Column: The happiest person on Earth

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Commentary by Amy L. Stewart

Stewart

Stewart

Can you guess who it is? Warren Buffett? LeBron James? Kate Middleton?

Guess again. Did anyone say Mattieu Ricard? Mattieu who?

At the University of Wisconsin, award-winning neuroscientist Richard Davidson, Ph.D., studies thousands of brains, in his work on emotions and human flourishing. According to Dr. Davidson, the scans of Mattieu Ricard’s brain produced results, “never reported before in the neuroscience literature,” and showed an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity.

Who is this blissful creature? Mattieu Ricard is a 69-year-old Buddhist monk, who lives in a monastery in Nepal. Davidson attributes the stunning state of Ricard’s brain to meditation, a practice aimed at transforming the mind and developing clarity, alertness, inner freedom, love and compassion. Davidson has observed similar results in other expert meditation practitioners.

It seems that science uncovers what we sometimes cannot see: That the secret to achieving happiness lies not in seeking elusive solutions in the outside world – in our partner, job, house, car, appearance or bank account – but in the training of our own mind. Through practices like meditation, prayer, mindfulness, nourishing the conditions that nurture happiness (selfless generosity, loving kindness, compassion, patience) and letting go of the conditions that undermine happiness (anger, hatred, jealousy, greed), our mind actually can be trained to be happy, in much the same way that our muscles can be trained. True, Mattieu Ricard has logged thousands of hours of meditation in his lifetime. But the amazing news reported by Davidson and others is that as little as 20 to 30 minutes of meditation each day can have a measurably positive effect on our brains and our happiness. Plus it’s free and can be done anywhere.

Knowing this, what are we waiting for? We naturally accept that virtually everything else that we do requires practice and training. So what about the goal of all goals – the quality of every moment of our lives? Meditate on that. You might change your mind.

Amy L. Stewart is a Partner at Mallor Grodner LLP, where she supports clients and their families in charting a dignified path through change and conflict. Her correct email is astewart@lawmg.com.


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