Saturday, June 06, 2015

THE ART OF HAPPINESS, by H.H. The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler

I finished reading The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler a few weeks ago. It was my constant companion every morning while commuting to work in the bus or while waiting for it.

Having finished Mindfulness for Every Day Living by Christopher Titmuss very much earlier, I expanded my reading to include the Dalai Lama's book mentioned above. These two books are some of the best things that have happened to me.

The Art of Happiness brought clarity to a few things I often think about. While I am happy and contented with my life, there are still questions that sit in my head. I wonder about them often: What is a psychologically healthy person? Inner discipline? Training the mind - how? Is it normal if I don't feel the lack of or the yearn for romantic intimacy?

While I consider myself a well-disciplined person with a strong ability to train my mind, I still have questions as to what that really is (this training of the mind), and why is making positive changes painfully slow at times. This is where the book brought light to these issues. Here are some of my favorites passages from the book:

There is a widespread notion in our culture that deep intimacy is best achieved within the context of a passionate romantic relationship—that Special Someone who we set apart from all others. This can be a profoundly limiting viewpoint, cutting us off from other potential sources of intimacy, and the cause of much misery and unhappiness when that Special Someone isn't there.

But we have within our power the means to avoid this, we need only courageously expand our concept of intimacy to include all the other forms that surround us on a daily basis. By broadening our definition of intimacy, we open ourselves to discovering many new and equally satisfying ways to connect with others.

I found a lot truth in the above (p.83). People's reaction to my lack of romantic relationship at some point did baffle me a bit, but I never felt bad about not having a Special Someone to live my life with. I didn't have the feeling that I need to be in a relationship to make my life complete. When I read the Dalai Lama's take on this, I knew I am already on the right track. I'm not anti-social by any means because I love hanging out with family and friends as much as I love spending time with myself doing the stuff I love such as reading, blogging, traveling and so on. And then, there's the part on self-created suffering (p.151 and 152), which I also totally agree:

We also often add to our pain and suffering by being overly sensitive, overreacting to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally. We tend to take small things too seriously and blow them up out of proportion, while at the same time we often remain indifferent to the really important things, those things which have profound effects on our lives and long-term consequences and implications.

So I think that to a large extent, whether you suffer depends on how you respond to a given situation. For example, say you find out that someone is speaking badly of you behind your back. If you react to this knowledge [...], this negativity, with a feeling of hurt or anger, then you yourself destroy your own peace of mind. Your pain is your own creation. On the other hand, if you refrain from reacting in a negative way, let the slander pass by you as if it were a silent wind passing behind your ears, you protect yourself from that feeling of hurt, that feeling of agony. So, although you may not always be able to avoid difficult situations, you can modify the extent to which you suffer by how you choose to respond to the situation. 

So this is where the training of the mind is so important. It takes control to be able to react in a way that will not "bomb" things into oblivion although that is the natural tendency especially when one is being wronged. Coming back to the very beginning of the book, this is how a psychologically healthy person looks like (p. 40):

Well, I would regard a compassionate, warm, kindhearted person as healthy. If you maintain a feeling of compassion, loving kindness, then something automatically opens your inner door. Through that, you can communicate much more easily with other people. And that feeling of warmth creates a kind of openness. You'll find that all human beings are just like you, so you'll be able to relate to them more easily.

Finally, change takes time (p.42).

And in the same way, transforming your mind takes time. There are a lot of negative mental traits, so you need to address and counteract each one of these. That isn't easy. It requires repeated application of various techniques and taking the time to familiarize yourself with the practices. It's a process of learning. [...] No matter what activity or practice we are pursuing, there isn't anything that isn't made easier through constant familiarity and training. Through training, we can change; we can transform ourselves.

The Dalai Lama is spot on on the above. When I think back to how I achieve mastery in Italian, it was through exposing and familiarizing myself with the sound and look of the language, and by practicing it daily and always. The same applies to training our minds, changing our habits for the better and living a happier life!

I loved this book so much that I searched for the Italian edition and found it on BetterWorldBooks.com. Here's a snapshot of it, L'arte della felicità.