You may have heard a character in a film ask, “Will I ever know true happiness?” It’s as though they see happiness as a possession doled out by Fate. “Am I to be granted happiness?” I don’t see it as something bestowed upon us. Perhaps it is earned, but certainly it is not due to a decision made by some god or other entity. If, indeed, we play a key role in generating this coveted state of mind, is there any reliable guide to help us achieve it?
In The Art of Happiness, a book co-authored by The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D., it is stated, “In identifying one’s mental state as the prime factor in achieving happiness, of course that doesn’t deny that our basic physical needs for food, clothing, and shelter must be met. But once these basic needs are met, the message is clear: we don’t need more money, we don’t need greater success or fame, we don’t need the perfect body or even the perfect mate–right now, at this very moment, we have a mind, which is all the basic equipment we need to achieve complete happiness.”
The title of the chapter in which this appears is Training The Mind for Happiness. The Dalai Lama discusses how there are many thoughts or minds, which I interpret as types of thoughts and different states of mind. He categorizes them as generally helpful or negative. We should nourish the positive and try to cut down on the harmful. He goes on to say, “So, the first step in seeking happiness is learning. We first have to learn how negative emotions and behaviors are harmful to us and how positive emotions are helpful. And we must realize how these negative emotions are not only very bad and harmful to one personally but harmful to society and the future of the whole world as well. That kind of realization enhances our determination to face and overcome them. And then, there is the realization of the beneficial aspects of the positive emotions and behaviors. Once we realize that, we become determined to cherish, develop, and increase those positive emotions no matter how difficult that is. There is a kind of spontaneous willingness from within. So through this process of learning, of analyzing which thoughts and emotions are beneficial and which are harmful, we gradually develop a firm determination to change, feeling, ‘Now the secret to my own happiness, my own good future, is within my own hands. I must not miss that opportunity!’ ”
This realization of being able to create your own personal destiny along these lines is uplifting and energizing all on its own. Without it, a person is like a boat adrift on the seas, tossed by the waves and hidden currents. It can change everything as long as you remain conscious enough not to lose it. From there, structuring your life in such a way as to increase the activities that enrich your existence will deepen your feeling of enduring joy. Here are a few examples from my own life. For as long as I can remember, I have taken great satisfaction from writing. I simply love putting together sentences and paragraphs. I feel engaged and fulfilled from the mere act of writing. This extends to composing lyrics and music as well. Playing sports also gives me great pleasure. Hitting a ball solidly with a bat, swishing the nets with a basketball, or rolling a perfectly breaking bowling ball for a strike all fill me with satisfaction. Then there’s meditation and prayer. This daily connection to the divine often results in nothing short of bliss.
Faith, of course, brings a tremendous source of contentment and a sense of well-being for the believer. I find this to be completely valid, but there are many who don’t agree. There is a point of consensus, however, for many on either side of the topic of theism. That would be service. I daresay that for any of us who have activities we truly enjoy which bring us wholesome pleasure, there must come a time when we reach out to our community of relatives, friends, acquaintances and perfect strangers to lend a helping hand. We can try to lift those in need with our time. We can volunteer to organize community building events. We can battle diseases with fundraising walks. We can fight for justice, taking on corporations or governments that make a habit of oppressing the common folk. These and many other selfless undertakings will bring gladness to the heart as we transform our own lives and the lives of those to whom we are connected beyond our understanding. May we continually create an environment that illuminates any emotional gloom in our sphere of influence. Be merry!