TED Talks: ‘The Habits of Happiness’

UPDATED: April 11, 2020
PUBLISHED: December 7, 2016

Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard believes that well-being can be trained into the mind, that finding a sense of fulfilment strong enough to call happiness is absolutely possible. He believes peace and serenity can become a habit just like anything else—but only if people are willing to reprogram their thoughts.

In this TED Talk, Ricard reveals a few things that get in the way of happiness and makes a strong case for meditation and mind training.

Related: TED Talks: ‘All It Takes Is 10 Mindful Minutes’

The desire to be happy, whether people realize it or not, is what inspires hopes and dreams, says Ricard. But a lot of people don’t know what true happiness is, and so they never find it. Rather than being fully satisfied, happiness often gets replaced with pleasure, and the experience is so limiting that it leaves people searching for more.

Part of the mistake is the ambiguity surrounding the word happiness, Ricard says, and so it’s better—and more rewarding—to get acquainted with well-being instead.

“I think the best definition, according to the Buddhist view, is that well-being is not just a mere pleasurable sensation,” Ricard says. “It is a deep sense of serenity and fulfillment. A state that actually pervades and underlies all emotional states, and all the joys and sorrows that can come one’s way.”

Related: 5 Happiness Habits of Successful People

Even though outside influences can enhance well-being, Richard says it’s much more important to look inward. It isn’t enough to simply collect material possessions, because having everything puts people in a position to miss something—and the sense of longing shatters the idea of real happiness. To find a real sense of well-being, Richard says to start with the mind.

“Mind training is based on the idea that two opposite mental factors cannot happen at the same time,” he says. “You could go from love to hate. But you cannot, at the same time, toward the same object, the same person, want to harm and want to do good. You cannot, in the same gesture, shake hands and give a blow. So, there are natural antidotes to emotions that are destructive to our inner well-being.”

Ricard says this takes time to master—combating destructive emotions with their positive counterparts—but it’s the only way to transform the mind. It’s the practice of getting familiar with a new way of thinking and perceiving that allows people to change not only their mind state, but their lives.

“Mind training matters…. This is not a supplementary vitamin for the soul,” he says. “This is something that”s going to determine the quality of every instant of our lives. We are ready to spend 15 years achieving education. We love to do jogging, fitness. We do all kinds of things to remain beautiful. Yet we spend surprisingly little time taking care of what matters most—the way our mind functions—which, again, is the ultimate thing that determines the quality of our experience.”

Related: Why Mindfulness Is the Ultimate Habit for Success

TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics—from science to business to global issues—in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world. See more at TED.com.