The Art of Happiness: Book Review; Jan'08

Title:The Art of Happiness, A Handbook For Living

Author:HH Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler

Publication details:  Hodder and Stoughton, Great Britain, 1998

Number of pages:269 pages

I have a loving family, good friends, interesting job and a nice life. Yet I find myself yearning for that elusive happiness. So this New Year I was delighted to find amazing ideas in the book ‘The Art of Happiness’, for including a ‘happiness’ related resolution. In this book H.H. the Dalai Lama, one of the world’s great spiritual leaders and a Nobel Peace Prize winner in collaboration with a renowned psychiatrist from the West brings to us the key to ever lasting happiness in life. As professionals this is relevant to us because given the pressures and challenges of today’s everyday life we must not only focus on developing ‘work skills’ but also ‘life skills’ to be effective.

The book begins with the assertion that “the very purpose of life is to seek happiness… A state of happiness that remains despite life’s ups and downs…” It discusses the true sources of happiness like inner feeling of contentment, a sense of self worth etc., while illustrating the harmful effects of a comparing mind. Surprisingly rather than just recommending a spiritual path to attain happiness, Dalai Lama takes a rational approach by emphasizing learning and extensive practice ie., systematic training of the mind for happiness by cultivating positive mental states such as forgiveness, by discovering new perspectives, developing flexible thinking, finding meaning in pain and suffering etc.

Principles of Tibetan Buddhism are applied to everyday problems like anger, anxiety, insecurity, loneliness, loss and depression to help achieve balance and complete mental and spiritual freedom. For instance, the book offers chronic worriers this solution: “If there is a solution to a problem there is no need to worry. If there is no solution, there is no sense in worrying either.” While talking about dealing with anxiety Dalai Lama says "If I'm anxious before giving a talk, I'll remind myself … the aim of giving the lecture is to be of at least some benefit to the people, not for showing off my knowledge. So those points which I know, I'll explain....With that motivation, I don't have to worry about appearing foolish or care about what others think of me. So I've found that sincere motivation acts as an antidote to reduce fear and anxiety."

We get to understand Dalai Lama’s beliefs like human nature is predominantly gentle and compassionate. Seeing others around us in this light helps us gain trust in our fellow humans and feel safe and assured, making us feel happier. Much suffering could be eliminated by remembering that while we are all somehow different, fundamentally we are all human.

Through conversations, stories, and meditations Dalai Lama shows us how to ride above life’s obstacles and Cutler substantiates these with his interpretations, scientific evidence and case studies from his own practice. For instance Dalai Lama’s assertion that romantic love is negative is substantiated with the case study of one of Cutler’s depression patients, who after falling in love got better, but got worse when his girlfriend broke up with him.

As the apparently simplistic solutions unfold in the book you realize they are not that simple and slowly but surely a coherent and profound philosophy of living takes shape - having ethical discipline, reaching out to others, understanding and cultivating what gives meaning to our life, basically being a good human being. Different aspects like family, work, relationships, pursuit of wealth etc are discussed. Dalai Lama also gives practical tips like realizing the usefulness of compassion, understanding our dependence on others, maintaining closeness with as many people as possible etc in order to develop warmth and compassion.

May you find happiness after reading the book, for as the authors put it “search for happiness offers benefits not only for individual but for individual’s family and for society at large.”