Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happiest Man in the World...?!?

It has always seemed obvious to me that pleasure should not be confused with happiness. Perhaps it was lingering from my readings of DT Suzuki years ago, or my upbringing, but it's always been an intuition that's accompanied me. So strange as it may sound, this fact is - or rather should be - an important consideration in policy-making, particularly when considering choices in developed economies, say between growth and the environment or, between the rate of growth (or contraction!) now and the rate in the future, as well as marginal tax rates amongst other things.

Such notions are all too often summarily dismissed, and baselessly so, since according to Matthieu Ricard, a French scientist and buddhist monk, "happiness" is tangibly within the mind, and he is working to scientifically demonstrate precisely that, with some fascinating results.

His optimism and peace are as infectious as the Dalai Lama for whom he traslates, and I recommend everyone take 30 minutes and listen to what Mssr Ricard has to reveal about his life, meditation, and happiness.

List to BBC "Heart & Soul" Interview with Matthieu Ricard - Happiest Man in the World

11 comments:

Jojo said...

There is no greater sin than desire,
no greater curse than discontent,
no greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself.
Therefore he who knows that enough is enough
will always have enough.

Tao Te Ching 46

Sling Blade said...

Ah like me some french fried tater, uh huh.

Anonymous said...

Never thought about it, but it seems self-evident.

Anonymous said...

Pleasure may not produce happitness, but the reverse unfortunately remains invariably true: pain always produced unhappiness.

Easy enough to talk about the Buddhist way of renouncing desire when you lounge in a nice warm carpeted fluorescent-lit office courtesy of your swanky salary as a scientist subsisting on government grants...but when you curl up at night freezing and starving in the cardboard box you live in on the street, it's a whole lot harder to talk convincingly about the necessity to get rid of desires.

People need food. People need a warm place to sleep. People need to avoid freezing. That's the reality out here in the real world. Buddhist talk about "renouncing desire" sounds good but when you wind up having the renounce the desire to eat, it doesn't work.

"Cassandra" said...

anonymous 754

your points are well taken, and to be fair Mssr Ricard is quick to point out in the interview that "money" "wealth" "material stuff", what have you, DOES elevate happiness - but only up to a certain point. After that the effects negligible. And that level is way below the levels of what we have and experience in the west. He is in any event not advocating asceticism, but a greater sense of understanding of where one is likely to find true spiritual happiness, and it is not in quantity and acquisition of stuff. And perceptive as your appear to be, I doubt you would this contest this assertion.

michael m. said...

Both anonymous 754 and Cassandra are right on this problem of wealth and happiness. I think it is worth pointing out, to reinforce Anonymous 754, that most of the world is in fact very poor (unlike most of us readers of this blog). And things are really headed nowhere else: e.g., the U.N. estimates that by 2015, one-third of the human population will live in third world slums (Mike Davis, Planet of Slums), driven there by poverty in the countryside. So on the whole, lack of material wealth is the most widespread problem.

donna said...

Renouncing desire would mean that those with means would take compassion on those in the streets rather than letting them starve and freeze. That's the Bhuddist goal.

It is not about renouncing the necessity of food clothing and shelter. Desire is another matter entirely.

Born Again Democrat said...

Learn to appreciate what you have, which doesn't mean you shouldn't work and plan for a better future -- the point being to reduce unnecessary frustration as much as possible. This is the interpretation of Buddism (sp?) that most appeals to me, being the most realistic. I forget the name of the guy who laid it out like this, but he lived in Arizona. Merry Christmas!

Troy said...

Both anonymous 754 and Cassandra are right on this problem of wealth and happiness. I think it is worth pointing out, to reinforce Anonymous 754

wealth, is, technically, a lack of want. This comes from the economic definition of capital wealth -- goods that provide services that fulfill our wants and needs.

I don't have HDTV nor do I particularly want to upgrade my 1993 Sony 25" CRT TV but when I go to my friend's place and see his $5000 JVC DLP projector I feel a lot less wealthy LOL.

Blissex said...

I have noticed the difference and it is not well described here, but close.

The difference is between being content (which can give pleasure) and happy, and it is a very big difference.

Being content is about the past the present; being happy is about the future.

Consider someone who has just had pleasure from a wonderful meal but knows that he will have difficulty feeding himself the next year: he may well be content from the pleasure, but he will unhappy as he contemplates a meager future.

Instead consider someone who has just survived a very terrible and difficult period of war suffering from hunger and fear, but knows that peace has broken out and relief supplies are coming in: he might be very well not at all content, but he can be at the same time very happy.

Contentedness comes from the past satisfaction of needs, happyiness from the prospect of their future satisfaction.

As to things like purchasing, they given happiness only if the purchase will be useful to satisying future needs.

For a middle class person buying a Rolls Royce that one cannot afford may give contendness but not happyness, while a very poor person who can barely afford a moped it can give happyness if it improves the chances of finding jobs or cuts down on the time taken commuting.

Jon H said...

"People need food. People need a warm place to sleep. People need to avoid freezing. That's the reality out here in the real world. Buddhist talk about "renouncing desire" sounds good but when you wind up having the renounce the desire to eat, it doesn't work."

What, you think that wasn't the case 2,500 years ago when Buddhism started? Or for most of the people in Asia for the 2,500 years since? You think a Nepalese farmer never worried about hunger by the light of a yak butter lamp, while trying to keep warm with a yak manure fire?

Buddhism wasn't invented by Yuppies.