Happiness

I watched a documentary called Happy yesterday.  They interview different people from around the world who score high on a happiness index survey.  Based on the typical American notion of what should make us happy, we wouldn’t expect these people to be happy.  For example, one man who lives with his entire family in a combination of old plywood and tarps on the outskirts of a large city in India was saying that while they have a problem with rain blowing in, he has a fine home and he likes how well-ventilated it is.  Another example is a former beauty queen who was disfigured in an accident, but is now more happy than she was before the accident.

The documentary also presented a lot of the current theories of “positive psychology”, essentially the study of what makes us happy. What they find is people who focus on external factors such as money and possessions, power, appearance, popularity and status are typically less happy than people who focus on internal factors. And other than people who cannot provide for their basic needs, material wealth, a good job, etc. (all of those things that western society seems to promote) do not really affect one’s happiness.  Interestingly, they said that only 10% of our happiness derives from these “attainment” factors.  50% of our happiness is based on genetics, and the other 40% seems to be under our control.  Like I read somewhere, happiness is not a result, it is an attitude.

Buddhist monks have been found to have some of the highest levels of happiness on the planet.  The latest science seems to confirm that what the Buddha promoted to end personal suffering and stimulate happiness (working with our minds and hearts to develop focus, peace, compassion, and love) do indeed make people more happy. The power of promoting positive thinking and practices over negative ones is astounding.  Buddhists talk of a garden in your mind – the seeds for positive and negative thoughts and actions are always there, but you can influence which seeds get watered, and therefore which seeds take root and get expressed in our lives.

May we all develop joy, compassion, and love for the benefit of ourselves and for all living beings.

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