Matthieu Ricard has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics, but instead of pursuing a typical scientific career after school he moved to the Himalayas and became a Buddhist monk. He is currently the Dalai Lama’s French translator. He also participates in research on how meditation affects the brain.

From The Independent | The happiest man in the world?:

MRI scans showed that [Ricard] and other long-term meditators – who had completed more than 10,000 hours each – experienced a huge level of “positive emotions” in the left pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is associated with happiness. The right-hand side, which handles negative thoughts, is suppressed.

Further studies have shown that even novices who have done only a little meditation have increased levels of happiness. But Mr Ricard’s abilities were head and shoulders above the others involved in the trials.

In this talk Ricard explains that happiness is a skill to be learned. In the second half of the talk he shows the results of some of the studies that back that claim up.

[googlevideo]http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1424079446171087119[/googlevideo]
59 minutes. Link to Video

I haven’t read it yet, but his new book is about how to learn the skill of happiness:

Matthieu Ricard | Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill

He donates his proceeds from his books to Tibetan hospitals and schools.