“I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we all are seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is towards happiness.” ~Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness
The quote of Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai Lama makes clear the obvious: everybody on earth is seeking happiness. Is there anything more important than happiness to you? What are we aiming for if we want to be successful, to be respected, to have the perfect mate, to get more money? Those “things” in themselves are not important to us. It is what we get from them. It’s the elemental need to feel good – to be happy.
The Dalai Lama talks a lot about happiness and how to achieve it. It’s always a real pleasure to hear his wisdom as well as his sharp mind speaking. In his book "The Art of Happiness he and co-author Howard Cutler are getting to the very heart of the matter.
His Guide to Happiness is of course influenced by Buddhism. But it really is not a religious approach but rather a very practical one: We can achieve happiness by developing our mind and applying it, in other words by personal development.
What Leads to Happiness?
Happiness is a state of mind. In Buddhism there are four factors of fulfillment :
2. Worldly Satisfaction
which lay on the path to happiness. I find it interesting that to the leader of Buddhism the first two “material” sources of happiness play an important role. You could insert synonyms like success and personal growth here. Of course there is also the influence of spirit, but the whole approach is also pretty compatible with psychology and science in general which makes it suitable for any person.
I want to make one point, that is clear to me today: the right to happiness and the ability to achieve it is within everybody. EVERYBODY. And this guide to happiness as described by the Dalai Lama in his book is the way that many other people walk to develop and free themselves towards a happy life.
On our pursuit of happiness we have to …
1. Train Your Mind
Happiness is a mental attitude, a state of mind and not primarily dependent on external conditions.
Now to the Dalai Lama the mind is not only the intellect. According to the Tibetan word “Sem” for mind (meaning more psyche or spirit) it includes intellect, feelings, the heart and the mind. Training an developing the mind starts with learning. And its aim is to set free the inner human potential that everybody has. So one could say it is the process of personal development.
Education and knowledge is a crucial part here. There is an interesting note by the Dalai Lama: knowledge is not primarily there to make us cleverer. The most important use of knowledge is to understand ourselves, to create a mental clearing and make changes from within or as he puts it: to develop a good heart.
2. Develop Calmness of Mind
By training the mind we can develop an inner discipline. That discipline makes a transformation of attitude, our outlook and approach to living possible. This training towards a calmness of mind is what Buddhists call “The Way” and it is the fundamental method of achieving happiness. The inner discipline means confronting our negative states of mind and transforming them into more positive states. The goal is to develop a calm or peaceful and stable state of mind, regardless of outer events.
A calm mind doesn’t mean to be passive; it is very sensitive and aware and it means to be in control and to respond to situations in the best way possible without the buildup of heavy negative emotions. A calm mind is a very developed mind and one that has strength and inner space to choose the right reaction.
3. Build up Positive States
Obviously many negative thoughts and emotions have a destructive effect. Emotions like anger and hatred serve absolutely no purpose and are unnatural. Other people from the personal development area have also made this point, for instance Brian Tracy. If we think about it, do we really need negative emotions to choose a good action? Or is an action influenced by anger not very likely to cause more negativity?
According to the Dalai Lama all negative emotions are based on ignorance, which is the misconception of the true nature of reality. Therefore they have no basis in reality. On the other hand positive states have a solid basis; they are grounded in reality and are life-supporting.
The idea is to free ourselves from negativity. It works by developing and cultivating positive states and emotions and then living and acting from there. Positive states can act like an antidote to negativity. By coming from a state of joy, love or enthusiasm it is almost natural to neutralize anger, hatred or apathy. The goal then is to develop habits out of those positives states to make them our predominant state …
4. Cultivate Good Habits (and Eliminate Bad Ones)
If we really want to be happy we have to identify the factors that lead to happiness and then cultivate them into habits. On the other side we have to identify what leads to the opposite of happiness: suffering. Then we have to get rid of those destructive states and habits and replace them by the positive ones.
For instance the habit of overeating fast-food can be replaced by the habit of eating healthy food. The habit of chaotic organization can be replaced by weekly planning. The habit of watching TV can be replaced by exercising and so on. This is inner discipline at work. I think it is a source of real happiness and of inner satisfaction. The motivation to create good habits stays if we just see and experience the benefits and freedom they are giving us. If we keep bad habits then we consciously of unconsciously are ok with being unhappy.
5. Welcome Change
Life flows like a river. It is impermanent, all things are impermanent – it’s the nature of the world. Therefore life is changing continuously. So when we resist this change by clinging to something that is changing, we become attached. We can’t be happy because we resist the change, what is futile. Of course we can direct change up to a certain degree, but we can’t prevent it. The key is to get into the river of life and direct the course of positive change. Then the fear of change also vanishes.
To change to a happier state, learning is only the first step. Necessary follow-ups are conviction, determination, action and effort. A strong determination to change then enables action. The final effort is also critical. To start we need a strong willingness or wish to start. And we need to develop enthusiasm and a sense of urgency. Tools to get this are goal-setting, visualization and in general our imagination.
To overcome apathy and to generate enthusiasm it is very helpful to start on the physical level. In that way we can gain more energy first.
6. Develop a Long-Term Perspective
To develop good habits and to build up positive states we need a certain inner self-discipline. If we are focused on short-term pleasures this is very difficult. If we evaluate the effects of short-term and long-term oriented behavior it becomes clear what is more helpful on the long run. So we need a wider perspective. This long-term perspective helps to build up happiness.
7. Know the Meaning of Suffering
Suffering is the opposite of happiness. We have to identify the causes (not only the symptoms) that lead to suffering and then eliminate them. If we suffer it’s not very pleasant of course, but nevertheless it might be a very valuable lesson. We seem to learn the most from our so-called failures. If life shows us that something is wrong – by suffering – we have that feedback which we need to trace back to its causes and transform those. There is no reason to give in, it is just valuable feedback that we needed to change.
8. Develop Deep Relationships
It’s clear that the quality of our relationships is very connected with our level of happiness. Deep relationships are based on openess, truth and respect. That allows meaningful communication between two human beings, not of two humans playing roles. And if the only basis of a relationship is attraction, the relationship is not based on respect and cannot hold for long. Often what is spoken of as love is not true love, it is confused with attraction, which also includes attachment. Nothing is wrong with attraction, it’s a great feeling of course. But true love is non-conditional.
So to build a truly satisfying relationship it’s best to get to know another persons deeper nature and relate to her/him on that level, instead of on superficial characteristics.
9. Develop a Sense of Compassion
In the western world the word compassion comes with a flavor of weakness. But what about a compassion that comes from a very strong and able mind, wouldn’t that be a wonderful ability to possess? Genuine compassion, as the Dalai Lama speaks about, originates from the realization that every human being is ultimately the same as every other human being.
Genuine compassion is a state of mind which is non-violent, non-harming and non-aggressive. This attitude is based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility and respect for the other. It creates a positive, friendly and secure atmosphere. To develop compassion we can take the wish to be free of suffering for ourselves and then cultivate it to include and embrace others.
The value and benefit of compassion is obvious: if we understand, accept and even support that every human being has the wish to be happy, just like myself, then it is the basis of peace and therefore for happiness.
10. Release Your Buddha Nature
There are two levels of spirituality. The first are religious beliefs that are very different on the surface. The purpose of religion is to benefit people. The second level of spirituality is the direct experience of it, the practice of religion not only on an intellectual level, but on a deeper feeling. This second level can be experienced even without any religious beliefs. It is of course available for everyone. The Dalai Lama considers this second level to be more important, because these spiritual values connect everybody and the experience and living of it is more important than just understanding it mentally.
The nature of our mind is very pure. It has the qualities of clarity and knowing. Buddhists call the Buddha Nature “the mind of clear light” (Enlightenment) where no negative thoughts or emotions arise. It shines through if we are quieting all abstract concepts and thoughts and become aware of the underlying stillness of the mind directly.
Ultimately all causes of suffering find their root in ignorance. To overcome negativity towards happiness we can apply the antidote to ignorance: the wisdom factor. It is the true nature of reality. “You can eliminate the harmful effects by cutting off the specific branches or leaves, or you can eliminate the entire plant by uprooting it” ~Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness.