United Nations — Creating a New Economic Paradigm Based on Happiness and Well-being — 1
April 2, 2012, United Nations, New York City
High Level Meeting at the initiative of Bhutan :
Happiness & Well-being Panel-1
• Helen Clark, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand, moderator
• Ven. Matthieu Ricard, Shechen Monastery, Nepal
• Pr. Martin Seligman, Founder of Positive Psychology
• Dasho Karma Ura, President of the Center for Bhutan Studies
• Dasho Karma Tshiteem, Secretary Gross National Happiness Commission, Bhutan
• Pr. John Helliwell, Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of British Columbia
• Lord Richard Layard, Emeritus Professor of Economics, London School of Economics
Helen Clark: To cut to the chase, we will start with our most eminent panel. Our very first panelist is the Venerable Matthieu Ricard. Matthieu is a Buddhist monk, an author, translator and a photographer who has lived and worked in the Himalayan region for more than forty years. One of his books is ‟Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill” — which makes you a very appropriate speaker to start our panel. Merci.
It is a very great privilege to begin this panel. I was fortunate to live for ten years in Bhutan, and I appreciate what the pursuit of a harmonious society can do for people. There's no question that we should do whatever is within our power to improve the outer conditions of this world — to make sure that mothers survive and can raise their children, and that famine, extreme poverty and inequality can be eliminated. What is the point of a nation becoming the richest and most powerful, if its people are not happy?
In the end, it is our minds that translate outer conditions into either genuine happiness or inner misery. It is our minds that we deal with from morning until evening. It is the mind that is our best friend or worst enemy. We should not underestimate the power of our minds to conjure happiness or suffering. Working with mind is not just a luxury; it's not just happiness lite. Our mind determines the quality of every moment of our lives.
We know people that in the face of tragedy can maintain inner strength and a sense of meaning and direction in their lives, a sense of compassion and loving kindness. And we know very well that even if someone moves in a luxury apartment surrounded by everything one could possibly want, if he or she feel miserable within, all he will be looking for is a window from which to jump. If day and night, we are obsessed by jealousy, hatred and craving, what will be so good about these good outer conditions? Training the mind and transforming ourselves are not substitutes for improving outer conditions: they do go hand in hand with it.
So is this transformation of the mind possible? Twenty-five hundred years of contemplative experience shows that day to day, thought after thought, emotion after emotion, we can transform our minds. We should not underestimate our potential for cultivating basis human qualities as we would cultivate any other skill. In recent years, the collaboration of contemplatives with neuroscientists has shown that, thanks to the brain's plasticity, we can train our mind to become more compassionate, more mindful and to achieve greater inner peace, just as someone who trains to play the piano or learn how to read and write. Any training changes the brain and this is true for training the basic qualities of our minds that altogether constitute genuine happiness.
Happiness is not an endless succession of pleasurable experiences. That's a recipe for exhaustion, not for happiness. Happiness is a way of being that comes with altruistic love, inner strength, inner freedom, and serenity — and it can be cultivated as a skill, day after day, month after month.
One thing that is clear is that the pursuit of happiness is intimately linked with altruism. There's no such thing as a successful, selfish happiness. The French writer Romain Rolland said that if the only goal of your life is selfish happiness, your life will soon be without any goal. It doesn't work. It's a lose/lose situation. You make yourself miserable and you make everyone miserable around you. It's also at odds with reality; we are not separate entities. We need to recognize our interconnectedness and develop a sense of global responsibility. So loving kindness and compassion are not only the most positive of all emotional states, they are state of mind that is in harmony with the interconnectedness of all beings — therefore they will work, they will help us and all around us to flourish in life. It is now a win/win situation.
Altruism, again, is not a minor component of happiness. It is at the core of happiness because altruism is based on recognizing the fundamental interdependence of all beings, on recognizing that just like us, all sentient being want to avoid suffering and find happiness. If we look at the challenges of our modern times, it is very hard for people to reconcile three apparently competing time scales. First there is the short term that concerns of our fast moving economy, with its super high speed transactions and people claiming that this is the hard reality and that everything else has to be sacrificed to it. The midterm concerns the quality of life, and long term concerns of the environment.
The concept of altruism is the only one that can connect meaningful those three times scale. People with more consideration for others will not gamble with the savings of people who trust them, as if at a casino, for the sake of a big bonus. With more consideration for others, one will do everything possible to make things better — at the workplace, within the family, within their professions — so that people can flourish in life. And having more consideration for others, one will not sacrifice and jeopardize the only home that we have, this earth. So altruism is not a luxury, but a necessity to foster authentic well-being and Gross National Happpiness.
Thank you very much.
(Transcribed by Connie Moffit, from U.N. Webcast, begins at 01:58:24: http://www.unmultimedia.org/tv/webcast/2012/04/part-1-happiness-and-well-being-high-level-panel-discussion.html)