A little smile plays at the edges of his mouth, his eyes look into the middle distance, serene, detached....Here's his book: Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill.
We confuse happiness with pleasurable experiences, with sensations, elation, the new car, the winning goal, he says. But the good news is that happiness can be learned. "You just need a little change in your mind. Change your mind, change your brain, change your life. Anyone can be the happiest person in the world. It just takes a little wisdom, a little perseverance and looking for happiness in the right place."
Turn the clock back 40 years and 20-year-old Ricard was tipped as one of the most promising biologists of his generation, beginning a PhD under Nobel prizewinner Francis Jacob at the Institut Pasteur. His mother, Yahne Le Toumelin, was an artist, a friend of André Breton and Leonora Carrington, his father Jean-François Revel a leading philosopher. When he was 16, he had lunch with Stravinsky. With a career, an apartment, friends, skiing holidays, was he happy?He became a Buddhist monk:
"Not especially. I didn't undergo intense heart-breaking suffering other than the usual of teenagers, disappointments, relationships. But I was a regular Parisian teenager who didn't know what to do or where to go in life. I knew what I didn't want - I didn't want a boring life - but I didn't know what I wanted at all."
He exchanged the life of a scientist in Paris for that of a hermit in the mountains, eating a simple diet of vegetables, spending months at a time in solitary contemplation....He realized what he wanted was: more free time.
"I remember a year ago I was sitting in my hermitage, I thought: 'OK, if I could make three wishes, what would I have?' Then I started laughing because what would I want? A big stereo - what would I do with it? A big car? I have minimal things, the tools I need for writing, and photography (he has published five books of photographs) but there's nothing I really need or want. I have two pairs of shoes. I only use one. If you know how to be content, it's like holding a treasure in the palm of your hand."
"Free time" -- an interesting concept. You always do something with your time. You would have more free time if you saw yourself as free when you are doing whatever it is that you do. The question is, how did you get into the predicament of doing so many things that when you do them you do not feel free?