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The Art of Happiness, by the Dalai Lama (XIV)

Day 01 of the Literature & Mental Health Series for Mental Health Awareness Week UK 2020

Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 18-24 May 2020. The theme is kindness.

The wonderful human being that we know as the Dalai Lama, is the humble and loving leader of millions of Buddhists across the world, and his belief in the purpose of life is simple. To be happy.

His book, The Art of Happiness, in a nutshell is that achieving happiness is not dependent on events. Through mental practice, we can all form the ability to be happy. Happiness is not a luxury, but the purpose of life. A good life is one filled with joy, not merely avoidant of misery, recently poignantly verbalised by Meghan Markle when she said the point of life is to thrive, not just survive.

The Dalai Lama believes that with hard work and perseverance, we can identify the factors that cause suffering and begin to eliminate them, giving us the freedom to focus on cultivating those factors that bring happiness. Thee concept of happiness may be subjective and fluid, but the mental pathway to it is rooted in self-discipline and a scientific method.

“By mobilizing our thoughts and practicing new ways of thinking, we can reshape our nerve cells and change the way our brains work.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

Connecting with others – the key to happiness

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion” The Dalai Lama

It is through connections with other people that we can strive to cultivate forms of happiness. This does not only mean our immediate connections, such as friends and family, but our connection to everyone and everything in the world. Compassion is not about feeling sorry for someone, or pitying them, but rather it is a form of communication, because you are recognising the common ground between yourselves and others. We can feel compassion for other people, but also animals, and the environment. Without compassion for others, it is easy to lose your sense of belonging in the world. And feeling like you don’t belong can have a devastating impact on your emotional, mental, and physical health.

“Rather, genuine compassion is based on the rationale that all human beings have an innate desire to be happy and overcome suffering, just like myself. And, just like myself, they have the natural right to fulfil this fundamental aspiration.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

Finding connections with others is much easier to achieve in today’s world of technology and social media, with millions of groups dedicated to reaching out to others in common and forming a safe space to explore emotions and mental health. Whilst it is not perfect yet, there is an increasingly meaningful dialogue opening about mental health in the public and political spheres. Fantastic initiatives, such as those by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, strive to get more people – especially children in schools and at home – to talk about mental health more, to express their feelings in productive ways, to be respectful and mindful of people that may have poor mental health. There has been an increase in groups focusing on the mental health of men, and finding ways of expression that are productive, rather than self-destructive.

Written in collaboration with psychiatrist Howard Cutler, the Art of Happiness is a compassionate and soul-brightening read full of empathy and humility. The pages of this book vibrate with the good intentions and simple beauty that is the Dalai Lama’s outlook on life.

My favourite quotes from The Art of Happiness

“In accepting that suffering is a part of your daily existence, you could begin by examining the factors that normally give rise of feelings of discontent and mental unhappiness.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

“Within all beings there is the seed of perfection. However, compassion is required in order to activate that seed which is inherent in our hearts and minds....” ― Dalai Lama XIV

“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.” ― Dalai Lama XIV


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