The following are my favorite lessons from The Art of Happiness.
Try to see the basic nature of humanity as compassionate rather than aggressive. This changes our relationship with the world around us ... we relax, trust, and live at ease. Since the basic purpose of life is happiness, use this statement to help you navigate through life’s daily problems. Your task becomes discarding the things that lead to suffering and accumulating the things that lead to happiness. Utilizing this method every day gradually increases your awareness of what will truly make you happy. “The turning toward happiness as a valid goal and the conscious decision to seek happiness in a systematic manner can profoundly change the rest of our lives.”
Realize everyone is interconnected. As self-reliant as you think you are, you are still dependent on others for various items that make your world go round. For example, consider the food you eat. There is a farmer who grows the food or tends the animals from which your meals are made; there are businesses who can or bottle your drinking products; there is the market you frequent who stocks the items you desire; and so on. When you start thinking this way, one comes to realize that all people are interdependent on each other.
Try to find meaning in your pain and suffering, and deepen your connection to others by being empathetic. That is – foster your ability to relate to other people’s feelings. This will also enhance your capacity for compassion towards others. Both suffering and pain connects us to every other human being. It is a universal element shared with all living creatures. Helping others to understand and deal with its nature can bring you much satisfaction.
Relationships that are based on caring and genuine affection are infinitely more lasting. Examine the underlying basis of your relationships. It should be affection, compassion and mutual respect as a human being. Do not base your romantic relationships on a fantasy that is unattainable.
Look at your problems in a holistic manner and try to realize that there are many events contributing to a situation. Try to avoid self-created suffering. “We also often add to our pain and suffering by being overly sensitive, overreacting to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally.” We let little things bother us and tend to personalize every annoyance. If a situation is really unfair and there is a way to fight the problem, then certainly do it. However, if there is no possible way to win, let your anger go before it festers and hurts you even more.
Foster your ability to shift perspective, and this can become one of your most powerful and effective tools to help you cope with life’s daily problems. Quite often when faced with a problem, our perspective becomes narrow. We become self absorbed and focus all our energy on the problem, and, therefore, make it much more intense than it needs to be. Try to see your difficulties from a wider perspective; for example, realize that you are not alone and that others may have also experienced something similar. A good idea is to examine your problem by comparing it with a greater event. When you examine it from a distance, the problem appears smaller and less overwhelming.
Attempt to find balance in your life, for it is one of the key elements of a happy life. The tendency to go to extremes is quite often fueled by underlying feelings of discontentment. For example, look at an individual’s pursuit of material goods. Poverty is at one extreme of the spectrum, and the constant search for more wealth is at the other extreme. It is fine if one’s ultimate goal in seeking more wealth leads to a sense of satisfaction (happiness), but the very fact that one is seeking more, indicates a feeling of not having enough or a state of discontentment. Again, try to find the middle ground. Examine the reasons for your actions and work towards finding a balance.
Attempt to become flexible in your thinking. As we all know, life today is characterized by sudden, unexpected and sometimes violent change. The more supple your mind is, the easier it will be to reconcile the external changes going on all around you.
Do not have unrealistic expectations for implementing change in your life. Undesirable behaviors that led to problems probably took a long time to develop, and you must expect it to take an equally long time to develop behaviors that will bring you happiness.
Be vigilant in your fight against negative emotions. A positive state of mind is a first line defense against negative tendencies.
In dealing with anger and hatred, cultivate only positive anger. Anger motivated by compassion or a sense of responsibility to make the world a better place can bring forward moving action.
Remember that two antidotes to negative anger and hatred are patience and tolerance. Anger and hatred arise from a mind that is troubled by dissatisfaction and discontent. Try to work toward inner contentment and the development of compassion. Analyze your anger when it arises and make a concerted effort to exert inner discipline and restraint.
Additionally, Dr. Cutler and the Dalai Lama offer the following four helpful steps to take in order to eliminate negative behaviors.
1. Education. Learn how negative emotions and behaviors are harmful to the pursuit of happiness and positive emotions are helpful.
2. Conviction. Develop belief in a need for change and increase your commitment to make it happen.
3. Determination. Determination is a direct result of this conviction (transforms it into action).
4. Effort. Effort is the most critical factor. The stronger the determination to change, the more sustained effort a person will be able to exert in order to implement the actual changes
The preceding was a brief summary of a few of the components of The Art of Happiness upon which Dr. Cutler touches. I recommend a complete reading of the book, which is available in bookstores and amazon.com.