Wondering how to become happy? According to the world’s happiest man, the problem might be that you’re focused on the wrong things.
The secret to happiness
Happiness. We all want it. In the U.S., we’ve even built the right to pursue it into our founding documents.
Yet despite all of our talk about happiness, very few of us seem to know how to become happy. Sure, we have moments of happiness or even bliss. But when the rubber meets the road, most of us would be hard-pressed to say that we are consistently happy with our lives.
Unless we’re Matthieu Ricard.
Ricard is a French biologist who abandoned his career in the early ’70s to live in Nepal as a Buddhist monk. Several years ago, the University of Wisconsin–Madison performed a happiness study. Researchers scanned the brains of hundreds of volunteers and discovered that Ricard’s brain activity was “happier” than everyone else in the study.
In fact, Ricard currently holds the world record for having the highest documented activity in areas of the brain that are associated with positive emotions.
Matthieu Ricard is officially the happiest person on earth.
According to Ricard, the reason most of us struggle with learning how to become happy because we’re looking for happiness in the wrong places. Instead of searching for happiness in personal pleasure, Ricard says the key to figuring out how to become happy is found in altruism.
Happiness is the byproduct of living for others
From Ricard’s point of view, pleasure and self-satisfaction are exhausting. Although selfish people may appear happy on the surface, on the inside they’re slaves to their egos and their fears.
According to Ricard:
“Selfishness makes everyone lose, It makes us unhappy and we, in turn, pass that unhappiness on to those around us.”
Ricard’s happiness brain waves peaked when he was meditating on compassion for other people. From a scientific standpoint, love for other people unlocks parts of our brains that we can’t access when we focus on ourselves.
Not coincidentally, the concept of prioritizing compassion over self-interest is also a very Christian concept — a concept that’s at the heart of the gospel.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says:
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
And it’s not just our friends that we’re called to love. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to love our enemies, too. It’s a lesson that we’re being retaught this week by the parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston who are putting love and forgiveness ahead of hate and retribution.
Laying down our lives for others — prioritizing service and compassion over self-satisfaction — is literally a lifelong struggle. We could live 20 lifetimes and still not get it completely right.
But by consciously reminding ourselves that our lives are not our own, we can reshape our priorities and change the way we live our lives.
And in the process, we might even learn how to become happy after all.