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.
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.
Wanting to feel happy and connected to others, we often turn to social media. We might get a short-lived rush of pleasure from the likes on our selfies or at a friend’s message, but it just leads us to wanting more. We check our phones constantly, anxiously awaiting our next “fix,” but no matter how many likes and messages we receive, we somehow end up feeling less connected with others.
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 warm, open and connected to others, and we ourselves feel a sense of genuine well-being. We even feel physically better. Concerned about others’ happiness, we try to help them as much as possible and avoid doing anything that might cause harm. This creates trusting friendships, which makes our lives more meaningful. With the emotional support of family and friends, we find the strength to deal with whatever happens in life.
[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.
What actually connects us with others, then, 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.