The happiest person in the world?

By Matthieu Ricard on November 11, 2012

Recently, an AFP correspondent who kindly interviewed me in Dolpo in Nepal, recalled the story about how my humble self am the ‟happiest person in the world”. Of course, I told him that this did not really make any sense and was actually a joke I have a hard time freeing myself from.

Of course, it is better to be called the happiest person in the world than the contrary, but this assertion is not at all based on scientific findings. Some years ago, the Australian television network ABC made a documentary on happiness, in which I participated. At one point the commentator said, ‟here is perhaps the happiest person in the world.” Things remained quiet for a while, but a few years later the English newspaper The Independent published a cover story entitled ‟The happiest person in the world.” From then on, things went out of control.

In truth, anyone can find happiness if he or she looks for it in the right place. Authentic happiness can only come from the long-term cultivation of wisdom, altruism, and compassion, and from the complete eradication of mental toxins, such as hatred, grasping, and ignorance.

The journalist based his story on the fact that for several years I participated in neuroscience research in the USA, in particular with Richard Davidson, at the University of Madison, in Wisconsin. It was found that when long-term meditators engaged in meditation on compassion, the activity of certain areas of the brain was increased to a magnitude that had never been seen before. It also happened that certain brain areas thus activated were known to be related to positive emotions. More than 20 experienced meditators showed similar results, but I happened to be one of the first to participate in this experiment. That's all.

When the story came out in various newspapers, I tried to make a disclaimer about this farcical exaggeration, but in vain. I apologized to my scientist friends, and now I try to take this story with philosophy and amusement, especially when I am teased about it by good friends! I take it as a good lesson in humility.