Meditation does not make me happy. Maybe it’s because I’m not very good at it, though. Off and on throughout the last decade, I’ve dedicated myself to practicing daily mindfulness (for example) of the Tich Nhat Han variety, and usually by the end of my mindfulness for the day, I’m even less peaceful than when I started–I’m not good at turning off my mind and so I spend this entire period of time going over all the things I have to do.
Yet so many people insist that practicing contemplation, mindfulness, meditation–whatever your preferred variety–has totally changed their life. This week, New York Magazine insists this to its readers, at least through the life and advice of “happiness guru” Matthieu Ricard. Their article, “The Happiness Workout” about Ricard and his new book, “Why Meditate.” is about how Ricard gave up a cushy life to become a Buddhist monk, and, presumably, to be a happier person, and who is now very concerned with everyone else being happy, too. His first book, “Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill,” is a how-to guide to living the dream. Ricard’s answer to his book’s question “Why meditate?” is perhaps obvious–it will help make you happy. At the very least, Ricard claims he no longer gets irritated because of this particular spiritual practice:
“I don’t feel irritation,” he responds haltingly, after a beat. “Irritation has to do with a self-centered attitude: ‘This bugs me! I can’t stand that!’ It’s not like indignation, which is a noble form of anger. It says, ‘This is not acceptable that there is a massacre, that there is an injustice.’ It comes from compassion that there is something here that has caused a lot of suffering and should be remedied. But irritation is basically when you’re not in control of your mind.””
That’s a pretty ringing endorsement for trying out meditation, or in my case, trying it again. And then, my shopping therapy never worked that well anyway. Recently, studies have confirmed that shopping, or at least simply “acquiring things” certainly do not make us happy, so maybe Ricard minimalist approach to happiness is the right idea.