July 23, 2010
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