5-takeaways: The Essence of Happiness: A Guidebook for Living, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.

I thought I would try something new and use a new format of review, where I break down my top 5 takeaways from a book. Hopefully reducing your reading time, let me know how you find it. While I was reading The One Thing, by Gary Keller, I was also plodding along on the tiny 120-page book, The Essence of Happiness. The book is an already summarized version of The Art of Happiness, which is based on the conversations held between The Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard C. Cutler. Cutler wanted to understand the qualities and practices that the Dalai Lama uses throughout his day that allow him to live a rich and fulfilling life. Deconstructing and forming them so that they could be used by non-Buddhists to pursue happier lives. So here are my top 5 takeaways from The Essence of Happiness.

  1. That no matter where you come from or what has happened to you, you can find happiness or fulfillment.

How do you find fulfillment if you come from a broken home, or you are a recovering addict how does one find happiness? Well as His Holiness says “generally speaking, one begins by identifying those factors which lead to happiness and those factors which lead to suffering. Having done this, one then sets about gradually eliminating those factors which lead to suffering and cultivating those which lead to happiness.” Now, I believe that you can never truly eliminate suffering, as it is a part of life, whereby you can truly appreciate the highs when you pull through the lows. However, using your positives in ways to help others this contributes to a more fulfilling life. “Achieving genuine happiness may require bringing about a transformation in your outlook, your way of thinking, and this is not a simple matter.” It is not going to be easy, as your way of thinking is brought about by your experiences, however, you can change your future experiences to be positive ones.

  1. Having a clear and calm mind needs discipline.

The correct mental attitude towards anything is paramount in its success and your happiness, so when a greater level of calmness is achieved it allows you to enjoy life, that little bit more. If however your mind is clouded with negative emotions, everything will seem to be against you. “For example, if you harbor hateful thoughts or intense anger somewhere deep down within yourself, then it ruins your health; thus it destroys one of the factors.” Having a calm state of mind should not be confused with an insensitive state of mind. “a calm state of mind is rooted in affection and compassion. There is a very high level of sensitivity and feeling there.” without a calm mind you can be easily influenced by outside forces, however, with a little bit of discipline, you will be able to have some stability and therefore even in dire straits you will be able to navigate your ship. Discipline in the sense that you must train yourself to bring about positive thoughts.

  1. Change takes time.

These words are the only words on one page (page 29, if you have it), and I think that a lot of people forget that. If you go for the quick fix, it will be just that, quick. Then the problem will rise again. For a long-term problem a long-term solution must be used, “at the beginning, the implementation of the positive practices is very small, so the negative influences are still very powerful. However, eventually, as you gradually build up the positive practices, the negative behaviors are automatically diminished.” Do not get discouraged if you take a backward step, it is important to know that eventually, a negative situation won’t have an effect on your overall state of mind.

  1. Take the initiative to connect with people.

A lot of people often wait for others to respond to them in a positive way first, this creates a feeling of remorse and promotes a feeling of isolation away from others. Take the initiative and approach “others with the thought of compassion in your mind” meaning that you will be able to connect with them limiting the possibility that both of you involved will hold any ill will and negative feelings towards each other. “Whenever I meet people I always approach them from the standpoint of the most basic things we have in common. We each have a physical structure, a mind, emotions. We are all born in the same way, and we all die.” Using these underlying beliefs, you can more effectively and easily “exchange and communicate with one another.”

  1. The attitude you hold will determine the overall outcome of your life.

If you think the world is against you then it will seem that way. If you think that life is amazing and it should be cherished then that’s how you will see it. Experiencing suffering is inevitable, that is just how life is. A death in the family, finding out you have cancer, losing money on the stock market, all levels of suffering is sure to happen. “Our attitude towards suffering becomes very important because it can affect how we cope with suffering when it arises. Now our usual attitude consists of an intense aversion and intolerance of our pain and suffering. However, if we can transform our attitude towards suffering, adopt an attitude that allows us greater tolerance of it, then this can do much to help counteract feelings of mental unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and discontent.”  The Dalia Lama talks about people who can often allow feelings of loss, anxiety, and grief to overwhelm them if they go unchecked, pulling them into a deep hole of self-absorption. A few ways to combat such feelings is to think of others that have been or are in similar or worse off situations, allowing you to not “feel isolated, as if you (had) been single-pointedly picked out.”

These are my 5 main takeaways from His Holiness, however, the following passage is one that resonated with me the most.

“Trying to avoid our problems or simply not thinking about them may provide temporary relief, but I think that there is a better approach. If you directly confront your suffering, you will be in a better position to appreciate the depth and nature of the problem. If you are in a battle, as long as you remain ignorant of the status and combat capability of your enemy, you will be totally unprepared and paralyzed by fear. But if you know the fighting capability of your opponents, what sort of weapons they have and so on, then you’re in a much better position when you engage in the war.”

Thanks for reading.

See you on the mats.

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