The Art of Happiness: Book Review

January 29, 2008 - Get free updates of new posts here

Background: I think we are all challenged at what really makes us happy (wow, that’s optimistic). We ask ourselves, “How do I find happiness?” We want a guidebook to give us that answer and unfortunately I doubt we will ever find it. I have written about how to handle depression, but… in the mean time it’s worth exploring new ways and hopes to find our own happiness. The Art of Happiness is a great way to do that.

Take Aways:
The purpose of our existence is to seek happiness. Surveys have shown that unhappy people tend to be most self-focused and often socially withdrawn. Not the happy people, who are more sociable, flexible and creative to tolerate life’s frustration.

Choose. The conscious decision to seek happiness in a systematic manner can profoundly change the rest of our lives. Create positive triggers to develop the art of happiness.

Commonality. I always approach people from the standpoint of the most basic things we have in common, a physical structure, a mind & emotions. All of us want happiness and do not want to suffering.

Great Story. There is an unconscious human need for passion and romantic love. This could be from the Socrates story of Aristophanes, where round creatures had 4 hands and 4 legs. These creatures were rude to the gods. Zeus hurled lightning bolts and split them apart. Now they are people who are looking for their other half.

Compassion Foundation. Compassion is a state of mind that is nonviolent, nonharming and nonaggressive. One kind of compassion is with attachment- controlling someone, or loving someone so that person will love you back. This relationship is unstable. Any change in the relationship and it crumbles. Then there is genuine compassion. Based on that all human beings have a desire to be happy and overcome suffering, just like me. Upon this basis, you will generate love and compassion.

You are not alone. In the buddha time, Kisagotami was a woman who’s baby died. The woman asked who could save the baby and everyone said to talk to Buddha. She did and Buddha said he could save the baby, if, she could bring him mustard seeds from a house where no child, spouse, parent has ever died. The woman returned in a few days and saw she was not alone in her grief. The law of death among all creatures is that there is no permanence. And that no one lives free from suffering and loss.

Expect suffering. By recognizing the suffering and accepting it there is a possibility of freedom from suffering. The root causes of suffering are ignorance, craving and hatred. It is natural to suffer. Failure happening. But you can learn from failure.

Your mind may be the problem. The refusal to accept suffering as a natural part of life can lead to viewing oneself as a perpetual victim and blaming others for our problems – a surefire recipe for a miserable life. All too often, we perpetuate our pain, keep it alive, by replaying our hurts over and over again in our minds, magnifying our injustices in the process. We repeat painful memories hoping that it will change the situation – but it never does.

Your pain is your own personal creation. If you refrain from reacting to things in a negative way, you protect yourself from that feeling of hurt, that feeling of agony. You can’t avoid difficult situations, you can modify the extent to which you suffer by how you choose to respond to the situation.

Perspective. The ability to look at events from different perspectives can be very helpful. With problems, all our attention may be focused on worrying about the problem, and can lead a kind of self-absorption that can make the problem seem very intense.

– The enemy is the necessary condition for practicing patience.

Extremes? Isn’t going to extremes what provides the excitement and zest in life?… our ultimate aim in seeking more wealth is a sense of satisfaction, of happiness. but the very basis of seeking MORE is a feeling of not having enough, a feeling of discontentment. That feeling of discontentment, doesn’t arise from the desirability of the object but rather from our own mental state. I think that our tendency to go to extremes is often fueled by an underlying feeling of discontentment.

– Dr. Brand came to view pain not as the universal enemy but as a elegant, sophisticated biological system that protects us. But why must the experience of pain be so unpleasant? Unpleasant quality of pain forces the entire human organism to attend to the problem. It sears the experience into the memory and serves to protect us in the future. Finding meaning in our suffering can help us cope with life’s problems. Also, an understanding of the purpose of pain can lesson our suffering when pain arises.

Bring change. Developing conviction, learning and educating help develop. Change to determination, transform into action and biggest factor is effort. A sense of urgency is critical.

To change bad behaviors, be constantly aware of the destructive effects of the negative behavior.

What me worry. If the situation or problem can be remedied, then no need to worry. If there is no way to fix a problem then there is no need to worry cause you can’t do anything about it.

– Everybody has the right to be a happy person. And the right to overcome suffering. Respect the rights of others.

Bottom Line: Get the book. Should give you some new ways to look at dark days and re-shift some of your perspectives. As always, easier read than done.

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16 responses to “The Art of Happiness: Book Review

  1. Brian Kotlyar Reply

    Hi Noah,

    Thanks for the book review. Two books that I like on the topic are:

    “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah” by Richard Bach
    “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

    I found them very enlightening, and if you want to read more then I suggest you check them out.

    Of course, you are exactly right on the question of ‘easier read than done’ but I’d rather know than the alternative.

    -Brian

  2. Mario Vellandi Reply

    Hi Noah,

    Glad you enjoyed the book; I read it last year on bike rides. I loved how it was written as a psychological inside look at living/happiness principles from a Buddhist perspective. It was very approachable and practical
    take care

  3. Noah Kagan Reply

    good call mario. i like the balance with religion. some good stuff. what was your biggest take away from the book?

    it’s so easy to have a good idea for a week/month but forget.

    i think about suffering was my biggest thing. knowing that it will happen, feeling it and then learning from it. i guess we all expect highs/lows but never really prepare for them.

  4. Noah Kagan Reply

    brian,

    i liked the first of man’s search for meaning. i would say one of just the ultimate life books is 7 habits of highly effective people. now that i think about it do we want everything to be highly effective. maybe the title could be adjusted to “7 habits of people who want extremely fulfilled lives:)”

  5. Brian Kotlyar Reply

    Your comment made me think of what Cosmo might look like if they changed it up for a month:

    7 Habits of people who want extremely fulfilled lives
    101 ways to achieve work life balance
    50 tips to cope with your own mortality

    and instead of Angelina Jolie there would be a picture (airbrushed of course) of Buddha.

  6. Angela Shelton Reply

    Hey, I’m writing a guidebook!

    I’ll take the Dali Lama on. (that is a big fat just kidding) I am writing one though. I’ll send you a copy. Just right after I finish spending four hours reading your blog. Thanks for getting me hooked. Jeez… There’s some happiness for you – your blog makes people happy!

  7. Mario Vellandi Reply

    I liked the talk about Love, man’s relationship to it, our capacity for it, and how emotions (negative and positive) affect our understanding and application of it. This area made me content with my application of loving kindness & compassion, and helped me understand my slight aversion to deeper/romantic love.

    The subject of depression and sadness in Western civ. seemed so foreign to the DL, because the cultural context was different in addition to the sources of it. In retrospect, all suffering according to Buddhist psychology is a result of attachments and the inability to understand & accept the impermanence of all phenomena.

    Also, I laughed with the DL as he played with Western civ’s continuous thirst for creating perfect mental models for psychology, the way things are, metaphysics, etc. I liked how he basically said not to take things so seriously, and just accept there are so many potential variables acting on the causation of matter and events, to try and calculate their number and relative importance can be futile and worthless. That moment was akin to telling a scientist to take a break and go for a walk in the park…I loved it! But it also made me think much more open-mindedly about the possible causation of people’s behavior, and to simply attribute it to circumstances I can’t fully understand – and the only practical questions to ask are “Where do we go from here?” or “How can I help?” and the like.

  8. Luzi Reply

    Thanks for bringing up this topic, Noah!

    I am grateful for His Holiness’ ability and interest to translate “being and doing” into “words”. “words” is what the Western society is mostly conditioned for.

    I strongly recommend daily meditation practice (“being and doing”), and so many of those dreaded worries of all sorts very simply start vanishing (see link for more).

    take care!

  9. Sean Tierney Reply

    irony on the timing, i had just finished this book 2wks ago. it’s interesting to contrast what we each took away from it.

    What’s weird about the “expect suffering” idea is I interpreted it as him meaning “embrace it as something that forges you into a better human being” but not necessarily “expect” it like it’s something innate to normal life. there’s a weird dichotomoy – he seems to believe that the natural state of a sentient being is one of complete peace, and all this other crap piled ontop that derails us and brings anguish/hate/etc is just temporary blemishes on that pure chassis (if that makes any sense). “appreciate your enemies because they make you grow” is a very different premise than this idea of “life is suffering, deal with it” idea I was taught growing up. I had fairly polluted ideas from 10yrs of Catholic education that took years to undo- the whole “original sin” “guilt is a part of life” line. Buddhism just appears so much more sensible and accurate as a belief system.

    i had written some thoughts of my own up here -> http://www.scrollinondubs.com/2008/01/20/art-of-happiness-takeaways/

    btw, totally agree w/ the first commenter on the “Illusions” book – it’s one of my top 5. Get “The Alchemist” too. Deepak Chopra’s “7 laws of spiritual success” and “The Four Agreements” are both good. My buddy Tom who is a recently converted Buddhist highly recommended this book if you’re interested in learning more about Buddhism (i haven’t read it)- > “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” by Thich Nhat Hanh

    sean

  10. Dara Reply

    The Dalai Lama spoke at my University (UM in Florida) a year or two ago and it was amazing. I was worried it would be cheesy or cliche (and it kind of was but in a good way). You could hear a pin drop.

  11. Jay, writer MemberSpeed.com Reply

    People would do better in this world armed with some of life’s simplest weapons. The Art of Happiness sounds like it could provide answers to a lot of questions. Perhaps one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to choose to look at the bright side. What will sulking and feeling down do for you anyway? Pity? Sympathy? After that, what will you do? One should always take it upon himself or herself to seek out happiness and not the other way around.