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Happiness from a Buddhist Monk

January 15, 2016



As we welcome in 2016, I figured it would be best to focus the first article of the year around- you guessed it- happiness. 


As I reread Talk Like Ted (a great book for anyone looking to learn more about the nuances of communication) for the upcoming semester on public speaking, I was reminded of a talk that biochemist turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard gave back in 2004.  Ricard’s talk, which is titled “The Habits of Happiness,” focuses on the need to incorporate altruism and compassion into our daily lives:

“In truth, anyone can find happiness if he or she looks for it in the right place.  Authentic happiness can only come from the long-term cultivation of wisdom, altruism, and compassion, and from the complete eradication of mental toxins, such as hatred, grasping, and ignorance.”

When thinking of Ricard’s quote, I was drawn to his word choice.  Wisdom instead of ignorance.  Compassion instead of hate.  He reiterates that over time, the more we learn, and the more we act on what we know, we are able to lead happier lives. 


However, is it really as simple as Ricard makes it out to be? In 2016, we’ve heard politicians spew hatred and heresy towards each other, while ISIS and North Korea use terror and [supposed] bombs to fuel fear among countries.  In that context, there is not much we can do; yet, in our daily lives we control where our mind wanders. We control the people we surround ourselves with.  We control the language we use when talking about others.  Ricard emphasizes the role communication plays on our happiness:

“I believe the best way to communicate with anyone is to first check the quality of your motivation: ‘Is my motivation selfish or altruistic? Is my benevolence aimed at just a few or at the greater number? For their short term or long term good?  Once we have clear motivation, then communication flows easily.”


As someone who has been lucky enough to teach a communication course the past three years, I wholeheartedly agree on the role that motivation plays in our daily interactions with others. If we are motivated to act with compassion when we communicate (words, body language, genuine listening) then I am convinced we are on our way to developing the long-term cultivation of wisdom that Ricard believes will lead us to authentic happiness.  I’ve been experimenting with this notion ever since I started Happy Friday three years ago, and I can undoubtedly say that I am happier now than I’ve ever been. From those who knew me from a young age, you know that wasn’t always the case.  The brain is a fascinating muscle, and the more we train it to think positively and with others in mind, the more fulfillment we may find in our own lives.  With that, I hope everyone has a successful and exciting 2016.


“I am particularly passionate to show that altruism and compassion are not luxuries, but essential needs to answer the challenges of our modern world.”

~Matthieu Ricard


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