The Modern Quest for Happiness

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Our universal aspiration

The Dalai Lama, having traveled all over the world and having met people from every walk of life, sees in all people a shared aspiration to be happy and to avoid suffering.


I believe that the 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. I don't know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves. Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.

Reflect on the Dalai Lama's assertion that all people desire to be happy and avoid suffering.

Does this feel true for you? What do you seek for your life, at the deepest level? What do you seek for those you love?

Universal yet, paradoxically, different

The desire or inclination to be happy and to avoid suffering knows no boundaries. It is in our nature.

While everyone, everywhere, aspires and strives to better their lives , the Dalai Lama  observes the paradox that those living in technologically and economically "developed" societies appear to actually be less happy and to suffer more than people living in less developed (agrarian) societies.

This is not to say that those in less developed cultures do not suffer more from disease or physical ailments or hunger. But in developed countries people have become so absorbed in accumulating wealth that, while appearing to live agreeable lives, they are vexed with mental and emotional suffering.

Through highly developed science and technology, we have reached an advanced level of material progress that is both useful and necessary. Yet, if you compare the external progress with our internal progress, it is quite clear that our internal progress is inadequate. In many countries, crises — murders, wars and terrorism — are chronic. People complain about the decline in morality and the rise in criminal activity. Although in external matters we are highly developed and continue to progress, at the same time it is equally important to develop and progress in terms of inner development.

Although you may not be in a position to evaluate the happiness of people living in less developed societies, does the Dalai Lama's diagnosis of the ills of modern society ring true?

Is there a correlation between the wealth and technology in your life and your true happiness?

Do you think acquiring more is the way for you to become happier? Do you live your life as if accumulating more will bring happiness?

The Dalai Lama had expected happiness to be more easily attained in industrial countries with far less physical hardships. Does it surprise you to learn that this is not the case? Have you considered that living in the modern world may not lead to greater satisfaction?

Consider the scenario we see throughout the modern world: people who emigrate to more technologically advanced and more affluent societies but continue to hold on to the societal and spiritual values of their original cultures.