“Happiness is a deep sense of flourishing, not a mere pleasurable feeling or fleeting emotion, but an optimal state of being.” - Matthieu Ricard
Consider how much time you spend to look good and feel good -- time spent on exercise, health and beauty, ideal food prep, entertainment and even clothing choice (guilty). Now consider how much time you spend taking care of your mind and optimizing how it functions.
The World’s Happiest Man wants you to consider that discrepancy.
Matthieu Ricard earned the label “World’s Happiest Man,” after essentially being the first guinea pig in a long line of MRI studies proving the physiological benefits of meditation. This Frenchman, now Buddhist monk, earned a Ph.D. in cell genetics, but has chosen to spend most of his life meditating in a small hut in the Himalayas. When he leaves his 2x3 meter home, he is a wellspring of social activism -- from his work in Tibet through his non-profit, his art, website and books. He has even developed an app on mind training and meditation.
But you can get to know the world’s happiest man, and hear his advice, at his TED talk - The Habits of Happiness. Although he’s humbled and a bit embarrassed by his Happiest Man title, he embraces the idea that happiness is a valuable life pursuit.
“Whatever we do, hope and dream, somehow is related to a deep, profound desire for well being and happiness.”
He goes to explain, that although the definition of happiness varies, he believes there is value in defining it well, definitively. He begins to define it as what it is not. It is not to be confused with pleasure, which he represents as the experience of eating cake. Pleasure is contingent on outside forces. Cake is pleasurable while eating piece #1, or even #2, but all pleasure is lost by piece #6 or by a worm being present in the cake.
He prefers the word “well being” to “happiness” in order to better distinguish it from pleasure. Here’s how he defines it: “Well being is not just a mere pleasurable sensation. It is a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment. A state that pervades and underlies all emotional states.”
For this metaphor, he chooses the ocean, saying that well being is represented by the deep water, which remains stable, regardless of what waves or tumult occurs at the surface. In this way we must not look to change the weather, or what is outside, which affects the surface of our lives. We must focus on the depth and inner conditions which are constant. This is, he says, where well being resides.
So how do we cultivate a calm, serene and deep-set well being in life regardless of what is happening at the surface? Can we change our way of being?
He says yes. While most of us focus on the self help processes of letting go of toxic emotions and focusing more on altruism, he regards these pursuits as “anecdotes,” because they are still addressing emotions, which are the surface activities in life. He encourages people to focus, not on fleeting emotion, but on our stable awareness and consciousness.
In other words, we need to look inward and not outward. Our consciousness is like the stable ocean deep. And learning to bring our thoughts, our minds, back to that constant state is the key to training the mind towards a way of well being.
Does this sound like meditation? Well, it is. He believes it is not just a practice of stillness, but a transformation of consciousness. Scientists agree that the brain is transformed in those who meditate. This is, after all, the man who kicked off the scientific meditation studies.
So the next time you’re tossed about on the tumultuous seas of emotion, remember that the Happiest Man in the World says happiness does not reside at the surface. He implores you to put on the scuba meditation gear, and return your mind to the constant state of well being below.