Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama

The Art of Happiness by the 14th Dalai Lama

While The Art of Happiness was originally published over two decades ago, it can provide perspectives to deal with the various emotional challenges we are faced with due to the global pandemic.
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“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.” – The 14th Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness.

These were the words of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama when he addressed a large audience in Arizona, USA, several years ago. They carry the same importance and value even today when the world is stricken with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Art of Happiness, a book by the Dalai Lama and psychiatrist Howard Cutler, is all the more relevant in the current scenario, as it raises questions about the purpose of life and what makes it meaningful.

While we all may say that happiness is the goal of life, the question that still puzzles many is: what constitutes happiness and how do we achieve it? In his book, the world-renowned spiritual leader suggests that we can achieve a happier life if, “we utilise our favourable circumstances, such as our good health or wealth, in positive ways, in helping others.” The right mental attitude, he says, is crucial if we want to achieve long-lasting happiness.

At a time when the pandemic has caused uncertainty and fear in our minds, we all can take a lesson or two from this book and the philosophy that it postulates. Instead of focussing only on our happiness, we can try to expand our horizons and help others depending on our abilities.

One of the mainstays of the book is its message on suffering. Highlighting the tenets of Buddhist philosophy on suffering, its origins and causes, the Dalai Lama elucidates upon how we can investigate it. “One must begin that process by appreciating the impermanent, transient nature of our existence. All things, events, and phenomena are dynamic, changing every moment, nothing remains static,” he writes. When we contemplate on the nature of impermanence, we might get the strength to tell ourselves that despite the numerous hardships that befell humanity due to the pandemic, this too shall not last forever.

The Dalai Lama was in his 20s when he was forced to flee his home of Tibet in 1959 at the outset of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. Yet, despite such a tragedy, says His Holiness in the book, one can use them as experiences that can help “develop a calmness of mind”. He says that oftentimes our outlook becomes “narrow” when difficulties arise. “All of our attention may be focussed on worrying about the problem, and we may have a sense that we’re the only one that is going through such difficulties,” he adds.

When we apply this wisdom to our present scenario, we may realise that we are not the only ones who are suffering due to the pandemic. This truth can help us broaden our perspective and our problems may seem less overwhelming.

In subsequent chapters, His Holiness expounds on the awareness of our own pain and suffering, which, he says, helps us develop empathy to relate to other people’s emotions. “This enhances your capacity for compassion towards others. So as an aid in helping us connect with others, it can be seen as having value,” he writes.

His Holiness also stresses the importance of having realistic expectations, especially in the face of adversity, to forge ahead in life. “Recognise the difficulties inherent in your path, and the fact that it may take time and a consistent effort. It’s important to make a clear distinction in your mind between your ideals and the standards by which you judge your progress,” he writes.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, people have often fallen prey to the vicious influence of anger. Psychologists believe that such acts of anger may arise due to stress, which has engulfed people in the wake of the pandemic. How can we protect ourselves and others from these destructive emotions? In the book, His Holiness says that tolerance and patience are the antidotes of anger and if we apply them to our life, we can reap tremendous benefits. When we practice tolerance, we become more mindful in life and it would be rather difficult for any external situation to destabilise our inner peace.

Overall, The Art of Happiness contains an oasis of wisdom, which is highly relevant for our age. If we could try to incorporate His Holiness’ wisdom into our daily lives, we can create a positive outlook even amid the pandemic. And while doing so, we can also lend a helping hand to others by developing a compassionate attitude.

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