Buddhist monk is the world’s happiest man

Tibetan monk and molecular geneticist Matthieu Ricard is the happiest man in the world according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin. The 66-year-old’s brain produces a level of gamma waves – those linked to consciousness, attention, learning and memory – never before reported in neuroscience.

Technician Andy Francis (L) and associate scientist and co-principal investigator Antoine Lutz (R) outfit Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard (seated) with a 128-channel geodesic sensor net in preparation for conducting an electroencephalography (EEG) test

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson wired up Ricard’s skull with 256 sensors at the University of Wisconsin four years ago as part of research on hundreds of advanced practitioners of meditation.

The scans showed that when meditating on compassion, 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 his brain’s left prefrontal cortex compared to its right counterpart, giving him an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity, researchers believe.


Ricard grew up among the Paris intellectual elite as the son of celebrated French libertarian philosopher Jean-Francois Revel and abstract watercolor painter Yahne Le Toumelin.

“All these people used to come around, most of Paris intellectual life. We had all the French painters and I was myself interested in classical music so I met a lot of musicians,” he said.

“At lunch we’d have three Nobel Prize winners eating with us. It was fantastic… Some of them were wonderful but some could be difficult.”

By the time he got his PhD in cell genetics from the Institut Pasteur in Paris in 1972 he had become disillusioned with the dinner party debates and had already begun to journey to Darjeeling in India during his holidays.

Eschewing intimate relationships and a career, he moved to India to study Buddhism and emerged 26 years later as something of celebrity thanks to “The Monk And The Philosopher,” a dialogue on the meaning of life he wrote with his father.

These are excerpts from a news article.

Read the full article: http://india.nydailynews.com/newsarticle/7b470adb0a9b6c32e19e16a08df13f3d/buddhist-monk-is-the-worlds-happiest-man#ixzz2AyvjaYy3

See also: Matthieu Ricard’s website http://www.matthieuricard.org
You can also listen to his TED talk from 2007.

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9 thoughts on “Buddhist monk is the world’s happiest man

  1. nizken

    I hope that they didn’t declare him as “world’s happiest man” in a scientific paper, since that would be so patently incorrect (unless the Univ of Wisc researchers have tested every single human being’s brain on the planet already….) I don’t know if there is a correlation b/w gamma waves and happiness levels but I’m willing to eschew all that in the interests of media reporting!! 🙂

    1. Sandeep Post author

      The scientists usually give dull and verbose titles for their scientific publication like “Neural correlates of attentional expertise in longterm meditation practitioners.” It is the journalists who sensationalize the results (…and bloggers like me repost them!)

      If you check the university website, the press articles @ http://psyphz.psych.wisc.edu sound more exciting than the papers displayed @ http://brainimaging.waisman.wisc.edu/pubpages/davidson.html

      Here is a more nuanced account from the U.Wisconsin website “Of Meditation, Monks, and Music…Dr. Davidson Speaks on Systematic Mind-Body Training“.

  2. nizken

    Adding to all this confusion, meditation, spirituality and yoga tends to be an exclusively subjective experience (like philosophical idealism) which are almost impossible to measure empirically. Hence the profusion of people like Deepak Chopra and all other pretenders to these subjective states.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      BTW, the jury is still out on whether spiritual experiences are “exclusively subjective”. I would characterize it as “largely subjective”. We don’t know yet, but it is possible that neuroscience might provide the tools for determining if the mind is completely still.

  3. nishat

    Yes you are right, I don’t really subscribe to an absolutism in any aspect either. I don’t think there can be an absolute dichotomy b/w subjectivity & objectivity either, maybe those two aspects of experience overlap at some higher level (where there will be no such dichotomy.)

  4. Pingback: The Milinda-Panha | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  5. Pingback: Is Meditation just a brain exercise? |

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