A Handbook for Living
Life gets busy. Has The Art of Happiness been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, learn some of the key ideas now.
Disclaimer: This is an unofficial summary and analysis.
The Dalai Lama’s Perspective
The Dalai Lama is the 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. He describes himself as a Buddhist monk and is currently the spiritual leader of Tibet. He was previously named Lhamo Dhondup and was born to a farming family in a tiny area in northeastern Tibet.
The Art of Happiness is a guide to Eastern spiritual traditions for a Western audience. This book covers all facets of the human experience, including how to solve everyday problems so that you can live a happy life. Plus, how you can remain peaceful during highly stressful and challenging times. The Art of Happiness is a collaboration with a psychiatrist, Dr. Howard C. Cutler. It utilizes Tibetan Buddhist principles to help busy Western individuals gain greater balance and spiritual freedom in their lives.
The Purpose of Your Life Is to Seek Happiness
“So let us reflect on what is truly of value in life, what gives meaning to our lives, and set our priorities on the basis of that. The purpose of our life needs to be positive. We weren’t born with the purpose of causing trouble, harming others. For our life to be of value, I think we must develop basic good human qualities-warmth, kindness, compassion. Then our life becomes meaningful and more peaceful-happier.”– The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama explains we all have the same purpose in life. Your purpose is to seek happiness, irrespective of your religious, cultural, or social background. There are differences, though, in individual cultures’ beliefs that happiness is attainable. In the West, there is a general belief that happiness cannot be developed and sustained by training the mind. Buddhism challenges this view and suggests happiness is an attainable goal.
Success will not bring you sustainable happiness, nor will failure bring you sustained depression. Sooner or later, we all return to our baseline happiness. The Dalai Lama explains that psychologists call this effect hedonic adaptation. It does not matter what is happening in your external events as you will eventually return to your baseline. Therefore, the benefit of Buddhism is that it shows you how to set this baseline to a higher level of happiness.
Do Not Place Joy on the Suffering of Others
It can be easy to fall into the trap of wanting the worst for our enemies. However, the unhappiness of your enemies will not help you sustain long-term happiness. Buddhists spend a considerable amount of their time paying attention to individuals they don’t necessarily like. They spend this time fighting these feelings, as hatred is a stumbling block to happiness. Therefore, the Dalai Lama recommends practicing patience and tolerance when you encounter individuals you don’t like. Plus, you should be grateful for the moments you have with enemies. These moments are when you can effectively practice patience.
Universal Compassion Cultivates Happiness
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”– Dalai Lama
Compassion is a common feature in this book and the Dalai Lama’s broader teachings. Compassion is a foundation of Buddhist principles, and the Dalai Lama believes we have to be universally compassionate to be truly happy.
The Dalai Lama defines compassion as a state of mind that is non-aggressive. It is based on a wish to see all other people free from suffering. This feeling should not be attached to how you feel about particular individuals or circumstances. Instead, universal compassion means compassion for all living creatures in all situations.
The importance of compassion is that one individual being compassionate leads to more compassion in others. Living a life free of anger and grudges is automatically a happier life. Your thoughts will be more positive.
The Dalai Lama suggests harnessing your empathy towards others by attempting to understand others’ backgrounds better. Once you have mastered this, you can identify and focus on the things you have in common. For example, if a waiter misses one of the items off your order, you can try to understand why this might be the case. The waiter, like you, might be working to provide money for their family. However, the stress and exhaustion from working hard might have momentarily interfered and pushed them to make a mistake.
We Must Make Connections Other Than Western Love
“I think that if one is seeking to build a truly satisfying relationship, the best way of bringing this about is to get to know the deeper nature of the person and relate to her or him on that level, instead of merely on the basis of superficial characteristics.”– Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama believes that intimate relationships are essential for our physical and mental wellbeing. However, this does not mean that the Western view of relationships is ideal. The Dalai Lama sees the West’s over-emphasis on romantic relationships as problematic. This approach makes those who struggle to find a romantic partner or do not wish to have a problematic partner feel marginalized. Plus, romantic relationships often do not last as they have the wrong principles. They are built on societal ideas of relationships rather than respect and appreciation for the other person.
The Dalai Lama claims he has multiple intimate relationships with people close to him, including tutors and cooks. He tries to connect to as many people as possible rather than viewing romantic relationships as the ultimate relationship. He believes that his life has become far more fulfilled by connecting at a deep level with a wide range of people.
Religion Is Not Needed for Spirituality
“So let us reflect on what is truly of value in life, what gives meaning to our lives, and set our priorities on the basis of that. The purpose of our life needs to be positive. We weren’t born with the purpose of causing trouble, harming others. For our life to be of value, I think we must develop basic good human qualities-warmth, kindness, compassion. Then our life becomes meaningful and more peaceful-happier.”– Dalai Lama
Spirituality Is Not a Religion
One of the Dalai Lama’s most important beliefs is that spirituality is an integral part of living a happy life. However, the Dalai Lama does not state that spirituality must come from any particular religion. He states that spirituality does not have to be associated with religion at all.
The Dalai Lama labels this non-religious spirituality as basic spirituality. Basic spirituality includes human qualities like goodness and compassion. These qualities are valuable for all humans and will help all societies live happier and more peaceful lives.
The Dalai Lama spends four hours each day meditating. However, basic spirituality is not tied to religious rituals. Instead, basic spirituality can be practiced daily and at all times. We can show compassion in all actions by thinking of others’ best interests. For example, consider a scenario where another driver has cut you off. Without universal compassion, you might react with anger and hate. This response will only make you feel less happy and peaceful, plus it will have a negative impact on the other driver. Instead, try to adopt basic spirituality by staying calm and accepting that the person might have made a mistake and not seen you. Try to think of times when you made driving mistakes and consider how you would have liked the other drivers to respond. Adopting this approach will help you obtain the benefits of spirituality but without religion.
Suffering Is Natural, but We Amplify It
Suffering is part of life. It is natural and something you cannot always avoid. Interestingly, Eastern cultures are more accepting of suffering than Westerners. Westerners tend to perceive themselves as victims when they suffer. In contrast, Easterners accept that suffering will be part of life as long as they are alive.
Trying to avoid suffering is only a temporary solution. We will all eventually suffer, even if we take all the appropriate steps to prevent suffering. The most important thing is our mental attitude when we encounter suffering. Instead of fearing suffering and viewing it as unfair, it is better just to accept it.
As well as not accepting suffering, we have a tendency to magnify the degree of suffering we experience. For example, Westerners tend to place too much importance on possessions. Instead, we must accept that change is constant and resisting change will only lead to suffering when it does occur. Similarly, Westerners tend to cling to negative events. Overthinking previous adverse events will only resurface the suffering you had the first time.
Therefore, the Dalai Lama suggests we must accept that suffering and change are both natural. The less we worry when both arrive, the less severe the suffering. Plus, we will encounter less anguish as we won’t be stopping suffering/change.
Positive Attitudes, Feelings, and Habits Can Be Encouraged by Sustained Effort
The Dalai Lama believes our states of mind impact our emotional state. For example, anger and fear prevent us from being truly happy. On the other hand, love, compassion, patience, and generosity can be antidotes to these negative states of mind. These are the positive states of mind we need to be truly happy.
This process of replacing negative states of mind with positive ones will take time. The Dalai Lama even admits it took him 40 years to learn to practice and appreciate Buddhist principles. Learning Buddhist principles is a gradual process of instilling good habits. Through sustained effort of engaging with positive states of mind, a genuine change will occur.
Try to Find the Good in Every Situation
Most situations will have positives and negatives. Generally, we tend to focus on the negatives. Use tough times as positive opportunities to practice virtues like patience and compassion. This is another way to deal with the inevitable suffering that we will experience. These times of suffering can be made positive when we consider them as opportunities to practice our basic spirituality.
The Dalai Lama describes those who can see the positive in traditionally negative situations as having a supple mind. Anybody can develop this supple mind by consistently aiming to identify the positives in unpleasant situations.
The Dalai Lama recommends that readers start practicing seeing the good in adverse events as soon as possible. It will not be possible immediately, but with time anybody can learn to have this mindset.
Replace Anger and Hatred With Patience and Tolerance
The Dalai Lama claims that anger and hatred are humans’ most significant obstacles to happiness. Both of these emotions destroy our peace of mind. Plus, they hugely interfere with our decision-making. The poor decisions that follow only make us more angry and hateful.
We cannot overcome these emotions by suppressing them. However, expressing them also has the potential to increase these emotions. Therefore, the correct response is to adopt patience and tolerance rather than anger. If you can cultivate this mindset through meditation, then soon, anger will not be the natural response. Additionally, try to harness inner contentment. Inner contentment should reduce the stress you experience, which will minimize your feelings of anger.
Giving yourself time away from the situation to think logically will help you replace these negative feelings with patience and tolerance.
Combat Your Anxieties by Analyzing Your Thoughts and Motives
“The more honest you are, the more open, the less fear you will have, because there’s no anxiety about being exposed or revealed to others.”– Dalai Lama
Anxieties and worries are natural responses. However, continually having these responses is unhealthy. The Dalai Lama recommends we challenge the thoughts associated with our anxieties. Then, replace these thoughts with positive ones.
The Art of Happiness suggests that excessive anxiety is almost always associated with low self-confidence. One way to tackle this is by being honest with yourself and others about your capabilities and limitations. Your anxieties about failing will be far less of an issue if you are willing to accept that you have limitations that could lead to failures.
Sometimes low self-esteem can reach the extreme of self-hatred. A person may feel completely unworthy and even contemplate suicide. The antidote to such an extreme mental state is to remind yourself of the marvelous intellect and potential for development within every human being. Tibetans contemplate this routinely in their daily meditations, which is perhaps why self-hatred is a virtually unknown concept in their society.
We rate this book 4.4/5.
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