The habits of happiness | Matthieu Ricard | Summary and Q&A

April 15, 2008
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The habits of happiness | Matthieu Ricard


This talk explores the concept of happiness and well-being from a Buddhist perspective and discusses the importance of mind training in achieving inner peace and fulfillment.

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Key Insights

  • ๐ŸŒ Globalization has brought Coca-Cola tins to Everest and allowed a molecular biologist turned meditator to travel to the Himalayas.
  • ๐Ÿ’ญ Happiness is a controversial topic; some French intellectuals view it as unimportant, while others seek suffering as a way to appreciate its absence.
  • ๐Ÿ”๏ธ Happiness, or well-being, is a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment that underlies all emotional states and desires for a better life.
  • ๐Ÿ’” Pleasure is temporary and contingent on external circumstances, while well-being is a lasting state of tranquility that can coexist with sadness.
  • ๐Ÿง  Mind transformation is possible through mind training, which involves replacing negative emotions with positive ones through deliberate practice.
  • ๐ŸŒŠ Happiness is influenced by inner conditions and the mind's perception of external conditions, rather than the external conditions themselves.
  • ๐Ÿ’ก Changing one's mind and transforming negative emotions is crucial for achieving long-lasting well-being and inner freedom.
  • ๐Ÿงช The study of brain plasticity shows that the brain can change, allowing individuals to cultivate qualities like kindness and openness through meditation and mind training.


So, I guess it is a result of globalization that you can find Coca-Cola tins on top of Everest and a Buddhist monk in Monterey. (Laughter) And so I just came, two days ago, from the Himalayas to your kind invitation. So I would like to invite you, also, for a while, to the Himalayas themselves. And to show the place where meditators, like me, who b... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the difference between happiness and pleasure?

Happiness is defined as a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment, while pleasure is a fleeting sensation dependent on external factors. Unlike pleasure, happiness is not contingent upon time, place, or its object.

Q: How does mind training contribute to well-being?

Mind training helps transform negative emotions and cultivate positive qualities like love, compassion, and inner freedom. Through practices like meditation, individuals can change their emotions, moods, and traits, leading to a deeper sense of well-being.

Q: How can we find happiness amidst difficult circumstances?

Inner conditions, such as our mindset and outlook, have a more significant impact on our happiness than external conditions. By focusing on inner transformation and cultivating positive states of mind, we can find happiness even in challenging situations.

Q: Is it possible to change one's mind and emotions?

Yes, the brain's plasticity allows for the change and development of human qualities. Through mind training and meditation, individuals can reshape their neural pathways and cultivate positive qualities like kindness, openness, and patience.

Q: How does mind training impact brain activity?

Scientific studies have shown that experienced meditators exhibit altered brain activity, specifically in the prefrontal cortex. These changes indicate increased levels of altruism, happiness, and emotional control, suggesting that mind training can have tangible effects on the brain.

Q: What is the role of compassion in mind training?

Compassion plays a crucial role in mind training. Cultivating unconditional compassion can lead to a deep sense of well-being and fulfillment. It has been shown to have a profound impact on the brain and can be a powerful force for positive change in oneself and others.

Q: How can individuals incorporate mind training into their daily lives?

Mind training can be incorporated into daily life through practices like meditation, mindfulness, and self-reflection. By gradually familiarizing oneself with new ways of thinking and perceiving, individuals can cultivate lasting inner peace and happiness.


In this video, Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk and molecular biologist, discusses the nature of happiness and well-being. He explores various definitions of happiness and argues that true well-being is not just a fleeting emotion, but a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment. Ricard also delves into the connection between our inner conditions and outer circumstances, emphasizing the importance of cultivating inner qualities for lasting happiness. He explains the concept of mind training and how it can transform our emotions and traits. Ricard presents scientific findings on the effects of meditation on the brain and highlights the significance of mind training in our lives.

Questions & Answers

Q: How does Matthieu Ricard define well-being?

According to the Buddhist view, well-being is not merely a pleasurable sensation, but a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment that underlies all emotional states and life experiences. It is a state that pervades every moment of our lives.

Q: What are some common confusions people have about happiness?

One common confusion is the mistaken belief that pleasure and happiness are the same. Pleasure is contingent upon external factors and changes over time, while happiness is a more profound and lasting state. Another confusion is equating happiness with the absence of suffering, when in reality, true happiness can exist even in the presence of sadness or pain.

Q: How can inner conditions affect our well-being?

Our mind plays a crucial role in translating outer conditions into happiness or suffering. While external circumstances certainly influence our well-being, it is our inner conditions, such as our thoughts, emotions, and attitudes, that ultimately determine our state of happiness. Even in difficult circumstances, some people are able to maintain serenity and inner strength, while others may feel miserable despite having all the external comforts.

Q: Can negative emotions and traits be changed?

Yes, negative emotions and traits are not inherent to the nature of the mind. The basic fabric of consciousness is pure awareness, and all emotions are fleeting. Mind training, or meditation, can positively transform our emotions, traits, and moods by cultivating positive mental states and using natural antidotes to counteract destructive emotions. With practice, the tendencies for negative emotions to arise decrease, leading to a more stable and compassionate mind.

Q: What is the role of brain plasticity in cultivating human qualities?

Recent scientific discoveries have shown that the brain is not fixed but can change throughout our lives. Just as intensive practice can reshape the brain of a violinist, dedicated meditators have demonstrated significant changes in their brain activity. Studies have shown that meditation and mind training can lead to increased activity in the left frontal lobe, associated with positive affect, altruism, and happiness. These findings suggest that human qualities like loving-kindness and patience can be cultivated through mental training.

Q: How can mind training be put into action?

Mind training is not just a theory or an intellectual exercise; it is about putting compassion into action. Ricard provides examples of projects in Tibet where compassion is actively practiced, such as providing medical care and support to those in need. He emphasizes that mind training is not just a luxury or a supplementary practice but a vital part of our existence. Taking care of the way our mind functions is essential as it determines the quality of our experience.


Matthieu Ricard emphasizes that well-being and happiness are not superficial or secondary concerns but the very essence of our lives. While external factors have an impact, cultivating positive inner conditions and transforming our mind through mind training is the key to lasting happiness. Scientific studies have shown that meditation and compassion practices can change the brain's neural activity, making it possible to develop qualities like loving-kindness and altruism. Ricard calls for dedicating more time and effort to nurturing our mind, as it ultimately shapes the quality of our existence.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The speaker shares his personal journey from being a molecular biologist to becoming a meditator in the Himalayas.

  • He highlights the diversity of definitions for happiness in literature and emphasizes the desire for well-being as a universal human need.

  • The talk explores the nature of happiness and the importance of mind training in transforming negative emotions and cultivating inner peace.

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