The Dalai Lama’s Guide to Happiness

Dalai Lama

“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 :

1. Wealth
2. Worldly Satisfaction
3. Spirituality
4. Enlightenment

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.

About the Author

Myrko Thum

Myrko Thum is author and creator of THE SYSTEM, the holistic personal development training course based on the "Top-Down System". You can get a FREE 4 Video Intro-Course of THE SYSTEM here.

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19 Comments

  • Evelyn Lim

    September 27, 2008

    I totally agree that there is a difference between religion and spirituality. Far too many people are accepting a religion first rather than explore spirituality and the direct experience of it. Having a religion can boxed ourselves in; our mind becomes confined by the doctrines that it espouses. It does not encourage a deeper level of investigation.

    Evelyn Lim´s last blog post: Building The Businesses Of Our Dreams

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  • Myrko

    September 27, 2008

    Evelyn, I can remember Eckhart Tolle saying that spirituality lies at the heart of every religion, if you look very closely you can find it. But on the survace it is overshadowed by doctrines and all the different belief-systems. I have the feeling that experiencing spirituality is not really at the center of everyday religious pratice. But then again, how could it?

    On the other hand, it is fascinating how similar the buddhist way is to the way of personal growth, isn’t it?!

    ReplyReply
  • Psiplex

    September 27, 2008

    Attachments leads to suffering and a missidentification with the true self, the timeless awareness. The source of the physical world is not the physical world. The world you think you see is an illusion that is in play. See a short clip at: http://www.vimeo.com/1807759

    One Love

    Psiplex´s last blog post: Of First Cause and Origination

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  • Davina

    September 27, 2008

    Absolutely spectacular! Dugg. Train your mind, cultivate good habits and develop compassion… all great advice. Thanks!

    Davina´s last blog post: Free Spirit My Ass!

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  • Brian

    September 27, 2008

    I really found this post to be great. So many things rang true when I read them. I especially liked these three points…

    1. A calm mind is a very developed mind and one that has strength and inner space to choose the right reaction.

    2. The key is to get into the river of life and direct the course of positive change. Then the fear of change also vanishes.

    3. …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.

    They are things that I need to remember to help me push on through troubled times. I need to have a calm mind and not allow my buttons to be pushed. Then it should be easier for me to get into the river of change and direct the course instead of trying to hold the river back. If I let it flow with my gentle direction, I may get back to a place where my wife and I can reconnect on that deeper level. We will at the very least not have the tension that seems to follow us. I need to carry these thoughts in my heart and need to keep trying to achieve them in order to be able to find happiness.

    Thanks Myrko…

    Brian

    Brian´s last blog post: Down by the river…

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  • Myrko

    September 27, 2008

    Hey Brian :) It took me 3 days to assemble this post, as I extracted the essence out of the Dalai Lama’s teachings about happiness, especially from “The Art of Happiness”. They may not be the easiest ones, for instance the points about discipline and suffering, but they are what the Dalai Lama is saying that builds up to happiness. But then again, nobody said that the path to happiness is easy, otherwise everybody would be totally happy. It is not filled with much tools or specific actions. In my opinion it is more like a general framework for personal growth.

    If I look at the intro statement “What leads to happiness?” I can see that there is the road to success and fulfilling desires (1. Wealth, 2. Wordly Satisfcation) and then there is spirituality (3. Spirituality, 4. Enlightenment). It is funny but I just realize that the blog is about exactly these two topics.

    ReplyReply
  • Evita

    September 28, 2008

    This post is fantastic. It is one of those articles that will be so valuable to people for months and years to come.

    The 3 days you worked on it was well worth it as you beautifully put together the beauty of life and how great it truly can be.
    There is no surprise that most of us are surrounded by people who think life is a struggle or to prove something or the likes. When in fact it is not to suffer and struggle but to find and create joy.

    The recommendations too that you give are so richly applicable – well done!

    Evita´s last blog post: The Universe Is Your Playground

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  • Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D.

    September 29, 2008

    This post touches at the heart of all human yearnings. We certainly all want happiness, but get distracted by all the doctrines that seek to divide us. At bottom all religions are different routes(though some are very circuitous) to the same goal: happiness.

    The most critical roadblock to our happiness is flawed thinking, about wealth, possessions, relationships, and so many more of our human experiences. That’s why training the mind is first, foremost and continuing to bring about personal development.

    Thanks for sharing the Art of Happiness with us. Lifelong learning fosters lifelong happiness.

    Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D.´s last blog post: The Simplest Kindness

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  • Ian Paul Marshall

    January 16, 2010

    Great post!

    I just picked up the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness and this post has got my fired up to crack it open and dive right in. (Maybe after dinner first..insert stomach growl here)

    I think 7. Know the Meaning of Suffering is pretty interesting.

    if we just shift our perspective and see our suffering as a blessing not a curse that our world is transformed.

    ReplyReply
  • used tires

    May 18, 2011

    My aunt has been such a huge follower of Dalai Lama, and the more I read about him, the more I can see why she is, hes just so full of wisdom!

    -Jean

    ReplyReply
  • PE Teacher Course

    October 10, 2011

    They may not be the easiest ones, for instance the points about discipline and suffering, but they are what the Dalai Lama is saying that builds up to happiness. But then again, nobody said that the path to happiness is easy, otherwise everybody would be totally happy. It is not filled with much tools or specific actions. In my opinion it is more like a general framework for personal growth.

    ReplyReply
  • rinky

    October 22, 2011

    The whole words said is right.peace comes from inside but can be achieved with help of outside world.

    ReplyReply
  • Mat Good

    January 11, 2013

    Great article. I am happy to announce that this article has been chosen as one of the top 25 happiness articles every person should read. Great job:) Here is the full list of top happiness articles.

    ReplyReply
  • Myrko Thum

    January 11, 2013

    Great Mat, thanks for that!

    ReplyReply

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