Maintaining a state of happiness and compassion in our modern lives is tough! There are so many everyday situations that pull me out of my enlightened and compassionate state and before I know it, my ego and places of hurt have taken over.
So many times I have felt angry that I’ve let a difficult person get under my skin again. Frustrated that I took a step forward, when what I needed was to take a step back. Hurt and ashamed because of something I said in the heat of the moment. I still have so much to learn! Who best to learn from than the ‘world’s happiest man’?
I recently listened to a podcast called ‘Happiness as Human Flourishing’. It was a delightful conversation full of wisdom between Matthieu Ricard and Krista Tippett. Throughout their conversation they discussed the idea of embodiment – leading lives of integrity. It was exactly the conversation I needed to hear!
Here is what I learnt from Matthieu Ricard…
Meditate everyday to cultivate compassion and happiness
Just as we exercise our bodies to keep fit, Matthieu suggests we should train our brain by meditating for twenty minutes a day to cultivate happiness and compassion.
‘The more you bring benevolence into your mind, there is no space for hatred. It’s very simple, but we don’t do that! We do exercise every morning for twenty minutes to be fit, but we don’t sit for twenty minutes to cultivate compassion. If we were to do so our mind will change, our brain will change, what we are will change.’ – Matthieu Ricard.
Scientific research Matthieu was involved in clearly showed the lasting effects of meditation through the process of neuroplasticity. When the brain changes, the effects are permanent. As a French-born Buddhist Monk who has meditated for thousands of hours, brain scans showed Matthieu’s brain emitted the same gama waves associated with meditation even when he wasn’t meditating.
Through meditation Matthieu has permanently re-wired his brain so the areas associated with happiness and compassion have the highest function. This is why he has been dubbed the ‘world’s happiest man’, although he doesn’t like this label.
Happiness is a state of being
According to Matthieu happiness is a state of being that give us the resources to deal with the ups and downs of life. He believes that watered down versions of happiness are a ‘recipe for exhaustion!’ So how do we cultivate happiness as a sate of being? Matthieu suggests that we need to focus on the inner conditions that make us truly appreciate the present moment and a genuine sense of fulfillment. He says,
‘We have to distinguish the mental factors which contribute to that way of being, the cluster of qualities – like altruistic love, inner peace, inner freedom and so forth from those that undermine that – jealousy, obsessive desire, hatred, arrogance… we call them mental toxins because they poison our happiness and make us relate to others in a poisonous way.’
Transform yourself to better serve others
Matthieu’s views on altruism and humanitarian work confirmed much of what I have long thought about the sector I used to work in. The humanitarian sector is full of compassionate and altruistic people, however compassion is not enough.
The sector is equally full of those who appear compassionate but are there to serve their ego rather than the people they are supposed to help. If you scratch the surface, you can usually spot the difference between genuine altruism and compassion and those with ego inflated compassion pretty quickly.
Matthieu echoes this sentiment pretty strongly, he says, ‘compassion needs to be enlightened by wisdom otherwise its blind.’ He says that in order to serve others, first we must transform ourselves.
‘It is human factors, such as clashes of ego and corruption, more than resources that bring the global humanitarian network to halt.’
When we transform ourselves to be compassionate, as well as enlightened, he suggests that we can efficiently and wisely be of service to others.
Let go of your ego and find your sense of humour
I’m definitely an optimist and I find overly negative people difficult to be around. However, I sometimes take myself far too seriously and need to be reminded to lighten up! Matthieu’s views on having a sense of humour and not taking life too seriously are another gentle reminder.
Even in the most difficult situations, he believes laughter is important and that taking life lightly is so much more fun. However it’s a matter of perception. Some people will perceive the same situation completely differently either in an optimistic or pessimistic way and he points the finger at our ego. According to Matthieu,
‘a strong ego is not a strength, it’s the ultimate vulnerability, because we are so preoccupied by it that we can’t sleep!’ He suggests that a more transparent ego will give us lightness and real confidence which makes us much more open to others and the world.’
The embodiment of happiness and compassion – this is the kind of person I aspire to be and I know it’s possible!
If you’re interested in listening to the whole conversation, you can stream it from the Onbeing website: Happiness as Human Flourishing