The Art of Happiness, by Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler

The purpose of our life is to pursue happiness. Some people try to be happy buying material goods, others dedicating themselves to a profession and others trying to enjoy fun experiences. The means are different, but what all these people ultimately want is happiness.

This search for happiness is what moves our lives. It is what makes us get out of bed, work, buy things, start projects, seek relationships.

The book The Art of Happiness, written by psychiatrist Howard Cutler from interviews with the Dalai Lama, teaches that happiness can be achieved by training the mind.

This is a very objective training. You identify the factors that lead to happiness and the factors that lead to suffering. Then, you gradually eliminate the factors that lead to suffering and cultivate the factors that lead to happiness.

Simple, but far from easy. Many things that we believe lead to happiness… actually bring us suffering. And many things that we think are suffering… are actually a path to happiness. In today’s Arata Academy Summary we will understand how to train the mind for happiness following the teachings of one of the world’s greatest authorities on the subject.

The purpose of life is to be happy.

The first step for you to increase your happiness levels is to find out what your sources of happiness are. And here’s the mistake that most people make: believing that the greatest sources of happiness are external events.

We think that when we have a better job, a better car or a better family, we will be happier. But the truth is that happiness is determined more by the person’s mental state than by external events.

You can see that for yourself. Remember when you got a new job, a new material asset or even a new relationship? You were probably happier at that moment, but soon your happiness levels went back to the previous level.

This level is your baseline, your reference level of happiness. External events are able to temporarily increase your happiness, but soon you adapt to the newness and your happiness returns to the reference level.

The question is: what determines this reference level? Can it be modified, set to a higher range?

There are theories that each person’s reference level is partly determined by genetics. But even scientists who defend this theory admit that genetics plays a role, but it is not the absolute factor. Your genes are not the only factor that define your happiness reference level. Almost all psychologists agree that, despite genetics, each of us can train our own minds to increase our sense of happiness.

The fact that you’re feeling more or less happy now doesn’t have much to do with what’s going on around you. Your happiness depends much more on what is going on inside your head. The way we perceive, interpret and react to facts is more important to happiness than the facts themselves.

Your happiness is influenced by the comparisons you make.

What determines our perception and our level of satisfaction with life is the comparison that our mind makes with real or imaginary scenarios.

For example, if you spend the day on a social network seeing people who have sculptural bodies, your mind compares the aesthetic appearance of your ordinary body with what you see on social networks and this ends up generating a feeling of unhappiness, desire and envy.

On the contrary, if you compared your ordinary body with that of a person who has a disability, a terrible illness or is in agony, you realize that you have much to be thankful for. Whenever you compare yourself to someone who has bigger problems than you, your mind is probably better prepared for feelings like happiness, gratitude and also compassion for the other person.

The lesson is very practical: your level of happiness can be raised with a simple change of perspective. Instead of comparing yourself with the body you don’t have, the money you don’t have or the relationship you don’t have, you can thank yourself for everything you already have.

This does not mean that you will settle for what you have. On the contrary, when your mind is full of happiness, gratitude and compassion, you will be able to achieve much more than when your mind was filled with unhappiness, desire and envy.

Attachment to desire is a source of suffering.

In the world of personal development, it is common to hear that we need to set goals and pursue the goals set with determination until we succeed, no matter how many times we fail, we must get up and try again. This is a very popular motivational speech, but it can become a source of suffering.

Whenever you are suffering, it is because you are wishing for something to be different from what it really is. You want your body to be different, your bank account to be different, your job to be different. You want to have that cell phone, that house, that person. And you get attached to that idea.

The problem is that most of our wishes are not met. If we do not accept reality as it is and do not act on that acceptance, the attachment to those desires becomes an endless source of suffering.

And the worst: even when we fulfill one of these wishes, we are still conditioning our happiness to the fulfillment of the next wish, in a cycle of endless greed. The solution to all this is contentment, to be satisfied with what we currently have.

Of course, you may want to improve your life. What you must not do is be attached to that desire so that life itself becomes an endless suffering. You have to learn to be happy just by being in movement, just by being on the journey to achieve your goals. If you have a strong sense of contentment, it doesn’t make much difference whether you get the object you want or not.

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Happiness is not the same as pleasure.

Another very common error is to mistake happiness for pleasure.

Pleasure is something physical, momentary, linked to an external stimulus. For example, if you eat delicious candy, it gives you pleasure. For a few minutes, the sweet taste in your mouth brings a good physical sensation, even releasing some hormones that increase your well-being.

But that candy is unable to bring happiness. True happiness is less linked to physical sensations and more linked to the mind and heart. It is more stable and less dependent on external stimuli than pleasure.

In many cases, the pleasure of the moment is actually an enemy of happiness. The candy you ate gave you pleasure now, but if you repeat this behavior over time in an exaggerated way, that candy can be responsible for serious health problems that affect your happiness.

It is common for you to have to sacrifice the pleasure of the moment for the sake of something better in the future. This happens with food, with money, with work, with physical exercise.

To know which decision to make at the time, there is a very simple technique. You just have to ask yourself, “Will this decision bring me lasting happiness?” This question changes your focus, because instead of thinking about what you are giving up at the moment, you start to focus on what you are really looking for: your happiness.

The path to happiness is not about having more.

Ask anyone about what would make them the happiest and many people will answer: money. We believe that if we have more money in the account, if we win the lottery, if we never have to worry about the bills to pay ever again, we will have more happiness.

The truth, already proven by many researches, is that once your basic needs for food, education, clothing, health and housing are met, more money will not mean more happiness.

You don’t need more money, more success, a perfect body, or even ideal love. You already have at this very moment all the basic equipment you need to achieve happiness: your own mind.

With your mind you can learn the negative emotions and behaviors that impair your happiness and also the positive emotions and behaviors that increase your happiness levels. Eliminate the causes of suffering, and suffering will lessen in your life. Cultivate the sources of happiness and happiness will increase in your life.

The causes of suffering are well known. They are actions like killing, stealing, exploiting other people, committing adultery, ingesting toxic substances. These are words that bring lies, slander, insults, curses. These are thoughts like greed, vanity, hatred and anger.

The sources of happiness are also known. Dedication to something worthy, detachment, goodwill, generosity, morality, gratitude, respect, altruism, being happy for the success of others.

The point here is not to know what to do, as we all know that bad actions cause suffering and positive actions bring happiness. The question is what do we do with what we know. Do you intentionally try to avoid all causes of suffering and cultivate sources of happiness in your daily life?

Every person’s goal is to avoid suffering and find happiness. So, why don’t we make a conscious effort in this direction every day? Why don’t we strive to avoid every action that causes suffering? Why don’t we strive to perform every single action that brings happiness?

Life is often much simpler than the complication we create with our mind.

All people are fundamentally equal.

Everyone in the world wants to avoid suffering and find happiness. If this is true, we are all the same. We are all here with the same goal.

And since we are all the same, it doesn’t make much sense for us to be differentiating self and other people. Let alone separating people in groups like Europeans or Asians, Christians or Muslims, right-wing and left-wing.

The only thing that sets us apart is the specific way in which each of us believes that we will avoid suffering and find happiness. But deep down we are all the same, all human beings wanting the same thing.

So the best thing you can do is to put aside the selfish search for happiness. The happiness that benefits you only at the expense of other people’s happiness is not going to be a lasting source of joy. A smarter strategy is to cultivate feelings like generosity and compassion so that not only are you happy, but everyone around you.

So try to make a deliberate effort to help others be a little happier. With every contact you make with another person, try to find some way to help that person. It can be with an action, a gesture or simply with a compliment. If you can’t find any way to help, please make the best possible effort to at least not hinder that person’s happiness.

Mind training requires discipline.

Everything that has been said so far is very logical and practical: to be happier, you avoid what causes suffering and cultivate what brings you and others the most happiness. But, if it is that simple, why are there so many people suffering around the world? Why are there even people who commit crimes, abuse and cause suffering to others?

The answer lies in the conditioning we have received since we were born. If you look at a newborn baby, you will see only a human being in its purest condition, unable to harm anyone. Just looking at a baby can awaken feelings like compassion, affection and generosity. This shows that the human being in its own nature is good and just wants to avoid suffering and find happiness.

When we grow up, each of us is educated in a different way. Our mind is conditioned according to the rules of the place where we live. Each culture has its ideas on how people should act, think and speak. Most, even due to the economic system of competition that prevails in the world, include in the education of children a feeling of competitiveness.

So training the mind for happiness requires a lot of discipline. We often have to decondition what our mind has learned since childhood. Every day you have to develop a sincere positive motivation, thinking about how you can use that day in a more positive way.

This is similar to body training. Anyone who has practiced any sport knows that in the beginning everything is more difficult. Every day we have to practice a little, until our body gets used to the effort, until it learns the movements. If we stop for too long, we lose a little of the skill we have gained.

It is the same with the mind. You need to train every day so that your mind learns to avoid the causes of suffering and to cultivate the sources of happiness. Every day your happiness improves.

The transformation does not come spontaneously. It requires training, discipline, effort on your part. But the reward is exactly what you’ve been looking for all your life: true and lasting happiness.

The main component of training for happiness is compassion.

Of all positive actions, the one that is most important in training for happiness is compassion.

Compassion can be defined as a non-violent, non-harmful and non-aggressive state of mind. It is a mentality based on the desire to help other people to get rid of their suffering. It is a sense of commitment, responsibility and respect for others.

This also includes how you talk to yourself. Many of us don’t have the courage to call other people stupid or worthless. But we do this repeatedly to ourselves.

Whenever we don’t keep a promise, when we are lazy or when we do something wrong, we are very hard on ourselves. We curse ourselves, we force ourselves into destructive behavior, we impose a suffering that we would never be able to impose on other people.

Since we are all here wanting the same thing, to avoid suffering and find happiness, then we must treat everyone – including ourselves – in the best possible way. Compassion has this characteristic of treating every human being exactly like you, with an innate desire to be happy and to overcome suffering.

This mindset allows you to have compassion for everyone, friends or enemies, collaborators or competitors, people close or distant. You don’t need to approve actions that you don’t agree with, you just need to understand that that person only did that because he thought, in his mind, that that action would avoid suffering or bring happiness.

For most of us, compassion is not an easy task. It doesn’t come naturally, so we need to practice a little bit each day, so that with each attempt we become a little more compassionate people.

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Make suffering your ally.

Nobody likes to suffer. One of our fundamental pursuits is precisely to avoid suffering. But, as contradictory as it may be, being attached to avoiding suffering at any cost is a great source of suffering.

For example, someone who wants to avoid any and all risks of being robbed could lock themselves at home and walk with security guards. However, all this attachment to avoid the suffering of being robbed ends up bringing several other emotional, practical and even financial costs.

The way out is not to be attached to avoid suffering at all costs, but to turn suffering into an ally for your mental training.

Be clear that suffering has the function of alerting us to what is wrong. If you put your hand on a fire and you didn’t suffer any pain, you would end up leaving your hand on the fire until it was completely burned. This doesn’t happen because suffering from pain quickly makes you take your hand off the fire.

Our attitude towards suffering affects the way we deal with life’s problems. Instead of having a strong aversion to any kind of suffering, you need to see things as they are and develop a greater tolerance for suffering. If you are aware that reality will not always be the way you want, this already lessens feelings of unhappiness, dissatisfaction and frustration.

Instead of complaining that it is unfair that you are going through this or that suffering, abandon the role of victim and accept the reality. This will make you experience suffering as a natural part of life and will even make you have better decision-making when you act to reduce that suffering.

Unfortunately what many people do is just the opposite. They create an extra psychological layer of suffering where there was already pain. For example, let’s say you fall and break a leg. In addition to the physical pain of the accident, you may complain that the universe is unfair, that the fall could have been prevented, that you are a failure. This adds a psychological component of anxiety and intolerance, worsening the effect of the fall.

The truth is that life is full of suffering here and there. This is not a pessimistic view, it is just an acceptance of reality as it is. From there, what will make a difference to your happiness is the way you react to the sufferings that are a natural part of life. Eliminate this aversion to suffering. That way, you will at least stop suffering from the fact that you are suffering.

The worst of all suffering is the suffering created by the person himself. With training you can get rid of this mental suffering and your happiness levels will automatically increase.

Suffering comes from lack of clarity and out-of-time desire. You can break free from attachment and be happier.

There are four truths that you need to understand and internalize to increase your levels of happiness.

The first truth is that life without clarity is a life of suffering. An unbalanced life will make you go around and around without leaving the place, searching for happiness in the wrong places, thinking that having more money, more material goods or more experiences will bring the happiness that you are looking for.

The second truth is that uncontrollable desire leads to suffering. Whenever you cling to the desire to have something you don’t already have or the desire that reality would be different from what it is, you suffer.

This inadequate desire creates the habit of always wanting to anticipate the future or always remembering the past, without ever taking advantage of the present moment. If we are never satisfied with the moment now, we are always unhappy, always wanting something else. On the other hand, if we are present, living with full attention in the present moment, there would be no such “wanting” and “not wanting”, there would only be full contentment.

The third truth is that in order to be free from suffering, you need to be free from attachment to your desires. Yes, you can continue to wish for a better life, but you cannot always condition your happiness to the fulfillment of those desires. Instead, learn to value the present moment, learn to have joy just by being on the journey in pursuit of that goal, regardless of whether you will achieve it or not.

The fourth truth is that there is a way for you to get rid of suffering and achieve happiness. This path is quite simple: eliminate the things that cause you suffering and cultivate the things that bring you happiness.

The causes of suffering are negative attitudes such as violence, stealing, exploiting other people, committing adultery, ingesting toxic substances, lying. These actions come from negative thoughts like greed, vanity, hatred and anger.

The causes of happiness, on the other hand, are positive actions such as detachment, goodwill, generosity, morality, gratitude, respect, altruism, joy for the success of others.

You don’t have to be a religious person to follow this path. All we saw here are practical actions, which you can take on a daily basis. But remember that the art of happiness is mental training: every day you must work your mind a little to practice less actions that cause suffering and more actions that bring happiness.

In doing so, your happiness reference level will rise until you no longer depend on external stimuli, momentary pleasure, anything other than your own mind.

Many of the teachings in the book The Art of Happiness have already been tested and approved by scientific research in the field known as positive psychology.

If you want to know in depth each one of these scientifically proven techniques, I invite you to learn about the Happiness course by visiting this link.