Earlier on this week I went to see a talk by a monk, often referred to as the happiest man in the world and I wanted to share with you some of his thoughts and put them into context with other things I’ve learnt about happiness.
Mathieu Ricard, the monk who I saw at the action for happiness event used the same words many times over in his talk. Compassion, giving to others in many ways because we can; altruism, behaving in a way which benefits many rather than just putting our own self-interest first; and love, loving kindness and all of the transformational attributes that go with encompassing that state.
This got me thinking about something else I read recently about not forcing the world to conform to your will but just accepting things as the way they are, people as behaving the way they do. This is not a passive or victim position, but freeing when you realise you are not in control, and letting go of striving is an intelligent way to go about your business; even the striving to be happy – let go of it.
Most of us don’t really know what we want because we don’t know ourselves, and if we spend some time to inquire what it is that we really want we find it impossible to answer; because you already have it. Once you realise that you have already arrived then what is the need for striving anymore?
Pleasures that you might imagine bring with them happiness really have the seed of pain within. Ever had too much cake, or too much alcohol or even too much rest and felt worse for it? So hedonism, the pursuit for pleasure for its own sake is surely not the way to lasting happiness. But an important point to pick up on is that happiness is not a state of mind that we can all achieve every second of the day.
Even monks get agitated, but the difference between monks and us is that they’ve invested so much time in mind training that they are, at the same time, more and less detached from their thoughts than lay people are; detached because they don’t buy into their thoughts, attached because they use them as a mirror to understand themselves intimately.
Jeremy Bentham is famous for saying it’s all about the ‘greatest good for the greatest number of people’. But what does this lucid statement actually mean? How can we begin to quantify what everyone wants on such a large scale; each individual seeks their own pleasure, we all like different things so there has to be an element of subjectivity in happiness.
For Mathieu it was his humanitarian work that changed his life, he was once a molecular-biologist, and wrote a book with his philosopher father, which he then used the profits from to set up his charity Karuna-Shechen; helping hundreds of thousands of people get medical help, aid, education and shelter.
Happiness for me is a kind of flourishing; it arises within and has in it a sense of completeness. Actualising our potential as human beings can bring us closer to a more joyful life. Choose happiness, surrender, compassion, altruism, love and transform your world within and around you.
Monk photo: Changhg
Happy outdoor baby photo: Jeremy Salmon