Happiness is awakening to the question “Who is happy, who is unhappy, who lives, and who dies?” True happiness is uncaused, arising from the very nature of being itself. We seek happiness only when we are asleep to our true nature—dreaming that enlightenment is over there, somewhere else. But we are all, already, what we are seeking. Buddhas seeking to be Buddhas. Ha! How ridiculous.
—Adyashanti, San Francisco Bay area teacher who draws upon Zen and Advaita Vedanta
We’re always trying to free ourselves from misery but we go about it the wrong way. There are a lot of small sweetnesses in life that we ignore because they’re so fleeting. It’s very important to look at what lifts our spirits and brings us happiness—to cherish those moments and cultivate appreciation. Happiness comes from being receptive to whatever arises rather than frantically trying to escape what’s unpleasant.
—Pema Chödron, from True Happiness, a Sounds True CD set
Society teaches us that suffering is an enemy. We are constantly encouraged to reject what is unpleasant, disappointing or difficult. “What’s all this suffering? Let’s be happy! Have fun!” But our suffering is not our enemy. It is only through a relationship with my pain, my sadness, that I can truly know and touch the opposite—my pleasure, my joy, and my happiness.
—Claude AnShin Thomas, Zen monk, teacher, and author, At Hell’s Gate: A soldier’s Journey from War to Peace
Happiness is primarily a matter of work that is fulfilling. There are many other factors, of course—a nice marriage or relationship, economic security, intellectual and artistic stimulation, and so on—but if the job is unsatisfactory, nothing else can really compensate.
—Robert Aitken, retired master, Palolo Zen Center, Honolulu, Hawaii
Isn’t is funny?—I have been studying happiness for at least forty years, but I still don’t have a definition of it. The closest one would be that happiness is the state of mind in which one does not desire to be in any other state. Being deeply involved in the moment, we do not have the opportunity to think about anything but the task at hand—hence, by default we are happy.
—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, director, Quality of Life Research Center, Claremont Graduate University, and author, Flow: The Psychology of Optimum Experience
Studies my colleagues and I have conducted consistently show that when people focus on money, image, and status, they experience less happiness, vitality, and life satisfaction, and more depression and anxiety. Whereas materialistic pursuits tend to alienate people from their true selves, from others, and from the world at large, “intrinsic” pursuits encourage people to become who they really are and to deeply connect with other people and the broader world.
—Tim Kasser, Associate Producer of Psychology, Knox College, and author, The High Price of Materialism
Usually, when we use the word “happiness,” it refers to how we feel when things appear to be going our way. This kind of happiness is superficial and ultimately unsatisfying. During the fourteen years I served in a maximum security federal prison, it was clear that things did not appear to be going my way. Practicing the Buddhist path, grounded in meditation, study, precepts practice, and service, I discovered an abiding cheerfulness and even joy. This kind of happiness is worth pursuing.
—Fleet Maull, founder and president, Prison Dharma Network
I think the best way to think about happiness is that it comes not from the inside or outside but from between. We can best find happiness by getting the conditions of our lives right, conditions that allow us to connect with others, with projects, and with something larger than the self, be it God, a social movement, or a profession with an ennobling tradition, such as teaching, art, medicine, or science.
—Jonathan Haidt, associate professor of psychology, University of Virginia, and author, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom [Basic Books, January 2006]
My teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, uses an image I like: “happiness for no reason.” When I think of that I think of being at home in one’s body and mind, in life as it is. That feeling of belonging is quieter than a lot of the flash we try to experience, but it is ours, not someone else’s to give us or to take away. It is steadfast and supportive, unbroken when conditions change. It can flourish in the face of obstacles, it can be there for us when everything else seems to fail, and it reminds us that each moment of life, delightful or painful, is precious.
—Sharon Salzberg, co-founder, Insight Meditation Society, and author, “The Force of Kindness” [Sounds True, September 2005]
Ultimately, happiness is equanimity. While we all seek to be happy, we need to reduce suffering to get there. Neuroscience offers a biological metaphor: the brain areas most active during happiness, in the left prefrontal cortex, contain the neurons that silence disturbing feelings, allowing us to recover from states of emotional suffering more quickly or be less thrown off balance.
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