Pursuit of Happiness
I believe that the very purpose of life is to be
happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness
and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor
education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our
being, we simply desire contentment. Therefore, it is important
to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.
Hence we should devote our most serious efforts to bring about
If we are going to follow the Dalai Lama's counsel that the
pursuit of happiness is at the core of an ethical life, then
we need to understand what happiness is and what kinds of happiness
are genuine and contribute to compassion.
While we probably can agree that everyone seeks happiness, how
does this relate to ethical living? In this lesson you will consider
the nature of happiness.
Relating to Happiness
What does "happiness" mean to you? Do
you think others would answer similarly? When you
think about what makes or would make you happy,
which aspects do you think are shared by others?
Which do you think are "universal"? When
you think about what makes or would make you unhappy,
which do you think are shared by others and which
do you think are universal?
In our everyday lives there are certain
things most of us consider fundamental to joy and happiness
— for example, good health, material
wealth and companionship. While all of these factors are, in
fact, sources of happiness, you will see what the Dalai Lama considers
an essential truth:
order for an individual to be able to fully utilize them towards
the goal of enjoying a happy and fulfilled life, your state
of mind is key.
Are you happy? Unhappy? When you ponder these
questions, what do you use to evaluate them? What
do you measure against?
Often we evaluate our happiness by comparing
ourselves with others. We compare our income and possessions;
we evaluate whether others are more successful, more beautiful,
Is your happiness connected to a comparison of
yourself with others? Which criteria do you use?
We also may compare ourselves to "ideals" of what
we think we should be or have, and our happiness becomes connected
to images of happiness presented to us by our culture, our media,
our education system.
In the United States there is a popular phrase,
"keeping up with the Joneses," which
describes comparing yourself with your neighbors.
Is your happiness related to what others have — a
bigger TV, a newer and bigger car? Do you have
images of what would make you happy? If so, reflect
on where these images come from.
As you will see in this course:
Constant comparison with those
who are smarter, more beautiful, or more successful than ourselves
also tends to breed envy, frustration, and unhappiness.
How might comparing yourself with others become
a positive force, something that enhances your
If we want to compare ourselves to others, rather than focusing
on those who have more we can look at those who are less
fortunate than us and reflect on the benefits we do have.
Happiness is relative
We can't say that any one thing makes us or others happy. Different
circumstances, different people can cause happiness one moment,
suffering another. What brings one person happiness may have
the opposite effect on someone else.
Can you imagine a situation that would be happiness
for one person and misery for another? The Dalai
Lama offers an extreme example:
Most of us would
be extremely sorry to be sent to prison for
life. Yet a criminal
under threat of the death penalty would likely
be very happy
to be reprieved with a sentence of life imprisonment.
Have you ever been unhappy because you felt you
didn't have enough money? Can you imagine that
someone else in your shoes could feel extremely
blessed to have what you had?
In New Orleans, people lived
with all their possessions — their clothes
, their TVs, their washing machines... When they
lost their homes and could only take a few things
with them, do you think their sense of what they
needed to be happy changed?
Expand this insight to
the societal level. Are notions of democracy and
economic success relative? Might, for example,
what we see as constraints on our freedom be seen
differently in another society?
Think of something you now think would make you
happy. Think back a year or so; would it be the