The editors describe this book as “a true treatise on happiness” and it is a very apt name. Matthieu Ricard, once described as “happiest man on earth” approaches the subject by looking for definitions from the West. Finding the word hackneyed and defined in contradictory ways introduces us to the term sukkha from traditional Buddhist texts.
The state of sukkha does not depend on external conditions. It is born in an unbreakable way within us when we approach the true nature of things.
The task of seeking happiness through external things is doomed to fail, just as seeking it for oneself without concern for others. We must learn to look within ourselves but to look a little less at ourselves, to become familiar with a vision at once more meditative and more altruistic of the world.
In the chapter The Alchemy of Suffering he confronts dukka, the opposite of happiness. Suffering is the first Noble Truth of Buddhism, not because it is something desirable but something to be recognized and used to progress spiritually.
There is also a chapter based on his own experience of scientific research of the effects of meditation and mental training on the brain.
Can happiness be cultivated? How to distinguish between, pleasure, joy and happiness? Is happiness possible? Matthieu Ricard considers these themes and many others with clarity, varied references, occasional anecdotes and practical methods. A solid book, firmly grounded in the Buddhist tradition, but an enjoyable and relevant read for the Western mind.