Latimer: Author says altruism generates true happiness

Author Mattieu Ricard says altruism and compassion, among qualities that combine to create happiness.

Happiness is that state of being it seems almost everyone is striving for. Many people ask me what it takes to be happy, to have a happy life.

Of course, the idea of happiness and the experience of it can be different for everyone and there can be significant barriers to happiness including mental and physical health issues, addiction, poverty or abuse to name only a few.

I recently read an interesting article about a man scientists have called the happiest in the world. He offers a perspective on happiness I found refreshing.

French biologist-turned Tibetan monk Mattieu Ricard earned his reputation as the happiest man in the world after scans of his brain showed the highest activity ever recorded in areas associated with positive emotion.

Ricard has recently published a book called Altruism and claims happiness doesn’t come from the places we typically think it might. The title gives away his direction.

Although our North American culture places a high value on personal pleasure as the root of happiness, Ricard argues something different. Rather than focusing on a selfish pursuit of pleasurable experiences, he says true happiness is more readily found in helping and focusing on the needs of others.

Ricard’s book looks at scientific data from the fields of neuroscience, economic and psychology to examine what factors combine to cause human happiness. He says altruism and compassion, as well as a clear and stable mind, resilience and feelings of serenity and fulfillment combine to create happiness.

Ricard suggests that obsession with self tends to lead to an amplification of hopes and fears and brooding on things that might affect us. As a result, even small events impact our well-being.

According to Ricard, it is altruistic love that activates positive emotions in the brain and creates a profound feeling of fullness. He suggests a shift from our current selfish economy to a ‘caring economy’ where we concern ourselves with others and creating a society with good working conditions and social supports with an eye to the well-being of future generations.

Ricard believes people are naturally altruistic but bad education can stifle that natural state. If we teach children they are kind, they will behave that way.

We are at an important time in history right now. Many people around the world and in our own community are vulnerable because of war, poverty and oppression and our planet is struggling with climate change and its effects. There is no shortage of places to focus our compassion. Not only will an outward focus make a difference in the world, but we may get the added benefit of an improved sense of well-being.


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