Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Book review: The Art of Happiness

I have just finished The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard Culter.  This book is really a series of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Dr. Culter, an American psychiatrist. Dr. Culter asks the Dalai Lama many questions about the Buddhist perspective, and the Dalai Lama's personal perspective on how people can seek happiness in life -- whether or not they are Buddhist.  Also, the Dalai Lama's good nature and humanity came across strongly in the text. Reading along, I felt as if I was having a conversation with a wise and endearing old friend.

Let me iterate that this is not a religious book, but it does contain spiritual topics. Someone from any religious (or non-religious) background can read this book and gain something.  The author (Dr. Culter) specifically gears the writing at a non-Buddhist, Western audience.  He compares and contrasts the teachings and thoughts of the Dalai Lama with research and teachings in Western science. 

It is an understatement to say that this book moved me.  This book has changed my perspective on how I should lead my life and interact with people around me.  While there are so many lessons to take from this book, the key mantras that I took were:
  1. Happiness is not something that "happens" to you.  It is a skill that you can hone.  It is something that you must work towards -- everyday. 
  2. Compassion is the key to happiness.  The most famous quote from the book is "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
  3. Suffering is a gift.  I know -- this one is a tough one to swallow.  But, the Dalai Lama actually has a real and useful answer for "Why is there suffering in the world?"  I'm not going to be able to give his explanation justice here, so you'll just have to read the book yourself.
Tempted to pick this one up yet?  I know -- non-fiction by a world leader and a social scientist.  Blah blah.  But, if you want an opportunity to open your mind, and really think about what is in your control, how you interact with others, and what makes you happy -- this is your book.  You will not regret the read.

Also -- the next time you see the Dalai Lama in the news -- notice how happy he is.  Smiling.  Laughing.  Genuinely enjoying the company of both world leaders and laypeople. This is a man who lost his home, lost his country, and has lost most of his family, and yet this man is happy most of the time. 

Genuinely, honestly, and throughout his spirit -- happy.  He does that through compassion for others, appreciation of suffering, and training of his mind. 

Photo courtesy of


Corinne said...

I love love love the idea that happiness is something you can learn, practice, and become better at. An amazing concept.

Amber said...

I haven't heard much about compassion and happiness today and am so glad you mentioned that. In my church, I often hear about the benefits of service to one's happiness. It is something that I agree with because I have put it to practice so many times. The greatest thing is, when I am feeling crappy I am almost always asked to serve someone in some way. After I do, (most reluctantly I might add) I almost always feel better.

kt moxie said...

Hey Amber -- Yes, I think that many of us recognize that we get joy and happiness from serving others and showing compassion for them. I think we forget that if we do this on a regular basis, and internalize this compassion, that we can become happier people. I think most (if not all) religions emphasize the importance of compassion.

However, I feel like lately we are seeing less and less compassion for others, and more anger and pettiness. If we all stepped back, and appreciated each other -- gave each other compassion -- I think we would have less animosity and divisiveness.

Michele said...

On the one hand I hate the think that suffering is a gift, but I think that there is a bit of this that is true. It's when we suffer that we begin to understand what makes us happy, and that's usually the smaller, more intimate things in our life. Not material possessions. I haven't read this book but now I think I should!

Jen said...

Wonderful. I haven't read this, but I think it's going on my library request list. Happiness is a skill. Yes. Thanks for spreading the happiness!

alessandra said...

I haven't read this book, but I know that happiness is a choice and a skill that can be learned.
Then I'm all for compassion towards yourself and others, but don't come my way when I have PMS, LOL!

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