What is Happiness? A few Buddhist jottings…
Put the word ‘Happiness’ into Google and it churns out an eye-popping 49,600,000 results. In 0.22 seconds. That made me smile. Type the same word into Amazon and it suggests no less than 35,793 books you could read. As a human race, we are fascinated by it. But what exactly is it? Look up ‘happiness’ and the definitions tend to include phrases like ‘sense of well-being’, ‘flourishing’, and ‘quality of life’.
Anyway I hope that some days you feel so bouncy and excited just to be alive that random strangers come up to you in the street, squeeze your (possibly) chubby cheeks and declare: “Wow, you are bursting with joy and scrumptiousness, thank you for being in the world.” Admittedly this doesn’t happen too often in my bit of Leicestershire. Yet.
Happiness is of course the purpose of Buddhist practice and in a way the whole of this blog is trying to define it and inspire more people to discover it. And after 29 years of chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and 9 years as a Life Coach, I thought it might be time to sit down with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit and attempt to pin down this nebulous concept. So… here is my little list, happiness is:
- the soundtrack of your mind
- the purpose of your life
- creating value from every situation
- feeling grateful for your ‘problems’
- being “neither elated by prosperity, nor grieved by decline”
- treasuring your own and others’ life
- right now, a cup of tea and a biscuit
I also love this quote by Daisaku Ikeda: “True happiness is not the absence of suffering; you cannot have day after day of clear skies. True happiness lies in building a self that stands dignified and indomitable like a great palace – on all days, even when it is raining, snowing or stormy.”
Stop and listen to the music of your mind
When I first start coaching a new client, the ‘soundtrack of their mind’ is one of the main things I listen out for because it reveals so much. I have worked with people who feel grateful even when they have very little money. And others who feel frustrated and empty even when they have all the trappings of success. You can feel restless in a tropical paradise. And uplifted in an inner-city slum. Such are the subtleties and apparent contradictions of the human mind.
So, we always have this soundtrack playing in our subconscious. A background mood music. Stop and listen (how often do we take the time to do that in our frantic lives?). Is it excitement, hope, love? Or anxiety, regret and frustration? Is it well-being, amusement or compassion? Impatience, cynicism or boredom? A mixture of all the above? Something else altogether? Something you could not describe in words very easily at all?
Talking of words, books also have their own ‘soundtrack’. I have recently been re-reading The Naked Leader, by David Taylor and The Art of Being Brilliant by Andy Cope & Andy Whittaker. Both are mighty fine personal development books and the contents are illuminating. But more importantly, both are written with such irrepressible joy, warmth and bounciness that you really do wanna go out and do that thing to the chubby cheeks of random strangers.
Whatever your soundtrack or ‘dominant life-state’, the essential point is that it massively influences your reactions to situations, it guides your choices and over time, it decides what you achieve (or don’t) and therefore who you become. And ultimately, how happy you are. Quite important then, would you agree? The good news, says Buddhism, is that Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is the voice of your Buddhahood, the rhythm of life and the vibration of the Universe at its most joyful. In short, the most powerful tool for transforming the soundtrack of your mind.
A happiness formula
I love this quote by the late, great Shin Yatomi of SGI-USA: “Put simply, Nichiren Buddhism shows us how to create happiness in the past (appreciation), in the present (fulfilment) and in the future (hope) by challenging our lives in the here and now.” So: appreciation + fulfilment + hope + challenging spirit = happiness. That sounds like a powerful formula! And a bit quicker than reading 35,793 books.
Now then, who’s eaten my last chocolate digestive?? Please feel free to share your thoughts below. And also your biscuits. Thank you. And be happy, it’s what you were born for. Honest. You might even get your cheeks squeezed.
PS. If you liked this post, you may also enjoy reading ‘How to become the master of your mind’ and ‘Nam Myoho Renge Kyo – because it takes prayer to transform a heart’.
18 Replies to “What is Happiness? A few Buddhist jottings…”
This is all fine as far as it goes, David – but you haven’t said anything about the interpersonal, social and environmental dimensions of happiness. (So only one of the “three realms” has been covered.)
Very important realising (as the quote from Daisaku Ikeda suggests) that true happiness is very different to rapture.
Hi David, yes, good point & I agree. That’s why I said the whole blog (i.e. all 50 posts) is an attempt to define happiness, I wasn’t particularly trying to cover all 3 realms in one post. Having said that, one of the main premises of my book will be that personal development teachings risk creating a self-obsessed culture of ‘entitlement’ when what the world needs now is more enlightenment. More here: http://wp.me/p56Qp8-4G
Thanks for writing in and I hope all is well in your world. D
love the simplicity, joy and hope in your words : ) Here’s to some cheek-pulling in london! thank you so much david : )
Thank you Neha, very kind, I wanted to put a smile on a few faces 🙂
great as usual … and tea looks the perfect strength but you need some chocolate on that biscuit!
Happiness, I have a client who does not understand happiness. I felt great reading your words, lifts me into wonderland of my Buddhism .
Really enjoyed reading your blog and have been thinking about my soundtrack, love that!
As things happen it changes but always in the background is always look on the bright side of life!
Have to say the happiness I felt reading it was a bit spoilt by David’s comment, hope his life soundtrack isn’t ‘Criticise’ by Alexander O’Neal lol !
Hey Jackie, thank you for your very kind comment and yes, it would be great if more people shared your bright and sunny outlook! D 🙂
David, I like the way you express your understanding, and make it so simple for others to comprehend. Actually what I make out of your cup of tea and biscuit analogy is the importance of the present moment, which is akin to the concept of Ichinen Sanzen.
I would rather like to view this blog in the light of the writing of Tien Tai – “The Great Concentration and Insight”, from where the concept of Ichinen Sanzen originated.
How Wonderful your understanding is !
An ardent admirer,
thank you so much for your comment 🙂 For 28 years I have been trying to work out how to explain ‘ichinen sanzen’ and I never imagined it could be so simple as the analogy of a cup of tea and a biscuit!! Thank you again, you have helped me loads by sharing your insight. Blessings to you, David
After reading your blog, will apply this formula to create true happiness
Thank you so much for the formula
Thank you David for the mention, good to hear you’re re reading it.
So nice we would like to do that thing to your chubby cheeks 🙂
Thanks again David for your timely bit of enlightenment. Two of us that are district leaders have been considering how to move our local SGI organization forward and we decided that we need to find a way to be be sure that all the members were happy. Our motto, “Happiness first.”
Even though Shin Yatomi was my favorite teacher, I don’t recall seeing this formula before. Thank you for bringing it to our attention and keeping his memory alive.
Now happily forward!
Hey Mel, good to hear from you and I love the sound of that motto. I really like Shin Yatomi’s work as well – so compassionate but strict at the same time 🙂 Take care, David
I really appreciate the formula you outlined above. That’s great! My understanding: If I appreciate my past, I’ll find fulfillment in my present, based on that I’ll push very hard to see a better times ahead (hope for the future), and that should be my happiness. Thank you. Happiness therefore becomes a RIGHT for all and not a privilege. Quite interesting.
In his message at the just-ended Soka Gakkai founding day, Dr Daisaku Ikeda said “Benefit in the latter day of the law takes the form of inconspicuous benefit. But even thin sheets of paper, when piled up one on top of another, day after day, will, in 10 or 20 years, become a huge, towering mountain. Our Buddhist practice enables us to fundamentally transform our state of life, you will definitely become happy”. My understanding: I must cause a change in my own life by believing in the Gohonzon, my life. That I must change from yesterday and make a strenuous effort in the present no matter what, and build a better future. It may take decades, but I do not need to have any doubt about that, but continue to honestly pursue a genuine cause. My life therefore will shine and attract others to also feel and see the validity of the Daishonin’s Buddhism.
Hi Ivy, yes I think your understanding of the formula is correct and the main thing is that it helps you with your practice, rather than the theory itself. However if you want to deepen your understanding, I would recommend you read Shin Yatomi’s original and full article on this topic, which you can find in his excellent book, ‘Buddhism in a New Light’.
All best wishes,
Thanks for your quick response, and for the good works.
I will seek for Shin Yatomi’s, and share with my other women’s division members, and others as well.
beautiful xplaination of happiness could be seen here really these lines are inspiring 🙂