investigate the effect of education and meditation on the brain. Moreover, these research studies involved novice meditators who engaged in practicing a 30 minutes meditation a day for 3 months.
In both cases, the results of the study indicated that regular meditation can result in changes in the function and structure of the brain, which is a promising discovery itself.
However, what makes Ricard a remarkable case is that, when researchers attached 256 sensors to its skull during meditation, it was the first time there was such a high level of gamma waves – associated with attention, learning and memory, and consciousness.
Moreover, MRI scans revealed that Ricard experienced extremely high levels of positive emotions and negligible negative emotions levels. So, maybe it’s worth listening to what Ricard has to say on happiness, given that he trained as a cell biologist in France and then moved to the Himalayas in 1972 to study Buddhism.
1. Happiness is an inner responsibility. According to Ricard’s statements, “happiness is a state of inner fulfillment and not the gratification of inexhaustible desires for outward things.” In other words, not your home, nor your car or the perfect relationship produce authentic happiness. Although these situations produce short-term pleasure, at any moment things could change, turning into difficult situations for us. As Ricard explains, “If you allow exterior circumstances to determine your state of mind, then of course you will suffer; you become like a sponge, or like a chameleon.”
2. Happiness can also contain emotions that we usually associate with discomfort. Ricard believes that true happiness mainly depends on developing inner peace, inner strength, altruistic love and forbearance. As a result, we will resonate with human suffering. “Sadness is not incompatible with happiness because happiness is not just a pleasant sensation. Sadness can help you feel compassion. Even when you are sad, you can continue to do wonderful things.”
3. Happiness can be nurtured by not becoming confused by our emotions. As Ricardstates, “Anger is a destructive emotion, which reduces us to puppets.” Instead of identifying with anger, we recognize that we are not this anger, just as we know that clouds are not the sky. “You don’t just want to suppress it [anger] or you’ll be like a time bomb. Instead, you look at your anger and let it vanish. When you cease to fuel a fire, it slowly dies out.”
4. Happiness can be maintained through meditation and mind-training. Along with several other researchers in the field of neuroplasticity (specialty that studies the ability of the human brain to change throughout life, based on one’s experiences and behavior), Ricard believes that anyone can self-educate to achieve a higher degree of happiness through meditation: “Meditation is not just blissing out under a mango tree. It completely changes your brain.”Ricard also says that” Happiness is a skill and takes time and effort.”Ricard recommends various ways of training the mind, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, an 8-week course developed by Kabat-Zinn and currently taught worldwide.
5. Happiness is found in helping others. Ricard recognizes that our happiness is not immune to external events, but genuine happiness causes us to react effectively. “Unlike pleasure, genuine happiness may be influenced by circumstance, but it isn’t dependent on it. It actually gives us the inner resources to deal better with those circumstances.” The primordial reason of meditation is to change ourselves in order to be better able to change the world.
Matthieu, R (2006). Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.