What is there to be happy about in this bleak and miserable world anymore? I can think of a few things, but let’s face it, it’s simply hip to be emo these days.
Oh, the despair.
But according to monk, author and photographer Matthieu Ricard, who has been called “the happiest man in the world” by Time magazine and will speak in Louisville this weekend, happiness is life’s most important skill.
Ricard, who has written several books on which his talks are based, said that people generally focus on the “outer conditions” (i.e., what is going on in a given environment and in the world) that are full of negativity, but true happiness must come from within. He said these outside conditions are important, but they are not enough to simply feed off of, and ultimately, “inner happiness or misery is the final filter or determinate.”
Easier said than done. Ricard pointed out that this process of finding true inner happiness takes lots of time and work, but is perfectly achievable. So where does one begin? Ricard often describes in his books and speeches the idea of “training the mind,” and the first step is recognizing the components of an afflicted state of mind, such as negative emotions like envy, arrogance and anger. Once those are identified, one needs to counteract those hindrances with more positive building blocks that can be found within, such as compassion, freedom and peace. Ricard said that one must be open to the idea of change, and that it does take some maintenance.
“If you bring love and kindness to your mind,” he said, “cultivate it for a while. You will develop a more stable, clear and peaceful mind.”
Even though we may sometimes feel like the world is gradually being sucked into a black hole of impending doom, Ricard is optimistic about the progression of human nature and the state of world affairs. He said that more people today oppose war than in decades and centuries past, and the overall responsibility and interdependence of the world is progressing. America, in particular, he said, “needs to resume its role as a country that can bring peace and dialogue, and use its influence for a better world.” He said he has recently observed a strong hope for change among the American people and the world.
Ricard, the son of philosopher Jean-Francois Revel, grew up in Paris and earned a Ph.D. in molecular genetics. But he put his career in science aside and sought the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, studying with many great Tibetan masters in the Himalayas. He resides in Nepal and is working on many various humanitarian projects, such as schools, orphanages and clinics in Tibet, Nepal and India. These projects, he said, are part of the notion of “compassion in action.”
He is also a renowned photographer who said he believes that capturing beautiful images can give hope and counterbalance negativity.
“Deep within, the goodness of human nature is always there,” he said, “along with the notion of giving hope that we have a potential for change, and some basic goodness within.”
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Matthieu Ricard’s ‘We Are Already
One: Discovering Our True Nature’
Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Gardencourt and Laws Lodge
1044 Alta Vista Road
$20-$30; 7 p.m. (Fri.), 11 a.m. (Sat.)