If you google who is the ‘Happiest Man in the World’, you will come up with this name: Matthieu Ricard. Although he got a Phd in molecular genetics in 1972, he decided to forego his scientific career to move to the Himalaya and become a Buddhist Monk.
But what makes him so happy? Scientists measured his brain to find out. He participated in a 12-year brain study on meditation and compassion led by Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist from the University of Wisconsin. Davidson hooked up Matthieu Ricard’s head to 256 sensors to observe what happened when he meditated.
“The scans showed that when meditating on compassion, Ricard’s brain produces a level of gamma waves — those linked to consciousness, attention, learning and memory — ‘never reported before in the neuroscience literature”, Davidson said. “The scans also showed excessive activity in his brain’s left prefrontal cortex compared to its right counterpart, allowing him an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity.”
Davidson said, ‘We have been looking for 12 years at the effect of short and long-term mind-training through meditation on attention, on compassion, on emotional balance. We’ve found remarkable results with long-term practitioners who did 50,000 rounds of meditation, but also with three weeks of 20 minutes a day, which of course is more applicable to our modern times.”
WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM THE HAPPIEST MAN IN THE WORLD
Here are a few tips from the happiest man in the world:
- A healthy mind should act like a mirror – faces can be reflected in a glass, but none of them stick. Use the same technique with thoughts – let them pass through your mind, but don’t dwell.
- It’s impossible to stop thoughts from coming, but focusing on a particular sound or the breath going in and out calms the mind, giving greater clarity. Controlling the mind is not about reducing your freedom, it’s about not being a slave to your thoughts. Think of it as directing your mind like a boat rather than drifting.
- Be mindful – pay attention to the sensations of your breath going in and out. If you notice your mind wandering, simply bring it back to focusing on your breath – this is known as mindfulness. You can apply it to other sensations to bring you into the ‘now’ rather than dwelling on the past or future. You could focus instead on heat, cold and sounds that you hear.
- Once you’ve achieved some skill in this, you can use that to cultivate qualities such as kindness, or dealing with disturbing emotions. He says everyone has felt all-consuming love but usually it lasts for about 15 seconds, but you can hold on and nurture this vivid feeling by focusing on it in meditation. If you feel it becoming vague, you can consciously revive it.
It is so great to see the blend of science and meditation coming together and showing us some of the amazing benefits to meditation! The good news is, we don’t need the devotion of a buddhist monk to feel the benefits – with just a little dedication of 10-20 minutes a day we can make some positive changes to the brain in a relatively short amount of time. This is just another good reason to give meditation a go for yourself and feel its many health benefits!