In his book, The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama shares his secrets to a life of contentment. In this post, you’ll get a quick overview of his insights on how to achieve lasting happiness, why compassion and intimacy are so important, and how you can overcome suffering and negative states of mind.
1. Don’t focus on external circumstances.
External events can affect a person’s happiness in the short-term, but our level of happiness tends to revert back to a certain baseline soon after the event. Winning the lottery only produces a short-lived happiness “high,” which subsides quickly.Our mental state, however, constantly affects how we perceive the world. It’s possible to train your mind so that you identify and cultivate positive mental states while eliminating the negative ones. This eventually brings a calmness that allows you to live a happy, joyous life no matter what the external situation.
2. Cultivate universal compassion.
Compassion is a state of mind that is non-aggressive: a wish to see all other living creatures free from suffering. The mental and physical benefits range from experiencing an emotional “high” after helping others, to gaining a longer life expectancy yourself. To cultivate compassion, try to be empathetic towards others and actively try to understand things from their perspective. An effective method for this is to understand their backgrounds and focus on the commonalties you share.
3. Build close, intimate relationships.
Having close relationships with other people promotes both physical and mental well-being. The Dalai Lama himself said he felt an intimate connection with a wide array of people around him (for example, his tutors and cooks). He even went as far as discussing state affairs with a cleaner sweeping the floors. By embracing the countless opportunities to connect to other people every day, we can lead happier lives.
4. Find your way to spirituality.
The benefits of a strong religious conviction are well-documented in numerous studies and range from happier families to better health. But spirituality is not dependent on any specific religion; the Dalai Lama believes any of the world’s major religions can offer people a happier life. In fact, there is also a kind of spirituality that exists completely outside of the sphere of religious belief: it comprises basic human qualities like goodness, compassion and caring for one another, and it is therefore attainable by atheists and religious people alike.
5. Accept suffering as a natural quality of life.
Westerners tend not to understand that suffering is a part of life and often see themselves as victims of some malignant force when something goes wrong. But suffering is inevitable; all of us will grow old and die. Trying to avoid or ignore this fact is only a temporary solution. When you inevitably do encounter suffering in one form or another, your mental attitude becomes of paramount importance. If you fear suffering as something unnatural and unfair, you will feel like a victim and assign blame when you should be trying to eliminate the mental root causes of suffering.
6. Eliminate negative attitudes and feelings.
Negative states of mind like anger and fear are obstructions that stop us from achieving our natural, happy state. They are poisons. But certain positive states of mind—love, compassion, patience, generosity—can act as antidotes to them, eliminating harmful emotions, attitudes and behaviors. Hence, to eliminate negativity, positive emotions and behaviors should be habitually cultivated.
7. Find the good in every situation.
When people encounter a negative situation, they tend to see it rigidly as 100% negative. Generally though, most situations contain both positive and negative elements and can be viewed from several alternative angles. For example, you might consider having to sit next to an annoying, flatulent person on a plane as a purely negative situation, or you could see it as an opportunity to practice patience and tolerance.
8. Get rid of negative feelings.
Of all the negative mental states, anger and hatred are the greatest obstacles to happiness. When a feeling of anger or hatred arises in us, it rapidly destroys our peace of mind. It also obliterates our judgment, often leading us to take actions that only worsen the situation and make us even angrier. Scientific studies have clearly demonstrated that tendencies toward anger, rage and hostility have negative health effects, too; for example, they substantially increase a person’s risk of heart disease.
9. Replace them with positive feelings.
Anger and hatred cannot be overcome by suppression. On the other hand, venting anger (i.e. raging and shouting) tends to increase negative feelings, not reduce them. Hence, the correct response to anger is to learn how to use the antidotes of patience and tolerance against it, and to cultivate them—for example, through meditative exercises. When you feel angry, simply take a time-out: pause to analyze the situation. Where did the anger come from? What factors created it? Is it destructive or constructive?
10. Get rid of anxiety and low self-esteem.
Excessive anxiety is often related to poor self confidence, and the Dalai Lama feels the antidote for this is to be honest with yourself and others about your capabilities and limitations. If you’re comfortable with your own limits, you can confidently admit when you cannot do something or do not know something, without losing your self esteem in the process.
Sometimes low self esteem can reach the extreme of self-hatred, where a person feels completely unworthy and may even contemplate suicide. The antidote to such an extreme mental state is to remind yourself of the marvelous intellect and potential for development within every single human being, including you. Tibetans contemplate this routinely in their daily meditations, which is perhaps why self-hatred is a virtually unknown concept in their society.
More of a science person than a spiritual one? Take a look at these 29 scientifically proven ways to be happier.