Quote of the day
“Age is whatever you think it is. You are as old as you think you are.” – Muhammad Ali
Thought of the day – The happiest man in the world
Finding true happiness is a universal aspiration. We all want it, but can we all have it? Genuine happiness can’t be faked, it’s written all over our faces when we are truly contented or overjoyed, and likewise, a forced smile does nothing to hide underlying sadness or despondency.
One man who believes that everyone can create their own lasting joy and well-being is Matthieu Ricard. His face is the very picture of serenity. The corners of his mouth lift in a permanent half smile and his eyes are liquid and gentle.
Ricard has been scientifically declared the Happiest Man in the World. This title sits comfortably alongside the many other descriptions of this 64-year-old Frenchman who is an author, photographer, former molecular geneticist, researcher, devout Buddhist monk and translator for the Dalai Lama.
Ricard earned his “happiest man” status after a series of laboratory tests in 2004 revealed an extraordinary capacity for joy. Researchers cluttered his bald scalp with 256 electrodes, seeking to gauge the effects of meditation on brain activity, and what they observed was groundbreaking. Ricard and the other meditating monks in the lab showed a sharp spike in activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area linked to positive emotions such as happiness. After more than 35 years of practicing meditation, Ricard is particularly proficient at controlling his mind. He’s a long way down the path to enlightenment and cites meditation as a key ingredient in achieving true and lasting happiness. In his bestselling 2007 book, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill(Atlantic Books), Ricard defines happiness as “a deep sense of flourishing that arises from an exceptionally healthy mind”.
Ricard has shared his thoughts on happiness with a worldwide audience. A seasoned speaker on the world circuit, he has proffered his insights into happiness to everyone from students to corporate groups. He explains it simply as “a deep sense of serenity and fulfilment, a state that actually pervades and underlies all emotional states”. Looking inwards to find joy rather than relying on external conditions, he believes, is the way to achieve contentment and wellbeing: “It’s quite clear that the outer conditions are not enough. The way we interpret and translate those outer conditions in our inner experience is what determines either a sense of well-being or misery.” So does that mean we all have the capacity for contentment, no matter what our circumstances are? Yes, Richard says. He believes we can certainly teach ourselves to be happy if we can learn to train our minds – a discipline as important and beneficial as taking care of our bodies. Mind training is more than just a “supplementary vitamin for the soul”, he says with a smile. “We love to go jogging for fitness and we do all kinds of things to remain beautiful, yet we spend surprisingly little time taking care of what matters most: the way our minds function, which is the ultimate thing that determines the quality of our experience.” In keeping with his Buddhist training, Ricard says meditation is the most efficient way to train the mind, allowing all thoughts and emotions to pass across our consciousness without lingering to distract us. But, he insists, you don’t have to have the discipline of a monk to practise the kind of meditation that can make a difference to your happiness levels. Half an hour a day for a few months is all it takes to achieve benefits. “Meditation is not just blissing out for a few moments under a mango tree and trying to empty your mind unsuccessfully – it is really a deep change that comes through mind training.” Again, Ricard stresses that it’s not what’s happening around us that makes us unhappy, but rather the way we choose to react to it. “We can’t modify the whole world to our taste but we can change our mind. If we change our mind we can change our world.” The pursuit of happiness is becoming a modern obsession. As life becomes more complex, our ability to process our reactions to various outside influences comes under strain. Momentary bursts of happiness are simply not enough to sustain and satisfy us over the long haul. For Ricard, creating an underlying sense of contentment and wellbeing relies on nurturing a range of skills. “Genuine happiness,” he says, “doesn’t mean pleasant feelings one after the other. It’s more like a cluster of qualities that we can develop as skills – like openness, genuine altruistic love, compassion, inner strength and inner peace.” Ego and self-centeredness, says Ricard, are the biggest threats to true happiness. Taking the focus off ourselves and concentrating on showing compassion to others is the beginning. Clearly amused by his nickname, the Happiest Man in the World doesn’t profess to hold all the secrets to happiness, but his message is disarmingly simple. “[We need to nurture] loving kindness, unconditional love, an act of generosity with no strings attached . . . and inner peace, inner strength, inner contentment. Together, those make a way of being – and that is what genuine happiness is.”
Joke of the day
A married couple has been out shopping for hours when the wife realizes that her husband has disappeared. So she calls his
cellphone. “Where are you!?” she yells. “Darling,” he says, “do you remember that jewellery shop, the one where you saw that diamond necklace you loved? But I didn’t have enough money at the time, so I said, ‘Baby, it’ll be yours one day’?”
“Yes!” she shouts, excitedly. “Well, I’m in the bar next to it.”
Have a great day!