Happiness is …

Anyone with an interest in popular psychology and spirituality would have to have spent the past ten or so years meditating in a cave to have missed the proliferation of books about happiness, what it is, what it isn’t, and, most of all, how to find it. From the values-based approach of Martin Seligman’s Positive Psychology to the systematic pragmatism of Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project to the sublime heights of a number of offerings from revered Buddhist teachers and masters such as Sylvia Boorstein, Matthieu Richard, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and, of course, the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh (my own personal favorite happiness master), along with centuries of poets, philosophers and bonvivants, we have a rich banquet of suggestions for how to turn our brain chemistry around.

A part of happiness seems to be to take things a little more lightly. Equally important are the injunctions to have a purpose and help others. And it also seems to be important for each of us to start looking out beyond the well-worn neuronal groove we’re in and actively cultivate happiness. And so, without further ado, because they say it so much better than I do, I am going to turn it over to the masters and present you with a very subjective and incomplete sampling of some of their reflections and suggestions.

Happiness is being unhappy:

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.” – M. Scott Peck

Happiness is being happy:

There is no duty so underrated as the duty of being happy. By being happy we sow anonymous benefits upon the world.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Happiness is opening our minds:

“Knowledge of what is possible is the beginning of happiness.” – George Santayana

Happiness is opening our hearts:

“The amount of happiness that you have depends on the amount of freedom in your heart.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Happiness is compassion:

“The greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being.” – Tenyin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Happiness is passion (or purpose):

“Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness.” – Leo Tolstoy

Happiness is in the sublime:

“No pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth.” – Francis Bacon

Happiness is in the mundane:

“But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he heads?” – Albert Camus

Happiness is being authentic:

“Be Gretchen.” – Gretchen Rubin

Happiness is being in the moment:

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Happiness is being Thich Nhat Hanh:

“True happiness is based on peace.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

“From time to time, to remind ourselves to relax and be peaceful, we may wish to set aside some time for a retreat, a day of mindfulness, when we can walk slowly, smile, drink tea with a friend, enjoy being together as if we are the happiest people on Earth.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

“The source of love is deep in us and we can help others realize a lot of happiness. One word, one action, one thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring that person joy.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Happiness is whatever makes you happy:

“Happiness is five different crayons.” – Charlie Brown

A beautiful sunset, a walk in the park, good dark chocolate, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens – whatever it is that makes your heart rise up in the Halleluiah chorus, or just sit back and “Be Peace” – it’s worth cultivating your very own repertoire of happiness-makers. For, although some of our happiest can come through being with, or serving, other people, still – and here is another paradox – to end with the words of Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein, “Happiness is an inside job.”