The Happiest Man On Earth: Matthieu Ricard

Matthieu Ricard was born in France in 1946. The son of famous French Philosopher Jean-François Revel and painter Yahne Le Toumelin, he grew up amongst the French elite.  He studied biology and had a promising career when, in 1972, after completing his doctoral thesis in molecular genetics, Ricard decided to forsake his scientific career to the practice of Tibetan Buddhism. He moved to the Tibetan Himalayas and has been living there since then.  Since 1989, he has been the French interpreter for HH the Dalai Lama.

He was nicknamed “the happiest man on earth”, after he participated in a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin that aimed at evaluating the level of happiness of individuals, amongst which were Buddhist monks.  The test that used 256 sensors attached to the skull, and three hours of continuous MRI scanning, showed that Ricard’s happiness level was far above all other participants. That same study also proved the neuroplasticity of the brain demonstrating that meditation can play a key role in anybody’s quest for happiness, by restructuring the brain’s neurons.

Ricard has written several books. Amongst others,  Happiness: A guide to developing life’s most important skill, in which he gives advice on how to live a happy life.  One of the most important aspect of his teachings is that, as you can train your body, he believes you can also train your mind. For that reason, happiness is a skill that everyone can develop.

For him, at the source of unhappiness, there are feelings of jealousy, anger, obsessive desire and arrogance.  Since all of these emotions are fleeting and transient, it is possible to prevent them from invading your mind and tormenting you.

How do you do that?  First,  by not responding to the emotion.  If you feed the emotion, it will most likely grow.  However, you cannot deny it either.  You need to look at the emotion and let it dissolve.   By repeatedly practicing that technique, he believes that negative emotions can flow through you “as a bird crosses the sky and disappears” and therefore not affect your wellbeing.

According to Ricard, behind every thought lies what he calls pure consciousness.  Through love, kindness, benevolence, selfless generosity and compassion, and obviously through the practice of meditation, it is possible to access that pure consciousness and flourish.

When speaking of happiness, Ricard refers to the Sanskrit word for this state of being: sukha.

“Sukha is the state of lasting well-being that manifests itself when we have freed ourselves of mental blindness and afflictive emotions. It is also the wisdom that allows us to see the world as it is, without veils or distortions. It is, finally, the joy of moving toward inner freedom and the loving-kindness that radiates toward others.”

The author is Alina Boutros, who owns a University Master’s Degree in Literary Studies, has been researching happiness for the past year. You can read her daily posts on

Too Many Choices: Analysis By Paralysis

Have you ever been in a restaurant where the menu has six pages?  I find it impossible to make a decision.  Whatever I choose, I always end up wondering if I selected the best dish.  Most of the times, my husband laughs at my selection… he believes it often turns out to be the worst thing on the menu!  I hate to admit it, but he might be right!   When there are too many options, I don’t know what to have, so I resort to chicken, the safest, but most common and boring choice.

One thing is certain, our world offers people far more choice than before, no matter the field.  One hundred years ago, women, for instance, didn’t have the freedom and autonomy they now enjoy.  They got married as early as they could, they had children and raised them and they managed their homes.  Their life was drawn for them the minute they were born.   When people went to the movies, there was only one movie showing!  People had no choice!   In a way, it was simpler that way!

I’m certainly not suggesting going back to that period of time.  No woman I know wants to go back to the kitchen full time and have a life of servitude.  However, it is undeniable that this increase in freedom and choice came with a price!

In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz talks about the fact that while individuals are now offered more freedom and choice, depression seems to be taking epidemic proportions.

Schwartz partly attributes that fact to the paralyzing effect of the infinite choice, which, according to him, is extremely exhausting to the human psyche.  It raises expectations (if you have many choices, one of them must be perfect) and it creates dissatisfaction (if you’re buying salad dressing and you’re not happy with your choice, it is easy to imagine the alternatives as being much better than your selection, so you end up unhappy about it).

Schwartz gives 11 ways to minimize stress caused by the debilitating effect of decision-making:

– choose when to choose

– be a chooser and not a picker

– satisfice more and maximize less

– think about the opportunity costs

– make decisions non reversible

– practice an attitude of gratitude

– regret less

– anticipate adaptation

– control expectations

– curtail social comparison

– learn to love constraints

I can completely relate to the fact that the abundance of choice can have a negative impact on happiness!  Probably, because it amplifies the myth that perfection exists.  We tend to believe that if there is such a wide selection, there must be a perfect choice!  The problem is there is no such a thing as the perfect job, the perfect time to have children, the perfect spouse, the perfect house or the perfect meal!  And when you take too much time to make a decision, you miss opportunities!

Analysis by paralysis…. that is what needs to be avoided when it comes to choices!   Choosing means being in motion,… but it has to be done with  no regret and no expectations!  And you always have to be ready to change direction if need be! At least, even if you slightly change your goals, you’ll always feel you’re going forward!

The author is Alina Boutros, who owns a University Master’s Degree in Literary Studies, has been researching happiness for the past year. You can read her daily posts on