Bring to your mind a past occasion of inner joy and happiness. Recall how you felt. Consider the lasting effect this experience has had on your mind, and how it still nourishes a sense of fulfillment.
Matthieu Ricard, Happiness: A Guide To Developing Life’s Most Important Skill

Did you know the emotion of happiness can be detected in the brain?  And that the left prefrontal cortex is responsible for our feelings of happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity?

In Matthieu Ricard, a 70 year old Tibetan Buddhist monk, hailed by brain scientists as “the happiest man on Earth” (imagine having that in your bio), his left prefrontal cortex measures off the charts. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson wired up the monk’s skull with no less than 256 sensors at the University of Wisconsin, as part of research on hundreds of advanced practitioners of meditation.

Scans showed that when meditating, Ricard’s brain produces a level of gamma waves – those linked to consciousness, attention, learning and memory – “never reported before in the neuroscience literature”, Davidson said.  The scans also showed excessive activity in Ricard brain’s left prefrontal cortex compared to its right counterpart, allowing him an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity (my emphasis).

Encouragingly, Davidson noted that they found remarkable results not just with long-term practitioners who did 50,000 rounds of meditation, but also with three weeks of 20 minutes a day, which of course is more applicable to us “householders” –  living active, engaged lives in our modern times.  Davidson added that “It’s a wonderful area of research because it shows that meditation is not just blissing out under a mango tree but it completely changes your brain and therefore changes what you are.”

Back to Ricard, although he obviously meditates daily (sometimes even for days), Ricard also attributed his extraordinary amount of happiness to something else … altruism.

Because thinking about yourself, and how to make things better for yourself all the time, is exhausting, stressful, and ultimately leads to unhappiness. Instead of thinking “me, me, me” all the time, we should strive to be benevolent, which will not only make us feel better, but it will also make other feel better.  That’s not to say you should let other people take advantage of you, Ricard warns, but you should generally strive to be kind within reason.

“If your mind is filled with benevolence, you know — the passion and solidarity … this is a very healthy state of mind that is conducive to flourishing. So you, yourself, are in a much better mental state. Your body will be healthier, so [it] has been shown. And also, people will perceive it as something nice.”

And when people perceive you as something nice, they feel good around you, they want to be around you and they are more inclined to help you and support you and when they do, it feels like the universe is conspiring to make it happen for you.

If you are ready to upgrade your brain for more happiness, learn to meditate, click here for upcoming course dates.

If you would like to dip your toe in and get a sample of the incredible potential that lies within your mind, click here for my introduction to meditation workshop, produced in partnership with the YogaBar.

If you would like to learn more about the technique I teach and understand the neuroscience behind meditation, intro talks are held Monday evenings in Balmain, click here for all the details. Intro talks are complimentary and a great way for us to meet and I will answer your questions about meditation (and maybe even ask some of my own).


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