What Is the Happiest Man in the World Like?

Matthieu Ricard is still smiling.  The happiest man in the world has just finished up a two-day retreat in Washington DC with the Mind and Life Institute which brings neuroscientists and contemplatives including the Dalai Lama together to study the effects of meditation on the brain.  He spoke at an Emory University fundraiser headlined by Richard Gere and then flew across the US to my old backyard, Silicon Valley, where he now sits at another fundraiser for Tibetans.

Matthieu doesn’t know it, but I was watching him at all three events.  Other than the Dalai Lama, I don’t think you’ll find someone more relaxed and yet passionately engaged in the present moment at the same time.  Matthieu takes my hands, smiling, and greets me.  He’s not only joyful; he’s approachable and real.

I have been following the Venerable Matthieu Ricard since 2003 when Daniel Goleman wrote about him anonymously in one of my favorite books, Destructive Emotions.    That’s when I first heard his story.  His father is a well-respected French philosopher who socialized in heady circles of Nobel prize winners, successful artists, and genius scientists.  Matthieu earned a PhD in molecular biology and almost immediately after, joined a monastery and became a monk.   Today he resides in Nepal at Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery in Kathmandu.

The most amazing thing about Matthieu is that when Dr. Richie Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, took an fMRI scan of Matthieu’s brain, his capacity for happiness registered off the charts.  That’s how he earned the title of the happiest man in the world.  The thousands of hours Matthieu has meditated has actually changed his brain makeup (neuroplasticity) so that he has 7-8 times the capacity for compassion and happiness than any other person measured.

I asked Matthieu if he would give me an interview.  He said, “I would love to, in joy.”    Matthieu spends 70 days a year on airplanes, is one of the top Tibetan monks in the world, must get asked to come to every benefit, show, interview, and conference there is, and not only said yes to me, but said, “I would love to do it, in joy.”

There’s so much we can learn from Matthieu even before interviewing him.  How can we be “in joy” more often?  How can we add meditation to our lives for the benefit of our brain and our happiness? (Studies show just after three weeks there are fMRI differences, so you don’t have to meditate for 30 years to get the benefit.)  How can we calm our negative emotions?  And how can we greet perfect strangers with a smile, a warm clasp of the hands, and a “Yes.  I’ll do that in joy?”  There’s much to contemplate about the model this master contemplative is for the world.

You can find out more on his website, https://www.matthieuricard.org/en/, or watch one of many of his TED talks, https://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_the_habits_of_happiness.