What does it mean to be the world’s happiest man?

Robert Marx, Co-Lead for the Sussex Mindfulness Centre and Anna-Maria Frastali, psychology graduate intern, write about Matthieu Ricard, author, humanitarian and monk, who joins us for a rare public online talk on 4 June.

Every year the United Nations present a report with the world’s happiest countries. In their latest report, the role of benevolence and altruism are especially highlighted. Apparently, across countries, helping others without expecting something in return leads to happiness. Not only the recipients of altruism experience an improved wellbeing, but the individuals who help others also report increased wellbeing.

It shouldn’t be surprising then, that Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk and the man dubbed the happiest in the world is a massive advocate for altruism. This “title” was given to him in 2004, when a research project at the University of Wisconsin analysed Matthieu Ricard’s brain using electroencephalography. The results were unprecedented: the researchers found that while meditating on compassion Matthieu’s brain produced extremely high levels of gamma waves, which are associated with focus and wellbeing. They also found excessive activity in Matthieu Ricard’s left prefrontal cortex, associated with large capacity for happiness and reduced tendency towards negativity.

But, he’s not actually a big fan of his title as the happiest human in the world. If there was ever something written on his grave, he’d like that to be: “Become a better human being to better serve others.” Ricard has in fact written a book on happiness – but he wanted to call it suffering, because for him to be happy is to get rid of the sources of suffering such as jealousy, hatred and pride, which distance us from others. Getting closer to others and taking action to improve our world can also be a cure for anxiety: for instance, when we’re anxious about the climate crisis, or anything else, being compassionate and doing something about it with other people helps us feel less anxious, he suggests in a recent interview in the Guardian.

Ricard shows an unwavering commitment to share his insights with the world. He has become a global ambassador for altruism, advocating for the importance of cultivating compassion in our daily lives. Ricard’s numerous talks, including TED Talks and Google Talks, have garnered millions of views, resonating with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

Watch Matthieu Ricard talking with Richard Gere on altruism

Ricard’s role as the French interpreter for the Dalai Lama has further amplified his message of compassion and altruism. Serving as a bridge between Eastern wisdom and Western audiences, he has facilitated dialogues on topics ranging from mindfulness and meditation to ethics and happiness. Through his collaborations with the Dalai Lama and other prominent figures, Ricard has helped disseminate the message of compassion to a global audience.

Watch Matthieu Ricard’s Ted Talk on altruism

In a world often plagued by division, strife, and materialism, Matthieu Ricard stands as a beacon of hope—a reminder that true happiness is not a distant dream but a tangible reality within our grasp. His life and work inspire us to look beyond ourselves, to cultivate compassion in our hearts, and to strive for a more compassionate and altruistic world.

In a rare opportunity to hear from the man himself, join us on 4 June for his online talk. Click below to reserve your place and to hear the Venerable Matthieu Ricard talk about altruism and how it can improve our lives.