What Is Happiness?

©Olivier Adam, www.daughtersofbuddha.etsy.com
©Olivier Adam, www.daughtersofbuddha.etsy.com

Happiness is a sense of long-term well-being, peace of mind and satisfaction with our lives - it's what all of us look for, all of the time. When we have even a small taste of it, we want it to continue forever.

People often confuse pleasure for happiness. We usually think that if we eat nice food, wear expensive clothes and always have fun, we'll be happy. But somehow it never works out. We also tend to think that if we satisfy all our own needs and wants, we’ll be happy. But in reality, being concerned about just ourselves leads to loneliness and depression. Buddha said that the greatest source of true happiness is to cherish others: when we sincerely care for others’ well-being and happiness, our hearts become open and connected to others, and we ourselves feel a sense of genuine well-being (See What is Love?).

Before we're really able to care for other people's happiness, we need to start with ourselves. If we're not able to wish happiness for ourselves, how could we wish anyone else to be happy? In Buddhism, the wish for happiness is universally inclusive.

Happiness depends on inner peace, which depends on warm-heartedness. - The 14th Dalai Lama

It’s easy to feel that we’re totally powerless to have any impact on today’s world, so we might think, “Whatever. Why even bother?” But the reality is that we can affect even strangers by thinking of their welfare and trying to help them. Even just a little smile or letting someone go ahead of us in the checkout line makes us feel that we’ve made a difference. It gives us a sense of self-worth – we have something to give, and that feels good. We become happier with ourselves and with life.

It's sometimes uncomfortable to be alone with our thoughts and emotions, so we find distraction in music, computer games, food, sex and careers. But this doesn’t really connect us to others, nor does it provide a real sense of happiness. What actually connects us with others is thinking of their happiness and how we can help them, rather than looking to them to affirm our worth and make us happy. It simply comes down to self-preoccupation versus sincere concern for others’ well-being (See Broadening Love).

We human beings are social animals: we can only thrive when we’re connected with others. Kindness, concern and compassion for others, then, are the main things we need to cultivate in order to live a happy life.