Jan. 28, 2016,
Matthieu Ricard, a 69-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monk, has been called the “world’s happiest man.”
That’s because he participated in part of a 12-year brain study on meditation and compassion led by University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson. And Davidson found his brain waves and activity to be off the happiness charts.
In 2008, Davidson had a group of expert meditators (including Ricard) and a group of controls (people who were not experienced in meditation) meditate on compassion, he reported in Scientific American.
Then he had them listen to the sounds of several stressed-out voices. Davidson found that two brain areas known to be involved in empathy showed more activity for the meditators than for the non-meditators, suggesting that people like Ricard have an enhanced ability to respond to the feelings of others and empathize without feeling overwhelmed.
He also noted that when he exposed Ricard to an outside stimulus meant to startle him — like an alarm going off unexpectedly or a stranger accosting you in the street — while he was meditating, he was far less put-off by the stimulus compared with someone who was not meditating.
So, how does the “world’s happiest man” feel happy all the time and get rid of anger and stress?
We spoke with Ricard at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last Thursday. He says feeling happy comes down to being altruistic and benevolent. He also believes the mind can be trained to be happy through meditation.
And as for dealing with stress? Ricard says the key is let things go.