Contemplating Happiness with Matthieu Ricard

Contemplating Happiness with Matthieu Ricard

– he left his academic career to become a Buddhist Monk
– mastery & being a good human being are not necessarily related
– he believes the messenger is the message – he believes the quality of the person is more important than the skill they have developed
– he is interest in the art and science of altruism

He believes:
– the individual has to have the desire to change
– has to spend the time to change
– neuroplasticity (your brain changes functionally & structurally) & cognitive contemplation provides proof you can change
– therefore,you can learn to be more compassionate & altruistic

He participated in a 12 year brain study on meditation & compassion – he was dubbed in the media as “the happiest man alive”
– compassion meditation activated brain areas associated with positive affect, compassion & parental care; also empathy, compassion, attention & open presence (where you notice everything, but do not “stick” to anything)
– you can train your brain to cultivate compassion & altruism towards others
– he believes altruism is the key to developing a more positive & sustainable future

Altruism is an intention in motivation – the ultimate goal of which is that your thoughts, words, actions are to benefit others | a secondary benefit is your own wellbeing

Compassion is the same thing as altruism, but applied to suffering

Empathy is quite different – it is more narrow | empathy is emotional resonance (& can occur for the full spectrum of emotions) – there are also subsets of empathy:
– cognitive empathy (when some one panics, the other person adapts to understand why the other is panicking & then acts to re-assure the other)
– it involves knowing the state of others &
– being concerned for the state of others
– it is also known as “theory of mind” where you can guess what others may think (& feel)
[note: sometimes people can feel empathetic distress in response to a person & “run away” from what causes distress
[note 2: cognitive empathy, while good, is not sufficient in terms of leading to altruistic behaviour]

– the scientific research into altruism used real-time fMRI
– FINDING: compassion meditation for 10 days allowed a person to view their suffering in a more constructive, problem-solving manner
– EU- funded research (of 9 months duration) also into mindfulness, perspective-taking & compassion meditation – FINDINGS:
– 1) mindfulness makes you more mindful, but it does not increase at all either altruism or pro-social behaviour,
– 2) perspective-taking only slightly improves perspective-taking & taking into account others, but hardly does anything with respect to altruism
– 3) compassion meditation vastly-increases pro-social behaviours & the feeling of altruism [the take-home message: if you want to cultivate something, you have to cultivate it directly – not as the by-product of something else]
[Notes: 1) relevant to all health-professionals prone to &/or experiencing “empathetic overload”; 2) it is a highly-relevant antidote to prevent burnout]

– he believes selfishness will not “do the job” with respect to our emotional & psychological wellbeing

He talks about needing to reconcile three needs:
– short-term need – finances / economic – to support life & needs on a daily basis
– mid-term needs – quality of social life, education & flourishing in life over our life-time
– long-term need (anthropocene since post WW2 – the power of human beings to transform life on the planet & future generations)[all manner of people can influence this – business leaders, politicians, engineers, social workers etc.,]
– again, selfishness does not do the job – we need to work together & we need to have more consideration for others (which is also the definition of altruism)
– such an approach brings about:
A) positive, caring economics which addresses inequalities

He also discusses the “banality of goodness”
– despite being flooded only by the bad news of the world (despite there being plenty of good news)
– he cites statistics on poverty, nuclear missiles etc., to demonstrate betterment
– he also believes most people on the planet behave decently towards one another – which he considers to be “normal”
– he cites what he calls “the wicked world syndrome” – where people pay greater attention to deviant/aberrant behaviour
– he believes nonetheless that there is a great need to increase altruism both at a personal & societal level
– individual has to desire change & commit time to the change (respect others)
[the brain changes through neuroplasticity]
– he believes culture changes following a Darwinian process, but which is must quicker than change at an individual level
– he thinks the world needs more cooperation not more competition
– individuals – he says – makes culture change
– he also talks about animals being conscious & sentient

Source: ABC RN | All in the Mind | Podcast date: 1 July 2017


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