We all know meditating can quiet the mind, but a recent study has found meditation also vastly increases our capacity for happiness – so much so that Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard has been named the happiest man alive.
Ricard, a 68-year-old Frenchman who once worked as a molecular physicist in Paris, abandoned his academic career more than 40 years ago to study Buddhism in India. Since then he has clocked up more than 10,000 hours of meditation and evidence shows it has forever altered his brain – for the better.
Richard Davidson, the neuroscientist who conducted the study on Ricard, found that when meditating on compassion, Ricard’s brain showed he has a vastly increased capacity for happiness, reduced propensity towards negativity and a far greater ability to concentrate, learn and memorise.
Matthieu Ricard’s five lessons on happiness
When it comes to meditating and happiness, the proof is in the pudding thanks to Ricard’s pioneering efforts. So, what lessons can we learn from the world’s happiest man?
1. Meditate for at least 30 minutes a day. After a month, your stress levels and general sense of wellbeing will have noticeably improved. “Those who say they don’t have enough time to meditate should look at the benefits,” Ricard says. “If it gives you the resources to deal with everything else during the other 23 hours and 30 minutes [of your day], it seems a worthy way of spending the time.”
2. Focus solely on the sound of your breath coming in and out during meditation. It’s calming for the mind and promotes clarity. Let any thoughts that enter simply drift away.
3. Focus on a feeling during meditation, such as compassion or all-consuming love. Ricard says consciously and actively cultivating these feelings means they will stay with you long after you have finished your meditation session.
4. Extend the mindfulness you cultivate during meditation into other areas of your life. When you get angry, for example, becoming aware of the anger is a sure way to make it dissipate simply because you are no longer adding fuel to the fire. The same goes for anxiety and negativity. Simply noting to yourself that you’re feeling anxious or negative makes these feelings slowly disappear.
5. Happiness is not about euphoric experiences. Happiness is a way of being and a skill to be cultivated.
What makes you happy?.