writer and domestic dude

Matthieu Ricard: The Necessary Habits for Authentic Well-Being

OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images

What is happiness, and how can we all get some? Buddhist monk, photographer and author Matthieu Ricard has devoted his life to these questions, and his answer is influenced by his faith as well as by his scientific turn of mind: We can train our minds in habits of happiness. Interwoven with his talk are stunning photographs of the Himalayas and of his spiritual community.

His book Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill contains many of these ideas. The good news: transformation is possible for all us. The bad? Well, it takes time, which is why perhaps so few of us really work on centering our minds and letting it control our actions and reactions.

“Happiness is such a vague word. Let’s call it well-being. Well-being is not a mere pleasurable sensation. It is a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment, a state which actually pervades and underlies all emotional states and all the joys or sorrows that can come one’s way. That might be surprising. Can we have this kind of well-being while being sad? In a way, why not? Because we are speaking of a different level…Very often we look outside, we think we need everything, which already dooms our happiness.”

Ricard provides our western, outward-seeking, grasping culture with an important–one might say crucial–message of looking inward. We typically write-off Buddhist thinking as passive and/or negative (how does one think about “nothing”?). By contrast, Ricard demonstrates how we have to actively pursue unconditional compassion and open-mindedness. These are the necessary components to experiencing the healthy and sustained depths of emotional and psychic well-being.

“Mind training matters. It is not a luxury. It is not a supplementary vitamin for the soul. This is something that is going to determine the quality of every instance for life. We are ready to spend 50 years in education. We spend a great deal of time doing fitness, jogging, trying to remain beautiful. Yet we spend surprisingly little time taking care of what matters most, the way our minds function, which is the ultimate things that determine the quality of our experience.”

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