Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard's advice on cultivating happiness

Carmen Micsa

Finding the right type of happiness is within our reach

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“One does not become happy overnight, but with patient labor, day after day. Happiness is constructed, and that requires effort and time. In order to become happy, we have to learn how to change ourselves.” Luca and Francesco Cavalli-Sforza

As an only child, I learned to entertain myself from an early age with books and swings. Both catapulted me to the lows and highs of life, teaching me to rejoice in the memorable moments of self-discovery and the upswing journey of thoughts and emotions.

I could see when the swings were available from the balcony of our little apartment overlooking the park. I used to swing my worries away daily, as growing up in communism was not the idyllic way to live happily. Yet, somehow I found ways to delight in the simple joys of life, such as playing soccer and tennis with my dad, reading and writing a lot, imagining all kinds of adventures, and looking at life from high above the swing.

Elevating my soul. Reaching for new heights. Floating. Flying.

1. Cultivating the right type of happiness

Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk and the author of Happiness, A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, states that our ability to distinguish between simple and complex happiness is of paramount importance.

Simple happiness is easy to grasp and acquire by drinking a cup of tea, walking in the woods, or enjoying a child’s smile. Besides being able to relish this instantaneous type of happiness, we also learn to differentiate it from complex happiness, which leads to a deep sense of flourishing, the opposite of a fleeting emotion, or mood.

This is what Ricard calls the “optimal state of being.”

Once we understand the difference between simple and complex happiness, we can be more mindful of our choices and cultivate the optimal type of happiness.

2. Happiness as a way to interpret the world

I love the concept of interpretation when it comes to literature, but I have not thought of happiness as our way to interpret the world until I read Ricard’s deep and well-researched book.

Ricard states that while it is difficult to change the world, even though we hear this platitude often when it comes to achieving great things, we can certainly adjust the way we look at the world, which makes perfect sense.

My family and friends always joke with me that I see life through rose-colored glasses, even when life’s circumstances do not warrant my rosy views. As a forever optimist, I choose to find something good and positive in any negative situation, such as the time that we landed in New York City with big dreams and an empty wallet in our 20s. At the time, we thought that we had found our home away from Romania, only to end up finding a job all the way in Sacramento, CA, which changed our lives and the way we interpreted the world.

3. Happiness as a love of life

Learning to love life on a daily basis no matter the challenges that come our way is a skill worth cultivating. One way to increase our happiness is through love for all the ebbs and flows of life.

“Happiness is above all a love of life.” Matthieu Ricard

As noticed, Ricard does not say, love of a good life, which means that our love will also have to overextend to challenging times that will lead to developing high resilience to life’s low and high tides, so to speak.

And how are we supposed to love life when there is not much to treasure about it?” you might ask.

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Realizing that ‘things could be worse,’ as the tag attached to the bulldog little porcelain figurine that I bought many years ago from a Hallmark store reminds me of every day. I quote this a lot to the point of irritating people, so I need to be mindful of dropping this line when things go wrong for others.

4. Happiness as a state of inner fulfillment

The drive for outer things in life is detrimental to achieving inner fulfillment that will lead to the optimal state of being because it will lead to a superficial notion of happiness.

“Look within; within is the fountain of all good.” Marcus Aurelius

What powerful advice from Marcus Aurelius, but is it that easy or feasible to achieve? Living in a highly technological world, it is quite the opposite. We are urged to look to the outer world and to praise its fleeting merits. This means that the inner gaze into our souls and hearts is probably the hardest to accomplish, and goes together with finding inner peace.

I find running as my best ally in finding happiness as a state of inner fulfillment. Not only is running my meditation in motion, but it also makes me more mindful and introspective, which is why I hope to never stop running.

Running miles. Running for freedom. Running with joy. Running with gratitude. Running thoughts. Just running.

5. Happiness as a power of transformation

Not only is happiness a skill that must be learned, but it is also a powerful way to break free from the endless circle of our usual habits, as Ricard points out. This makes perfect sense, as we are constantly affected by change throughout our lives. Thus, welcoming and accepting change is essential to our inner joy and cultivating lasting happiness.

I particularly enjoyed this chapter on transformation, as I have always had issues with the statement “you are enough.” Yes, we don’t need to beat ourselves up over mistakes that we make throughout our lives, but we can acquiesce that we all have room “to polish our deep human potential,” as Ricard astutely affirms. He also says that just as we are not born wise, we can simply become wise, as we live life and that our wisdom will lead to our happiness.

In my case, my biggest power of transformation came through running. As Susan Biali Haas, MD said in her article To Change Your Life, Pick One Thing and Do it, I chose running as the one thing to change my life. To my great surprise and delight, this newly-found passion led to multiple changes, such as becoming an early morning person, being more punctual, more creative, more productive, more observant, and living a happier life.

As we evaluate the way we do things in our daily lives, our power of transformation will increase exponentially, so go ahead and seek change, as well as associate with other like-minded friends, who live by example. In my case, a year after I became a runner, I was lucky to meet my wonderful friend Andrea, who loves to experiment a lot and truly welcomes change into her life in the most genuine manner I have ever encountered. Her love of change made me more open to transformation, for which I am eternally grateful.

Key points to take away:

  1. Learn the develop the right type of happiness and then cultivate it.
  2. Learn to interpret the world through a positive lens.
  3. Cultivate inner happiness more than the outer one, as well as gaze inside your soul more often.
  4. Develop a deep love of life.
  5. Embrace change and work hard towards transforming your life to experience a higher level of bliss.

For more poetic musings and short-form philosophy, please check out my new book, Morsels of Love, A Book of Poetry and Short-Form published last year. You can also order directly from my website www.carmenmicsabooks.com to receive an autographed copy.

If you like podcasts, please listen to my new podcast Seeds of Sunshine, a multigenerational podcast that I started together with my daughter.

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CEO/Broker of Dynamic Real Estate, Inc., business owner featured in the Forbes magazine for my outstanding service to my clients. Mom, wife, a published author, Medium writer, poet, marathon runner, rapper, and tennis player.

Carmichael, CA
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