Digital Dharma

The Middle Path, One Day At A Time

How Happy Are You?

Are you the happiest person you know? Not necessarily the luckiest, richest, or most successful, just the happiest?

If not, why not? Most people will reel off their current worries — the job, the kids, the car, the price of fish. I don’t mean to sweep these aside: problems need to be solved, if you can, or waited out until they disappear . But as far as living happily is concerned you have to face a crucial fact. If you can only live happily after all your problems are solved, you are never going to live happily, because when today’s problems are gone and forgotten, others will take their place. So either living happily is just impossible, or you have to do it in spite of your problems.

Being happy depends not so much on external circumstances as on your inner life. This means all your thoughts, perceptions, beliefs, emotions, desires, dreams — your entire mental and emotional scene.  Read More…

4 thoughts on “How Happy Are You?

  1. Bill wrote: “I am not a philosopher, nor did I write the article. You will have to discuss your questions with someone else — preferably someone who can also discuss with you the circumstances surrounding your unhappiness.”

    Hi Bill! Do you have a link to the original article? From your comment above it sounds like you prefer any follow up to go somewhere else, is that right?

    Kind Regards, Michael

    • Dear Michael,

      The article, as it turns out, was published in the Times of India back in 2009. At the time, I couldn’t find a citation; someone sent it to me without any references. However, I just took a big chunk of text out of the middle and searched for it, and Google provided me with what seems to have been the original. Now that I know where it came from, I’ll have to re-write the entry and reference it.

      http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2009-02-07/holistic-living/28029212_1_happiest-person-peace-problems

      The questions that you raise are good ones. Don’t mistake my reticence for dismissal. It’s not that I prefer the commentary to go someplace else, so much as that I don’t believe there are easily accessible answers to your arguments. If there are, I’m not qualified to provide them. I think these sorts of statements either make sense to you, or they don’t. Buddhist principles, while based on logic, are not linear. Some folks’ reality is simply not amenable to them, and that’s just fine.

      That’s why there are no Buddhist missionaries. The beliefs are pretty much an inside job, and we have to pursue them. There is no way they can be imparted didactically. (If this sounds like new age gobbledygook, be assured that it seemed so to me for a long time, too.) Many people have found that contemplation of these things leads to greater peace. Others find the idea of doing so disturbing. Either position is right — for that person.

      If you are interested in pursuing these ideas further I recommend, as a start, “Buddhism Plain and Simple,” by Steve Hagen, as well as the soon-to-be-published book that I mentioned previously.

      Take time to smell the flowers.

      Bill

  2. Thanks for these suggestions. I am currently unhappy ;^)

    I found the Enjoyment skills to be the best of these skills. I found the others to lack a certain level of detail to their context, that leaves the advice as more of an abstract principle than something that applies in difficult realities when unhappiness is likely to be a factor. Perhaps there needs more detail in the advice?
    For example, in mindfulness, many of life’s daily tasks do not require full concentration to complete. They are routine tasks, probably not central to your life’s goals, that have been “chunked” or formed into a kind of habit. So it is not a problem to think about other things during those times. Why spend full concentration on such things? Does this make sense?
    Compassion does appear to contradict itself in the paragraph, as it says action is sometimes needed for defense. It is times like that when we experience and realize we are unhappy. Is fear a form of unhappiness? How to be happy when action is needed for defense, or when threats are perceived?
    Story skills seems to be talking about empathy. It seems when we try to understand another’s feelings in a situation, we only imagine within our own context what they are feeling. We will always lack the experience of their context. Also, when we are unhappy we are sometimes dealing with someone who refuses to empathize or look at other perspectives. Having sympathy for a person can temporarily soften our fear or anger, but does it change the situation in the case the situation needs changing?
    Letting-go is difficult if the cause of unhappiness is persistent, current and abiding. How to decide when to let go, if the problems seem to be a series, or a condition?

    One source of unhappiness that doesn’t obviously yield to these five skills is physical pain. If one has been in an accident or has a disease that causes some level of constant pain, how to be happy?

    Thank you if there is time to consider these comments and questions.

    Kind Regards, Michael

    • Dear Michael,

      I am not a philosopher, nor did I write the article. You will have to discuss your questions with someone else — preferably someone who can also discuss with you the circumstances surrounding your unhappiness.

      I will say that I expect the general “happiness quotient” of the Bhutanese is most likely due to the high concentration of Buddhists in the country. Buddhism teaches that suffering (including unhappiness) arises within us, and is a result of the inability to accept that reality is not the way we want it to be. Many Buddhists practitioners find that they are able to move beyond this stumbling block, at least sometimes and to some degree, and it does tend to lead one to a less painful existence. (The principle, of course, excludes organic issues such as clinical depression.) This is not the place to discuss Buddhist psychology, nor am I a Buddhist teacher, but I will say that the principle is not in opposition to what I know of Western psychology from my counseling experience.

      Thank you for taking the time to write. I hope you find life more to your liking in the near future.

      Regards,

      Bill

      Addendum: I am in the process of preparing a review of a new book on Buddhist psychology, The Misleading Mind, by Karuna Cayton. It is due to be published on March 12th of this year, by New World Library. You might want to look for it. I’m finding it most interesting, and it is helping me to clarify some things that I had not completely understood.

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