After so long under lockdown, what better lunch companion than the “happiest man in the world”? Matthieu Ricard pops up on my iPhone screen, instantly recognisable by his warm smile and dark red and orange monastic robes.

The 74-year-old biologist-turned-Buddhist, the French interpreter to the Dalai Lama, gained the epithet — which, by the way, he thinks absurd — in the 2000s, after taking part in a 12-year study on the long-term effects of meditation. Through decades of training, he was found to have significantly altered the structure of his brain. The results sent camera crews rushing to the Himalayas to discover his secret (spoiler alert: there isn’t one — it’s a lifetime of hard work). And it later led the media to christen him “the world’s happiest man”.

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