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


  1. Interesting post. I’m sure that Mr. Ricard is a fascinating man, but i just can see happiness as a “skill”. Can someone teach me to be happy? i don’t think so. Happiness is an intimate feeling which is triggered by numerous different factors. On the other hand, i do agree that we can train our mind to ignore/stop the bad feelings and to reach peace inside.

    Anyway, I bet his books are worth reading, so i’ll go and google search.

    • David Leonhardt says

      Mia, I agree. Happiness is not a skill. But there are skills to doing some of the things that make us feel happier. The perfect example is that it might take a certain set of skills for a person to more quickly pull out of a rage or to manage certain things that bring stress to their lives.

  2. Thanks a lot for sharing this David. I’m a Buddhist myself and I found Ricard’s teaching to be really powerful and enlightening as well. I haven’t actually read his Happiness book but I’ve read some great reviews about it on Amazon and I’m planning to purchase it very soon.

    Btw, I also recommend other wonderful book written by Ven. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, another Tibetan Buddhist monk (who is also dubbed as “the happiest man in the world”) called “Joy of Living: Unlocking The Secrets and Science of Happiness”. It is a really inspiring and informative book on happiness, which explains the topic from both the Buddhist and scientific point of views.

  3. I think happiness is definitely a skill – or maybe, a whole skill set 🙂 I also think it is to a large extent a choice. In our culture, we are given a set of ideas for things that are supposed to make us happy. The strange thing is that if we are slightly ‘too’ happy for our circumstance, we are considered batty. There are other cultures and countries where people are generally happier for no reason… the classic example I was given was that in India, people with much less in the way of material goods, were found to be happier and smiled more than people in wealthy, more industrialized nations. I also think that happiness can be the result of a life lived naturally, in a more genuine community. Haven’t they done experiments where people in enforced isolation become despondent?

  4. I’m just amazed that they can measure your happiness using sensors attached to the brain. This makes me wonder whether they will be able to “adjust” your happiness in a similar way….. I would like to see them run this test over different sectors of society, find out whether being rich actually makes you happy, or whether living in the city, or having a new car… etc… be quite interesting.

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