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Idle Science

Researchers Crown Buddhist Monk the World's Happiest Man 348

Posted by samzenpus
from the mr.-bluebird-on-my-shoulder dept.
concealment writes in with a story about a man who has been crowned the world's happiest. "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. 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 pre-frontal cortex compared to its right counterpart, giving him an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity, researchers believe."
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Researchers Crown Buddhist Monk the World's Happiest Man

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  • Re:Why be happy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by korean.ian (1264578) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:13AM (#41839583)

    Can one not be happy during the process of helping others?

  • Re:Why be happy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YttriumOxide (837412) <yttriumox@gmaiPL ... minus physicist> on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:14AM (#41839589) Homepage Journal

    Nobody should be overly happy, not when there are so many sad things happening in the world. Instead of being happy, why not help those who aren't. Instead of feeling compassion why not make the sacrifice to act on it? If you are happy, you are probably at least a little selfish. Of course what I have said will anger many people, but it's truth. There are many things you can do to help others in your neighborhood, in your state, country, or planet that you aren't doing.

    But the (horribly selfish, but nevertheless realistic) question is "why should I?"

    I'm a nice guy in general. People seem to like me. But, I don't do it for the sake of it - I do it because being a nice guy is the best way to get those around me to be nice back, which makes me happy.

    I contest that every human being is either inherently ENTIRELY selfish, or have something wrong with them (i.e. insanity). Even those ultra-religious types that beat themselves violently in repentance for sins are doing it on the promise of eternal happiness in heaven. If they truly believed that there was no afterlife, or that they'd suffer for all eternity; they wouldn't do it.

    I've yet to see a convincing argument otherwise, including from the "I help others selflessly" crowd - they do it because the act of helping others makes them happy. If helping others made them miserable, they'd stop.

  • Idle? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AmiMoJo (196126) * <.ten.3dlrow. .ta. .ojom.> on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:27AM (#41839635) Homepage

    This research has practical uses. It's a shame it was filed under "idle".

    Understanding how happiness in the human brain works could lead to new ways to treat depression and other mental illnesses. It could also lead to the development of a tasp like device.

  • I find pretty much all religion abhorrent. Buddhism however, while still abhorrent for believing in mystical ideas that go against the simplest (and therefore best) definitions of reality, is definitely less abhorrent than the others. I've seen a lot of quotes from the Dalai Lama that I really appreciate and can agree wholeheartedly with. This is something I can't often say for religious leaders of any other faiths.

    What I'd really like to see is some good scientific research put in to this sort of thing, stripping away the associated mysticism and getting right to the core of it. Based on the rather limited article, it appears this might not be too difficult as he may already be keeping the mysticism to a minimum.

  • Re:Why be happy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by backslashdot (95548) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @04:53AM (#41839729)

    Helping others can in fact make you feel miserable and often does. For example try helping refugees who have been raped and been through hell. Trust me you will feel miserable. Or go to a camp where there are thousands of people and you can hardly make a difference. You will feel like shit. Yet people do it. Even atheists do it.

    You are assuming that people are motivated by the same things as you. There are many serial killers by the way, who believe in God and "know" they are going to suffer in hell, but they still keep their behavior .. maybe it's a selfishness against their future self. But anyway I know for a fact there are people who believe they are going to hell but don't care.

  • by ohnocitizen (1951674) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @05:23AM (#41839895)
    It isn't about ignoring the negative in life. It is changing your mind so that you react to life (whether its good or bad) in a healthy, positive way. Does a negative experience send you into a crushing depression, or do you find a way to move on (or even find within that negative experience seeds of motivation to improve your life)?

    The article itself hints at the applications - the research focused on emotional balance. We have a growing problem with depression in the US. If we can find a reliable way to alter brain chemistry through meditation - that provides a very compelling alternative to medication. Even if the impact isn't strong enough or reliable enough to use instead of medication - it might improve one's prognosis when used in tandem with medication or traditional therapy. Exciting research with practical use.
  • Re:Why be happy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by a_hanso (1891616) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @05:49AM (#41839997) Journal

    Happiness = Perceived Life / Expected Life

    Perceived Life = Actual Life x Perception

    Therefore, to be happy, either a) improve your life, b) reduce your expectations or c) change your perception. Looks like this guy went for a mix of (b) and (c). At least that's my take on it.

  • by human_err (934003) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @06:08AM (#41840059)

    Your consciousness is reborn every moment. Western science hasn't been able to touch this topic since Descartes left questions of the interaction between mind and body to the church (to avoid Galileo's fate). Many of our most revered mathematicians and natural scientists, e.g. Pythagoras and Newton, were mystics who pondered much more than just planes of existence. Unfortunately, their mystical works have been downplayed to fit the new worldview heralded by the so-called Enlightenment, which in addition to the flourishing of reason and empiricism, was also a strong reaction to the hypocrisies of the church at the time. IMHO, the pendulum swung too far toward materialism to the detriment of the philosophies of consciousness.

    Today, we're finally seeing research that attempts to answer the questions Descartes left in his closet. The discoveries of entanglement, fields of potential, the now measurable 10 dimensions, and the event horizons in our microtubules put us face to face with these age old mysteries. Maybe the experiential science of introspective contemplation has something to add to the dialogue. After all, great minds have been at it for thousands of years.

  • Re:Why be happy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2012 @06:22AM (#41840121)

    > Happiness comes about from satisfaction and being content, why get satisfaction and feel content if you have failed in helping others?

    You're starting off on the wrong foot, there. If you accept your first statement, you won't find happiness.

    Happiness is its own reward, it's its own before-and-after. There's no prerequisite for it other than consciousness.

    Knowledge that shit happens in the world and you can have very little effect on that is part of it - acceptance of your part as a small piece of all reality. Attempting to rationalise what doesn't have prerequisites or conditions will always lead you down a path away from it.

    So - be happy. trust. let go of a set of rules someone taught you (through words or actions or whatever) and you'll find that discovering your own happiness without putting caveats on your experience of it ("I must help people a certain amount" to "I must earn so much" or whatever) will make you all the more useful as a help to others.

    It comes naturally, effortlessly, and is kinda surprising when it does - and it's oddly inexplicable too. But there it is

    (fwiw I used to be like you - unconsciously I thought the same way. Then I noticed how I thought, then I made some changes, and then they accelerated to the point I found happiness and contentment and it never left me. 38 years of hell, followed by four years and counting of bliss - and being just plain happy has a profoundly positive effect on people I come in contact with, and makes me all the more responsive to their needs.)

  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Thursday November 01, 2012 @06:33AM (#41840181) Homepage

    The only central beliefs are the four noble truths and the middle eightfold path. The other stuff are cultural things that local versions of Buddhism adopted.

    Looks like someone has been reading too much Stephen Batchelor. In over two millennia of Buddhist philosophy, no thinker questioned the doctrine of rebirth and considered it just a "cultural thing". Ditto for the existence of supernatural beings. This changed only when some people in the West essentially made up their own religion by junking everything of Buddhism except what would appear to a modern secular humanist. Good for you, but don't pretend that it's Buddhism, let alone "pure Buddhism" or "central Buddhist belief".

  • Re:Why be happy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @06:36AM (#41840197) Homepage Journal

    Nobody should be overly happy, not when there are so many sad things happening in the world. [...] Of course what I have said will anger many people, but it's truth.

    "Angry" doesn't even begin to describe it. I've seen people I loved so down that they tried to kill themselves. Do you want to know what I think about people who deny others happiness? They should be taken out back and shot. Twice. Right now.

    You are making a dramatic, serious and inexcusible mistake there. You confuse happiness with apathy. You think that people who are happy have no desire of helping others. You think that compassion means feeling horrible because someone else does. You think that people who are happy don't care about others.

    And nothing could be further from the truth. People who are unhappy are the ones who stop caring about others. People who are depressed are more likely to fall into apathy than people who are in joy. People who share the feelings of others too much are less likely to be able to help them and more likely to drag them down even further.

    Now you will probably argue that you said "overly", but that's a strawman. Who is going to decide on what level of happiness is fine and which is too much? You?

    If everyone would be as happy as this dude, the world would be a much better place. Sure, we'd still have hurricanes, but we'd have a lot less war, poverty and inequality.

    Now, please take yourself out back and put you out of your misery. We have way too many people like you on this planet, who begrudge other people's happiness.

  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Thursday November 01, 2012 @07:50AM (#41840547) Homepage

    Zen Buddhism has been around for 1500 years or so. It focuses on the main teachings of the Buddha, which in themselves are not particularly mystical, at least in the sense of Gods and Heavens.

    Both schools of Zen believe very strongly in the boddhisatva, a supernatural being who accepts rebirth for life after life in order to guide all other living beings in the universe towards nirvana. Indeed, imagery and veneration of the boddhisatva Avalokiteshvara is particularly common in Zen practice. Again, your perception that Zen is free of "gods and heavens" is due only to sources in the West that, embarassed of this supernatural features as they address a western readership, downplay them.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @08:23AM (#41840711) Homepage Journal

    On a more serious note, this is the kind of story that will make me take a second look into meditation.

    If I can make a suggestion, you might want to try tai chi. I found sitting meditation tedious and boring, but the meditation in tai chi, which is the same mindfulness meditation found in Buddhism, is a lot more engaging for me.

    I started tai chi when my daughter was 10 (she's 23 now) and she and my wife have told me I'm a much happier, easier-to-be-with person since I've been doing tai chi. I'm also a lot more physically healthy.

    My lineage grandmaster, Cheng Man Ching, when asked what the difference between the Buddhist meditation and the Chinese tai chi mediation, says that it gets to the same place, but if he's meditating alongside a Buddhist monk and they are attacked by bandits, Master Cheng will be able to neutralize the attackers, protecting himself and the Buddhist monk, without interrupting his meditation.

    In other words, it makes you a bad-ass too, which is a plus.

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @09:38AM (#41841365) Homepage Journal
    After a couple of decades of not being happy with anything, you have to start to realize that perhaps the cause of the problem... is you.
  • Re:Why be happy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tehcyder (746570) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @09:55AM (#41841523) Journal
    Once you start thinking that improving your life is the key to happiness, you'll never be happy. Anything can always be improved, whether it's your annual salary or how much your kids love you.

    This is irrespective of the assumption that it is either possible or desirable to be happy in the first place.
  • by Guppy (12314) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @12:12PM (#41843117)

    Remember, Buddhist monks can't have sex with a woman or even touch a woman.

    Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was falling. As they came around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross at an intersection.

    "Come on, girl," said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

    Ekido did not speak until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he could no longer restrain himself. "We monks don't go near females," he told Tanzan, "especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?"

    "I left the girl there," said Tanzan. "Are you still carrying her?"

  • by jkauzlar (596349) on Thursday November 01, 2012 @03:27PM (#41845479) Homepage

    The boredom and tedium you feel during sitting meditation is exactly the problem that sitting meditation is meant to solve-- that is, stopping the mental unrest that makes you constantly want to do things. So you probably *should* be doing sitting meditation. That said, yes it's incredibly frustrating, but supposedly after some time your concentration is developed and it becomes a pleasurable activity. Also I don't know the first thing about Tai Chi (except that you look silly when you do it) so you might be totally correct.

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