What can we learn from the “World’s Happiest Man.”
The "World's Happiest Man" refers to Matthieu Ricard, who has been called the "happiest man in the world" based on brain scans conducted by neuroscientists.
Who is Matthieu Ricard?
Matthieu Ricard is a writer, photographer, scientist, and Buddhist monk who has been living in the Himalayas for over 45 years. He is known for his work on happiness and altruism, is also a translator of Tibetan texts and has worked closely with the Dalai Lama. Matthieu Ricard was born in France on February 15, 1946, so as of February 15, 2023, he is 77 years old. His TED talk on The habits of happiness has been viewed by over ten million people. He currently lives in Nepal and dedicates all the proceedings of his books and other activities to hundreds of humanitarian projects in India, Nepal and Tibet.
What brain scans were done of Matthieu Ricard and what did they show?
Matthieu has been the subject of several neuroscientific studies investigating the effects of long-term meditation and compassion training on the brain. One notable study was conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2004. This study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the brain activity of experienced meditators, including Matthieu Ricard, while they engaged in compassion meditation. The results showed Matthieu produced levels of gamma waves never observed or reported. Our brain is always working, doing tasks like thinking, remembering, and more. During these tasks, our brain cells have to communicate with each other, and it does this by producing electrical patterns (oscillating electrical voltages) called brain waves. So, what makes gamma waves so important? Gamma waves are the fastest of the 5 waves our brain produces, and occur when we are highly alert. Previous studies have shown that people who make high levels of gamma waves are happier and have better concentration. Gamma waves are associated with high focus and thought levels and increased mindfulness.
Another study conducted by neuroscientists at the University of Lyon in France used electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate the effects of meditation on brain activity and found that experienced meditators, including Matthieu Ricard, showed distinct patterns of brain activity compared to control participants.
What can we learn about happiness from Matthieu and his life?
Mindfulness and meditation can lead to happiness: Matthieu has been practicing mindfulness and meditation for decades, and his brain scans show that he has increased activity in the regions associated with happiness and well-being. This suggests that mindfulness and meditation can help cultivate happiness and well-being.
Happiness is a skill that can be developed: Matthieu believes that happiness is a skill that can be developed through practice, just like playing a musical instrument or learning a new language. By making mindfulness and compassion a part of our daily lives, we can gradually develop greater happiness and well-being.
Altruism and compassion can bring joy: Matthieu has dedicated his life to helping others, and he believes that altruism and compassion are essential to happiness. By focusing on the well-being of others, we can cultivate a sense of connection and purpose that brings us joy.
Happiness partly comes from within: Matthieu believes that true happiness comes from within and is not dependent on external circumstances or events. We can find joy and contentment by cultivating happiness within ourselves, regardless of our external circumstances.
We can overcome negative emotions: Matthieu believes that we can overcome negative emotions, such as anger, fear, and anxiety, by developing mindfulness and compassion. By becoming more aware of our emotions and developing a more compassionate attitude towards ourselves and others, we can overcome negative emotions and cultivate greater happiness.
In conclusion, Matthieu Ricard's life and experiences show that happiness is a skill that can be developed through mindfulness, compassion, and unselfishness. By incorporating these qualities into our lives, we can find greater happiness, well-being, and joy.
Written by Aldrin V. Gomes, PhD, FCVS, FAHA
Dambrun M, Ricard M, Després G, Drelon E, Gibelin E, Gibelin M, Loubeyre M, Py D, Delpy A, Garibbo C, Bray E, Lac G, Michaux O. Measuring happiness: from fluctuating happiness to authentic-durable happiness. Front Psychol. 2012 Feb 7;3:16.
Lutz A, Greischar LL, Rawlings NB, Ricard M, Davidson RJ. Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Nov 16;101(46):16369-73.