The Simple Truths of Happiness from the Dalai Lama

There are few people in the world as qualified that people turn to for advice and insight on happiness than the Dalai Lama. As the living spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama has seen and lived through the dislocation of his country and people. Despite the difficult events he has lived through, most people would agree that it is impossible to not feel happier after being in his presence. He will tell you that happiness is the purpose of life and that "the very motion of our life is towards happiness." In this book, The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama expounds on day-to-day anxiety, insecurity, anger, discouragement and other difficulties common to all human beings. In a series of conversations with Dr. Howard Cutler in Arizona and India as well as excerpts from a speaking engagement in Phoenix, the Dalai Lama provides interesting insights into the problems that we all face.

I read this book a long time ago and on top of simply recommending it, I thought I would pick and expand a few quotes from the text that spoke to me. Each of these ideas is resoundingly simple yet speaks volumes to attaining happiness. 

  1. "I believe that happiness can be achieved through training the mind.": I think this quote is incredibly optimistic and hopeful. Many of us operate under the assumption that our happiness is dictated by outside circumstances; when I get the raise I'll be happy or when I get accepted into this top-ranked university I'll be happy. The beautiful thing about this quote is that if you believe it, you have complete control over your own level of happiness. It may not be particularly easy to develop that mental discipline or control, but it's attainable through practice and training. Removing the external control of our happiness and placing it within something we can control, our own mind, is absolutely huge to achieving lasting happiness.

  2. "Unhappiness...comes to each of us because we think ourselves at the center of the world, because we have the miserable conviction that we alone suffer to the point of unbearable intensity.": It is easy to shut the world out of our thoughts when we are unhappy. Our focus turns inward until we can only see our own sorrows and situation; our perspective narrows. If we can train ourselves to prevent this narrowing at times of difficulty our unhappiness will lose its acuteness. Most importantly, I think this quote speaks to the power of letting other people help us in times of sorrow and difficulty.

  3. "It's the very struggle of life that makes us who we are. And it is our enemies that test us, provide us with the resistance necessary for growth.": If we lived in a world without difficulty, without enemies, nobody would grow. You can't grow your muscles without resistance-- that's why hockey players will skate with weights on their feet during practice. That's why you read difficult books and that's why difficult situations provide the greatest opportunity for growth. I like to interpret the "enemies" in the above quote in very broad terms. I don't really think I have any enemies in the true sense of the word but I do have plenty of goals, events, and situations that can provide the same resistance as enemies. They are enemies of my own choosing, but they still spur me toward growth. Cherish your enemies, your difficult tasks, and anything that pushes you out of your comfort zone.

The book continues to expound on these, and many other, ideas. As I read it, I think what struck me the most was that even though the Dalai Lama is a spiritual/religious leader, his advice on attaining happiness is rational and based on solid observation. As somebody who doesn't put much stock in any kind of organized religion, I wasn't sure if the Dalai Lama would have much to say that would resonate with me. However, there is nothing religious about training our minds to respond to stimuli in a positive manner, broadening our focus to other people in times of unhappiness and embracing the difficult aspects of life while using them as a basis for growth.