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The Source of Happiness is Within You
on August 16, 2004
I have always had a lot of respect for the Dalai Lama and admired the fact that he radiates so much genuine compassion and tolerance despite the many hardships that he has faced in his lifetime. I believe that this book is the essence of this man's being and his outlook on life. It encompasses many of his core beliefs and serves as an inspiration to everyone, irrespective of religious affiliation or spiritual belief.
This book is not written by the Dalai Lama himself, but by Howard C. Cutler, and is based on his numerous conversations with His Holiness. Dr. Cutler provides the "western", science-based perspective on the buddhist monk's teachings. While his naivete gets to be annoying at times, he helps relate the Dalai Lama's teachings to our everyday lives by making them less abstract, more practical and actionable.
"I believe that happiness can be achieved through training the mind... Generally speaking, one begins by identifying those factors which lead to happiness and those factors which lead to suffering. Having done this, one then sets about gradually eliminating those factors which lead to suffering and cultivating those which lead to happiness." These words contain the essence of the entire book. A premise so elegant and simple that it might be easy to dismiss at first, and yet so powerful. The more one thinks about their true meaning, the more one begins to understand that these words, in themselves, hold the answer to the purpose of our lives.
The idea that happiness is the product of our mind, rather than of our objective situation, is hardly new. Yet, this book is able to explore this notion to the depths that I had never comprehended before. In particular, the distinction the Dalai Lama so eloquently makes between happiness and pleasure is especially enlightening. After all, it's the very things that bring us pleasure, that cause us unhappiness in the long term. Therefore, His Holiness says, one ought to always ask oneself before making a choice: "Will this bring me happiness?" I performed this simple practice for just a few days, and noticed immediate results. While I normally would do certain things without thinking, I have now become quite conscious of the effect that my own actions will have on my life down the road. Even such a simple thing as doing the dishes, or making that unpleasant yet necessary phone call, or buying something that we don't really need - each one is a choice that, once made, reverberates through our life and either brings us happiness or discontentment. This simple shift in perspective is a very powerful tool in bringing about real, positive change in your life through small, yet deliberate actions. It is by making these actions a habit that one is able to truly achieve happiness.
Of course, in order to be able to work towards happiness, one needs to understand what it is that will bring them happiness in their personal life. This can be likened to having a "mission statement" that encompasses many different areas that, when all balanced and fulfilled, lead to a happier life. These ultimate goals, the Dalai Lama teaches, should be used as a compass to align you daily choices with in your pursuit of happiness.
In addition to these very powerful meditations on the nature of happiness, the book stresses the importance of "human warmth and compassion" as integral components of achieving happiness through increased intimacy and deeper connection to others. The book also explores the "demons" that often prevent us from finding happiness, such as pain and suffering, anger and hatred, anxiety and low self-esteem. While you may not necessarily be afflicted with all of these "demons", reading this book will help you avoid them or enable you to help others who are suffering from them.
Overall, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone on a spiritual journey, in search for a meaning of life, or simply looking for simple words of wisdom in our increasingly complicated and materialistic age. This is one book I know I will personally refer back to again and again for inspiration and guidance.