The Art of Happiness (His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler)

As I started my personal journey to becoming more open, this book revealed a new path towards self-acceptance for me. The author offers a fresh perspective that contradicts the traditional Western view of happiness and relationships. Before I continue, I’d like to give special thanks to my friend Carol, for giving me this book. It came at a time of great uncertainty, where I was trying to let go of old habits, in order to make room for new experiences. Although I could not see it, my mind was very attached to Western ways of solving problems and relating to others. I guess that is why it is so important to have friends who can compassionately lend a hand, and guide us to what we need, even when we don’t realize that we need it. A psychologist by training, Cutler embarked on a quest to find the answers to those things that modern psychology fails to address in human behavior, and to his surprise, he found that industrialization and productivity has permeated every fiber of Western society; even the way in which we understand human behavior.

This book makes an important distinction between happiness and joy, indicating that the latter creates a more positive state of mind than the former. This is the example used by His Holiness: “The feeling of happiness is similar to a high, that can be felt during an event or when achieving a specific goal that we are pursuing, and therefore, happiness can feel like it is constantly eluding us. Thus, the search for happiness can lead to long periods of resentment, frustration and low self-esteem.” His Holiness suggest that we should focus on what brings us joy, whether it be organizing things, creating, helping others, cooking, teaching, exploring, etc. He explains that while doing what we enjoy may not bring any ‘highs’, nor fortune or fame, it does modify our internal chemistry, and the energy generated in relationships. “Because we are just putting out in the world what we like to do, we are not expecting to receive, but rather we are glad for the opportunity of giving. That is true joy, and it can be felt by everyone around us.”

The Dalai Lama teaches us that joy is also found in how we relate to ourselves and to others. He says that in order to truly connect, we must look for commonalities. In contrast to this approach, Western philosophy seeks to explain, catalog, and measure differences in behavior, with the purpose of ‘understanding’ human beings. His Holiness goes on to assert that: “Sometimes it is very difficult to understand why people do what they do, because their minds and histories are so complex… instead it is easier to express how it makes you feel.” This approach of course is completely counter intuitive to modern psychology, which seeks to explain the why. “It is precisely the belief that everything can be explained, that creates a tension similar to the feeling of agony. Thus, societies in the West live in constant agony trying to measure, catalog, explain, and predict every action and reaction.”

Another important take away in achieving a joyful state of mind is consciously cleaning up our mental space. The author says that when we come to think of strangers as dangerous, untrustworthy, or hurtful, we are cluttering our mental space. However, human nature is to be kind, generous and empathetic. “When we see others as kind, empathetic and compassionate, we treat them as such, and people want to meet our expectations, then we can create true connections, because there is no fear.” “Happy people help others, they are open minded, and forgive others.” “Peace of mind, a calm state of mind, is rooted in affection and compassion”. I think without that feeling of affection and connection to other human beings, life becomes very hard. In short, the Dalai Lama teaches us that we have trained our minds to feel unhappy, but that the process can be reversed. This book offers many insights and tools, designed to help the reader get there.

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