July 23, 2010

The habits of happiness

Is Matthieu Ricard the happiest man in the world? Find out in the upcoming issue of Tricycle in which the French monk and former scientist discusses his most recent book Why Meditate?, the relationship between Buddhism and science, his feelings about being labeled "the happiest man in the world," and whether or not neurological advancements could one day be used to enhance happiness:

Tricycle: If scientists could manipulate brain chemistry to make somebody happier, would this be beneficial?

Ricard: Well, the problem with all that is the definition of happiness. I think there is a lack of clarity about what we mean by genuine happiness. People are often eager to generate pleasant feelings. Thinking that happiness is just an endless succession of pleasant experiences seems more like a recipe for exhaustion than it is for happiness. Happiness is a way of being, not a sensation. If you are only looking for pleasure, then you need to know that there’s probably no way that the brain could sustain pleasurable sensations forever.

By activating some areas of the brain, you could possibly generate a sensation of intense pleasure for a while, but that’s not going to last forever. That’s definitely not happiness. It is just a temporary gimmick. Genuine happiness is a state related to wisdom, to being attuned to reality, and to freedom from mental toxins (hatred, craving and the like). Pleasure by itself has no reason to engender freedom from ignorance, dualistic clinging, and distortion of reality (true causes of suffering). There is nothing wrong with pleasure in itself, but it does not have much to do with happiness.

Read the rest of the interview in the Fall issue, on newsstands August 1st. In the meantime, check out Ricard's TED talk on "The Habits of Happiness."

Photograph by Matthieu Ricard

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[...] Tricycle » The habits of happiness [...]

Arthur Lenclis's picture

I have met Matthieu Ricard and he keeps on saying that labelling him the happiest man in the world amounts to a joke. It was a UK journalist of the Independent Newspaper who entitled an article under this title, and this catchy epithet spread like wildfire. But as Matthieu often says, naming someone the happiest man in the world cannot possibly rest on any scientific evidence.

Dave Owen's picture

Mr Ricard alludes to the fact that happiness is not something that can be created by external actions or forces.

It is the way that we act and think. It takes a lot of work to maintain a state of happiness.

A lot of people think that all they have to do is get stuff and they will become happy.

Happiness is not for those that want it or for those that need it but for those that work for it.

Andrew Cooper's picture

My apologies. It was not my intention to offend. I think I should avoid indulging in impulse sarcasm in the future. But to answer Lindamarie's question about the point of my post: I think that media branding is by nature a crude form of communication, and when applied to spiritual matters, it has a coursening effect that is rather, well, silly. Plus, I believe that the idea that Mr. Ricard is the happiest man in the world came about as a result of brainwave measurement. The notion that a phenomenon as complex and multifaceted as happiness can be reduced to biological processes in the brain, to me, just adds to the silliness. That was my point, however hamhandedly it was made. I was not of course making light of Mr. Ricard, but rather of the idea that others have attached to him. Once again, I'm sorry for any offense I've given.

Elizabeth's picture

Here below is where people often pick apart a post, make fun and judge it.. It was beautiful and inspiring to see someone achieve such insight and care about their own happiness and others' so much as to give themselves to this inward and outward pursuit of well being and compassion. We should absorb it and feel thankful!

lindamarie's picture

Andrew...your comment is really annoying. What is the point of such nonsense?

Andrew Cooper's picture

Something doesn't add up here. If Ricard is the happiest man in the world, it would follow that his home is the happiest place in the world, but I've always heard that that distinction belongs to Disneyland. So what gives? Is it Ricard or Mickey Mouse?

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