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The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.

March 21, 2010

The Art of Happiness

The Art of Happiness

Not many of us would disagree with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s belief that the “purpose of our lives is to seek happiness.” But in this world of complexity, anxiety, insecurity, conflict, intolerance, anger, and hatred we might be inclined on the one hand to ignore this extraordinary book on the grounds that it is too simplistic or idealistic, or, on the other hand, to agree too readily to its premises without actually practicing the difficult inner and outer work that the Dalai Lama believes is necessary for real happiness.

The Art of Happiness is based on conversations between the Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard Cutler, a Diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Cutler does a superb job of framing the Dalai Lama’s teachings, stories, and meditations in a way that makes them come alive not just for Buddhists, but for anyone seeking real understanding.

This is a book of profound common sense. Exploring topics such as intimacy, compassion, suffering, anger, kindness, hatred, and change, the Dalai Lama makes clear that real happiness depends on transforming our deepest attitudes, the very way we look at and deal with ourselves and others. It requires “new conditioning.” For the Dalai Lama the first steps toward this new conditioning are based not on mystical or transcendental practices but rather on education, learning, determination, enthusiasm, and effort.

For the Dalai Lama, it is our negative emotions, especially our anger and hatred, that undermine our physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being and promote conflict and destruction in the world. The Dalai Lama makes clear that “’The only factor that can give you refuge or protection from the destructive effects of anger and hatred is your practice of tolerance and patience.’”

Though the practice of patience and tolerance may seem impossible with regard to the big things in our lives, the Dalai Lama suggests that we can start with the small things. “By sacrificing small things, by putting up with small problems or hardships, you will be able to forgo experiences or sufferings that can be much more enormous in the future.”

The Dalai Lama throws new light on many of our assumptions. In discussing “genuine humility” and its relationship to patience, for example, he points out that it “involves having the capacity to take a confrontational stance, having the capacity to retaliate if you wish, yet deliberately deciding not to do so.”

For the Dalai Lama, the work of patience and tolerance is a work of will that is based on inner strength, compassion, and presence of mind, not on meekness and passivity. It is this work, done with as much awareness as we can muster, that is especially needed in today’s world.

See also, my essay Some Thoughts on Happiness and Suffering

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2010 11:20 am

    That which seeks happiness supplants happiness.

  2. March 22, 2010 5:08 am

    The desire for Happiness or sadness are functions of false belief systems. Yes, an unbelievable number of people hold sadness as their belief foundations. HH The Dali Lama knows this, but is trying wisely to attract and wake us up to their own internal spiritual prisons and their potential for self realization or finding out who they really are at their cores. This is not an easy path for anyone. In fact this path to non-judgmental perception that is the essence of enlightenment is the most difficult choice anyone can undertake.
    The beginning is to be humble with unconditional love to oneself and ALL that is. It begins by asking ourselves the question, “what I am mostly afraid of?” The next step is to pursue and cultivate an awareness of this fear(S) and give this fear all your acceptance and unconditional love. If this seems odd, this what Jesus did for the Devil in his 3 days after his death. Jesus gave the Devil unconditional love. This is the best and wisest response to false belief systems. This is what wise aware mothers do for their upset children.

  3. April 4, 2010 7:45 am

    Thanks for this post. I haven’t read the book, but looks like it’s now on my list of “must reads.” I believe that both happiness and bliss are natural states for us a spirits in bodies. We come into our bodies fully awake or aware and through a process of Daily Spiritual Tools, which is part of “Awakening,” we become closer to our higher self. I just wrote a post called “Being in the Body” and would love your feedback. Namaste, Sherry

  4. April 12, 2010 6:43 am

    The Dalai Lama gave so much to the people on Earth. His smile, happiness, belief and optimisim will always impress me deeply, although he seems to loose his faith in the future of his people in Tibet. It is so sad, that he won´t come home to Tibet soon. I think, he is one of very view spirituals, that really still develop new thoughts. Especially when comparing to many Western churches (and also compared to what many people make out of Buddhism, also in many countires in Asia)

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