Interesting piece in The Times yesterday about the meeting of two of the happiest men in the world. Well, one of them – the monk Matthieu Ricard – is apparently the happiest (on average, surely – I doubt he’s ever been happier than me when United won the Champions League in the last minute of extra time) and the other – Richard Layard – is a leading academic on happiness, which may not mean he’s such a good practitioner. What I found interesting was the summary table that the piece ended with, boiling down the essence of both men’s wisdom on how to be happy: For the monk, the golden rules were:
Learn to meditate / Cultivate altruism / Practise mindfulness / Make space in your life for spirituality / Find a genuine spiritual teacher
For the academic, they were:
Be socially connected / Be physically active / Take notice of your surroundings and savour them / Keep learning / Give regularly
The similarities are striking. Happiness is partly about being content within the Self (meditation, exercise, learning) partly about being in touch with the ‘big Other’ (engaging in a spirituality, being mindful of our environment) and partly about engaging with ‘the other’ that we meet day to day (altruism, generosity, social connection). It’s perhaps because I’m reading this through the lens of my own forthcoming book, but, these three axes of self, God and other are the framework on which I’ve written – launching from Jesus’ summary of the Law: love God, and love your neighbour as you love yourself. Question is then, why are we the unhappiest people yet to have lived?