Brain Train Your Way to Happiness

Happiness, that elusive concept so many of us seek to attain. But, what actually is it and how is it possible to reach?  A molecular biologist turned Buddhist monk and confidant of the Dalai Lama, described by US neuroscientists as “the happiest man alive,” demonstrates it is indeed possible to reach, we may just need some brain-training along the way to get us there.

Defined by Robert Misrahi, as a “form and overall meaning of life that considers itself to be full and meaningful, and which experiences itself as such”, now Matthieu Ricard reveals his secret to achieving happiness.

Traditionally in Buddhism, as in many other religions, contentment and fulfilment, central to the state of being happy, are achieved primarily in 3 ways; by squashing the ego (the me, me, me), reducing desires, and stilling the chattering mind.

These Ricard says, are all left-brained activities. Meditation helps to train the left brain away from these three damaging aspects. On top of this, on a day to day basis Matthieu himself uses right brained activities to be content fulfilled and happy, practicing activities such as photography and art, writing, communing with nature, love, and empathy.

He invites us to use meditation in order to train the mind away from its obsessive concentration on the self and pair it with activities that stimulate the right brain more – generosity, compassion, gentleness, dancing, music, art, gardening, fun games, laughing, walking in the woods and many more. In doing these activities we can help regenerate pathways in our brains that may have become deadened, and similarly, create new ones which may never have been there.

In an inspiring talk, Ricard teaches us that the path to happiness is not as precarious as some of us may feel it is. With practice we can steer our brains away from the negative processes we may have become stuck in and step up to a place of pleasure and contentment which at times might have felt a million miles away. Our brains have a plasticity which allows them to be shaped and restructured with a flexibility similar to that of a muscle. In this way, happiness can be thought of as a skill to be developed, not just a natural given state, meaning any one of us can reach it with the right kind of practice.

Of course, happiness is not always something you can train your brain into, if you’re struggling with persistant feelings of hopeless, sadness, despair, low self-esteem or low mood, a counsellor or therapist could help you towards understanding any underlying causes and ways of dealing with them.

Watch the TED talk here.