Happiness - by the Dalai Lama

This op-ed, written by the Dalai Lama, is basically a primer on happiness. It was published in the Hindustan Times, India on January 3, 2011.

My morning meditation today reflected on this essay, and frankly, I feel much happier.


by the Dalai Lama

At a fundamental level, as human beings, we are all the same; each one of us aspires
to happiness and each one of us does not wish to suffer. This is why, whenever I have
the opportunity, I try to draw people's attention to what as members of the human family
we have in common and the deeply interconnected nature of our existence and welfare.
Today, there is increasing recognition, as well as a growing body of scientific evidence,
that confirms the close connection between our own states of mind and our happiness.
On the one hand, many of us live in societies that are very developed materially, yet
among us are many people who are not very happy. Just underneath the beautiful
surface of affluence there is a kind of mental unrest, leading to frustration, unnecessary
quarrels, reliance on drugs or alcohol, and in the worst case, suicide. There is no
guarantee that wealth alone can give you the joy or fulfillment that you seek. The same
can be said of your friends too. When you are in an intense state of anger or hatred,
even a very close friend appears to you as somehow frosty, or cold, distant, and

However, as human beings we are gifted with this wonderful human intelligence.
Besides that, all human beings have the capacity to be very determined and to direct
that strong sense of determination in whatever direction they like. So long as we
remember that we have this marvellous gift of human intelligence and a capacity to
develop determination and use it in positive ways, we will preserve our underlying
mental health. Realizing we have this great human potential gives us a fundamental
strength. This recognition can act as a mechanism that enables us to deal with any
difficulty, no matter what situation we are facing, without losing hope or sinking into
feelings of low self-esteem.

I write this as someone who lost his freedom at the age of 16, then lost his country at
the age of 24. Consequently, I have lived in exile for more than 50 years during which
we Tibetans have dedicated ourselves to keeping the Tibetan identity alive and
preserving our culture and values. On most days the news from Tibet is heartbreaking,
and yet none of these challenges gives grounds for giving up. One of the approaches
that I personally find useful is to cultivate the thought: If the situation or problem is such
that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it. In other words, if there
is a solution or a way out of the difficulty, you do not need to be overwhelmed by it. The
appropriate action is to seek its solution. Then it is clearly more sensible to spend
your energy focussing on the solution rather than worrying about the problem.

Alternatively, if there is no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also
no point in being worried about it, because you cannot do anything about it
anyway. In that case, the sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be for you. This
formula, of course, implies directly confronting the problem and taking a realistic view.
Otherwise you will be unable to find out whether or not there is a resolution to the

Taking a realistic view and cultivating a proper motivation can also shield you
against feelings of fear and anxiety. If you develop a pure and sincere motivation, if
you are motivated by a wish to help on the basis of kindness, compassion, and respect, then you can carry on any kind of work, in any field, and function more
effectively with less fear or worry, not being afraid of what others think or whether you
ultimately will be successful in reaching your goal. Even if you fail to achieve your goal,
you can feel good about having made the effort. But with a bad motivation, people
can praise you or you can achieve goals, but you still will not be happy.

Again, we may sometimes feel that our whole lives are unsatisfactory, we feel on the
point of being overwhelmed by the difficulties that confront us. This happens to us all
in varying degrees from time to time. When this occurs, it is vital that we make every
effort to find a way of lifting our spirits. We can do this by recollecting our good
fortune. We may, for example, be loved by someone; we may have certain talents; we
may have received a good education; we may have our basic needs provided for - food
to eat, clothes to wear, somewhere to live - we may have performed certain altruistic
deeds in the past. We must take into consideration even the slightest positive aspect of
our lives. For if we fail to find some way of uplifting ourselves, there is every danger of
sinking further into our sense of powerlessness. This can lead us to believe that we
have no capacity for doing good whatsoever. Thus we create the conditions of despair

As a Buddhist monk I have learned that what principally upsets our inner peace is
what we call disturbing emotions. All those thoughts, emotions, and mental events
which reflect a negative or uncompassionate state of mind inevitably undermine our
experience of inner peace. All our negative thoughts and emotions - such as hatred,
anger, pride, lust, greed, envy, and so on - are considered to be sources of difficulty, to
be disturbing. Negative thoughts and emotions are what obstruct our most basic
aspiration - to be happy and to avoid suffering. When we act under their influence, we
become oblivious to the impact our actions have on others: they are thus the cause of
our destructive behaviour both toward others and to ourselves. Murder, scandal, and
deceit all have their origin in disturbing emotions.

This inevitably gives rise to the question - can we train the mind? There are many
methods by which to do this. Among these, in the Buddhist tradition, is a special
instruction called mind training, which focuses on cultivating concern for others
and turning adversity to advantage. It is this pattern of thought, transforming
problems into happiness that has enabled the Tibetan people to maintain their dignity
and spirit in the face of great difficulties. Indeed I have found this advice of great
practical benefit in my own life.

A great Tibetan teacher of mind training once remarked that one of the mind’s most
marvellous qualities is that it can be transformed. I have no doubt that those who
attempt to transform their minds, overcome their disturbing emotions and achieve a
sense of inner peace, will, over a period of time, notice a change in their mental
attitudes and responses to people and events. Their minds will become more
disciplined and positive. And I am sure they will find their own sense of happiness
grow as they contribute to the greater happiness of others. I offer my prayers that
everyone who makes this their goal will be blessed with success.

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