Wouldn’t we all love to find the key to real happiness? We’ve all been there – we get that job promotion, or that new car we’d always wanted, but the joy is short-lived. And soon we start desiring something else. If you know what I’m talking about, pick up a copy of "Happiness" by Matthieu Ricard. Written in 2007 by a highly-influential Buddhist monk and philosopher, this book is still relevant as ever, and it’ll teach you a thing or two about long-lasting happiness. Here's some of what you can learn:
1 | Understand that real happiness is not the same as temporary pleasure
Have we been looking at it all wrong? Pleasure is an enjoyable emotion, and as such it’s momentary, unstable, and fleeting by nature. Chasing immediate, pleasurable desires always ultimately leads to disappointment.
In developed countries, about 75 percent of people claim to be satisfied with their quality of life. Yet, levels of unhappiness and depression remain high. Why? It’s to do with what people think happiness is, i.e. a temporary respite from suffering. If we let happiness hinge on temporary things like relationships or money, we’re at risk of becoming unhappy if these things are taken away from us. Does it surprise you to learn that according to statistics (from back in 2007) 15 percent of North Americans experience a major episode of depression before the age of 35?
2 | Start looking for happiness on the inside
Happiness would be out of reach if it was purely an external phenomenon. Why do people who "have everything" (wealth, social status etc.) still feel unhappy? Psychologists Philip Brickman and Dan Campbell call this the hedonic treadmill. We run and run, and we go after the new and exciting, but our happiness never rises. Clinging to temporary, external factors is useless, because according to Buddhist teachings, true happiness can only come from reaching a high state of inner well-being – a healthy state of mind. So stop focusing on external pleasures, and turn your attention to your inner world. Because when you lose that crucial connection to yourself and the world around you, life becomes meaningless.
3 | Focus on the present
Thankfully happiness is something we can all work on. It can be cultivated. According to studies, about 25 percent of our potential for happiness is defined by our genes, but the rest is up to us! The way you think, live, and perceive the world around you has a major impact on your mental well-being. And the best way to do this is to cultivate a mental state which is unburdened by memories and future plans – the only thing that really matters is what’s happening now. Be at peace with the present, and you’ll hold the key to leading a happy and fulfilling life.
4 | Let go of your ego and be humble
Buddhism considers the ego a big source of misery – it causes a lot of problems and conflicts with your personal identity. We all have this specific self-image we cling on. And we’d do anything to make sure that it’s recognized and accepted. Why, for example, we perceive an innocent joke from a colleague at our expense as an attack to our character and a blow to our ego? It’s not really a threat to our identity – it was just a joke. But when the gap between the real world and the ego’s perception widens, the ego falters and shatters. And unfortunately, it ends up taking our self-confidence with it, leaving us with only frustration and suffering.
So what can you do about this? To achieve real confidence and inner peace, separate yourself from your ego. Otherwise, when things go wrong, (and they will), you will be emotionally vulnerable. Acknowledge your limits and focus more on other people’s concerns. By being much more attuned to the sufferings of others, you’ll free yourself from your ego. And in the process, you’ll gain inner strength and find yourself on the path to true, profound happiness.
5 | Free yourself from negative thoughts and emotions
Negative thoughts and emotions can consume us during difficult times, but they are often out of sync with reality and can really spiral out of control when we dwell on them. They can fester and grow, and if we don’t control our own emotions, they might end up controlling us.
So how do you prevent this? Buddhism holds that opposite emotions cannot arise at the same time. When we experience love and kindness for example, we can’t feel hate. Positive thoughts basically act as an antidote to the negativity in our life. They help us deconstruct our negative thoughts and see that, at the core, they don’t have any substance. So if you feel anger or pain, look inwards. Don’t suppress it, but focus on it. And you’ll realize that they’re only a temporary state of suffering – they are separate from your true identity, and you don’t have to let them control you. In fact, you can choose how to respond to them and then detach yourself from them completely.
Achieving long-lasting happiness is hard work. It requires re-examining the definition of concepts like "happiness" and "pleasure," reorienting your world view, becoming more mindful, overcoming your ego, and reconciling with yourself. Easier said than done? For sure, but stay committed to these steps and you can achieve a more fulfilling state than just temporary pleasure.
What do you think? Have you tried these tips? Would you like to know more? Or do you have any more to add?