Have you ever wondered what happiness is? Some people believe happiness results from being in a pleasant situation or experiencing pleasing sensations. Others simply see it as a fleeting emotion that comes and goes. But for Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk known as the happiest man alive, happiness is a pervasive, constant state of being. It is something he has studied and pursued throughout his life, and something he believes all of us can enjoy. There is one key ingredient that he has found that underlies it all: altruism. And it has been his life’s mission to educate all of us on just how important altruism is to all of humankind.
“I think what everyone should be doing, before it’s too late, is committing themselves to what they really want to do with their lives.” – Matthieu Ricard,
A Most Interesting Life Journey
If you don’t know Ricard, you truly should. Today, he is a Buddhist monk who speaks to audiences in every continent about the importance of altruism. Perhaps, his life’s path leading him to the Himalaya shouldn’t be too surprising. His father was a philosopher and his mother an artist, which certainly encourages a study of life’s aesthetics. Ricard also explored academics, acquiring a doctorate in cell genetics in 1972. It was only after this that he decided to relocate the Tibet and embrace the lifestyle of a Buddhist monk. And that is where he has remained for the last 45 years.
(Read more about Ricard’s message of altruism and the importance of positive affect in this Notes From Ed!)
Over these decades, Ricard has deeply explored the concept of happiness and its meaning. Through mindful meditation, he has adopted a consistent practice in cultivating a state of happiness. In fact, he was labelled the happiest man alive after undergoing health studies at the University of Wisconsin. According to their research, Ricard’s brain produced the highest amount of gamma waves ever seen. Since gamma waves are linked to positive feelings of happiness, they awarded him this title. And honestly, it couldn’t be a more fitting one.
Ricard’s Image of Happiness
There is a wonderful analogy that Ricard offers when telling his audiences about happiness. In one image, he paints a picture of happiness as waves crashing on the shore. If we see happiness as an emotion that’s temporary, it’s like rocks along a shore. One moment they’re immersed in happiness, the next they are not. But to him, happiness is more like the depths of the largest oceans. Sea levels may rise and fall, and storms may cause turbulence on the surface. But underneath remains the great depths of the ocean, which he likens to happiness. In essence, this image portrays happiness as a foundational state that’s ever-present no matter what happens.
Of course, for Ricard, happiness is not a selfish pursuit, but one that is vital to our survival. In the world today, the Earth and humankind face many perils. Climate change, loss of biodiversity, and declining levels of fresh water represent a few of these. According to Ricard, selfish pursuits that lack compassion will never solve these problems. Instead, it is altruism and our inherent capacity to care for others that’s the answer. And interestingly, it is this same cultivation of an altruistic and compassionate attitude that creates inner happiness. Because of this, he doesn’t see happiness as simply something we might desire as a feelgood state. Fostering a foundation of happiness within through loving-kindness and altruism is something we all must pursue for our survival.
(Did you know there’s a link between kindness and cognition? Read this Project Bold Life article and you’ll know why!)
Global problems today are ones that Ricard believes cannot be solved through selfish endeavors. Elon Musk might eventually get us to Mars, but is that really the solution to a dying planet? Selfishness is a short-sighted perspective that only looks at one’s current generation and current moments. But the problems humankind faces are ones that are long-term, affecting generations into the future. Resources like clean air, fresh water, and the Earth’s zone protection are shared resources. That means humanity must come together to make a difference according to Ricard. And a commitment to altruism is what he believes to be the answer.
Unlike some Buddhist monks who are primarily spiritually focused, Ricard has deep insights spanning many subjects. In addition to science, he well understands economics as well as politics. But his vision and perspective expand beyond these understands and involves one that’s links them all together. It is in this view that he believes we have a responsibility to be better stewards of our resources and planets. Human activities are now the major influence on the Earth, and therefore, our responsibilities have grown. But Ricard sees this as an opportunity and not a burden. By pursuing happiness and a spirit of altruism, all is possible.
A Message of Altruism
Understanding Ricard’s view of altruism, it’s not surprising that he has taken his message globally. In addition to TED talks and other media forums, he has spoken at the United Nations and at the World Economic Forum. His message is a simple one. Science alone cannot solve global issues. Individuals and societies must change and embrace a caring culture based on altruistic pursuits. How can we accomplish such a thing? Through a commitment to mindful meditation that encourages loving-kindness and generosity. Not only should this be a practice taught in schools to children everywhere. But it should be something we all seek because of the happiness it provides.
According to Ricard, altruism is grounded in a state of cooperation and collaboration. As human beings, we thrive in cooperative environments where we work with others toward a common goal. This is especially true when that goal is one of loving-kindness and for something beyond our own selfish needs. These opportunities allow humankind to be its most creative and most resourceful. And it cultivates a deep sense of happiness within while we’re doing it! Through mindful meditation, Matthieu Ricard believes humanity can solve the problems of today. By choosing real happiness grounded in loving-kindness for others, we all have the chance to thrive.
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