Rules for Life from the World’s Happiest Man

Matthieu Ricard is an ordained Buddhist monk and an internationally best-selling author of books about altruism, animal rights, happiness and wisdom. Recently, he was interviewed by David Marchese at the New York Times interviewed him. While you can read the full piece at here, within the article Ricard shares some rules for a fulfilled life, however one of the most meaning exchanges between Ricard and Marchese is summarized here after Marchese asks if Ricard, a peaceful monk, ever feels despair:

Marchese: “Your response to my question about despair was, “There’s no point,” which suggests that you’re making conscious choices about your feelings — whether to follow them or not — based on their perceived value. That’s not something everyone is able to do. Short of also becoming a Buddhist monk, how might other people start developing the ability to control their emotions like you can?”

Ricard: “Emotions are just like any characteristic of our mental landscape: They can change. We can become more familiar with their process; we can catch them early. It’s like when you see a pickpocket in a room: Aha, be careful. Twenty-five hundred years of contemplative science and 40 years of neuroplasticity — everything tells you we can change. You were not born knowing how to write your columns. You know it’s the fruit of your efforts. So why would major human qualities be engraved in stone from the start? That would be a total exception to every other skill we have. That’s why I like the idea of Richard Davidson’s that happiness is a skill. It can be deeper, more present in your mental landscape. We deal with our mind from morning to evening, but we spend very little attention on improving the way we translate outer conditions, good or bad, into happiness or misery. And it’s crucial, because that’s what determines our day-to-day experience of the world!”