“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
― Dalai Lama XIV
When my thoughts go to the subject of happiness within the context of compassion, it is perhaps not surprising that Buddhism is the first place I turn – and in particular, to the current Dalai Lama.
The key to being happy lies in recognizing, and truly coming to live with the reality, that happiness doesn’t come from things. Things are impermanent, and if they are what makes us happy, then we will no longer be happy when they are gone. Although certainly, being human, things, and people, and situations will bring us transitory happiness – and they should. Emotions – positive and negative – are part of what makes us who we are. And how we handle those emotions are another important part of our coping mechanisms and our ability to live with ourselves and with others.
But achieving a more general state of contentment comes from within ourselves. And like compassion itself, this is something we need to learn and develop for ourselves.
“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
― Dalai Lama XIV
Somehow the world now seems an angry place – I know the US is not alone with that. I can see it in election results and campaign rhetoric around the globe. Our shrinking planet, and our ability to communicate instantly, everywhere, should have made it possible for us to see how we are all essentially alike, but instead it seems to have accentuated the differences, and stoked the fears. Perhaps the pace has been too quick for many. I’d always though that the world of my grandparents was the most astonishing time – horses and no refrigeration to moonwalks, technicolor and the Internet. And I’m awed that my own children seemed born with an innate understanding of technology. But I look at the strongest supporters of some of the most hateful rhetoric – not the fringe groups for they will always find someone to hate – and I see members of my own generation, and those that fall into the gap between my parents’ generation and my own, and I realize that the world has changed beyond recognition for them as well. This is certainly not the world we grew up in – the one that we think we remember (nostalgia is funny that way and the past was seldom what we remembered it as being), and as we age, we are railing against our own impending obsolescence. And the Internet has made it possible for conspiracy theories to spread farther faster, and to live on (and on). And the generation that advised itself never to trust anyone over 30, and to fear the government, has lived well past 30, and in many cases still cannot manage to believe anything that anyone in authority says. We have, in some ways, been victimized by our selves. We are acting out our own self-fulfilling prophesy.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We all have a choice – in what we choose to believe, and how we choose to respond to what we disagree with. Although this piece has evolved into a darker piece than I’d intended, my overall thinking is actually positive. I do believe that each of us, in our own small way, has the capacity to positively impact our our corner of the universe – beginning with ourselves, and spreading out in ripples to our our families, friends, coworkers, and even strangers whose lives we touch on a daily basis. And that we as humans instinctively pay that positivity forward. As Gloria Steinem once noted “a movement is only people moving”. And that is how the momentum builds. Our positive momentum truly can act as a counterbalance to the negative momentum that is propelling some politicians forward. And that positive momentum has to start internally – once we find our own inner balance and related happiness, we are better able to radiate it outward.
“If we think only of ourselves, forget about other people, then our minds occupy very small area. Inside that small area, even tiny problem appears very big. But the moment you develop a sense of concern for others, you realize that, just like ourselves, they also want happiness; they also want satisfaction. When you have this sense of concern, your mind automatically widens. At this point, your own problems, even big problems, will not be so significant. The result? Big increase in peace of mind. So, if you think only of yourself, only your own happiness, the result is actually less happiness. You get more anxiety, more fear.”
― Dalai Lama XIV
In that spirit, I turn back to the Tao, and one of my favorite writings – and the reminder that it all starts within:
“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”
― Lao Tzu
And then I turn to the modern troubadour – Donovan – and leave you with “Happiness Runs.” Perhaps not so profound – but definitely in the right spirit.
“Happiness runs in a circular motion
Thought is like a little boat upon the sea
Everybody is a part of everything anyway
You can have everything if you let yourself be”