The Art of Happiness (1998, The Dalai Lama & Howard Cutler) - Book Summary

Handbook for a happy life

The Art of Happiness (1998) is based on an interview with the Dalai Lama by psychologist Howard C. Cutler. The blend of Buddhist thought traditions and Cutler's knowledge of healing or scientific research makes this book the key to happiness. The book was on the New York Times bestseller list for 97 consecutive weeks.

The book is a great choice for those who:

  • Want to learn how to solve problems and find lasting happiness?
  • Want to know what the Dalai Lama's views have in common with healing methods and scientific research
  • People who are struggling with anxiety, anger, guilt or any other negative state

Information about the author

The Dalai Lama is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and a thought leader in Tibet. He has been in exile in Dharamsala, India since the Chinese invasion and annexation of Tibet in 1959. He became the commander of the Tibetans and retired in 2011.

Dr. Howard C. Cutler is an American psychiatrist who has studied Tibetan medicine and has had several interviews with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

A good mental state is the key to happiness, not by any external factors.

The truth is that everyone spends most of their life searching for happiness. It seems to be a certain "land" that is very far away, mysterious and ambiguous. We often have misconceptions about what makes us happy. According to the Dalai Lama, we can absolutely learn to feel happy all the time through training our minds.

"External events can affect a person's momentary pleasure, but our happiness levels tend to revert back to their original point shortly after."

For example, when someone wins the lottery, they will feel it is the happiest moment of their life, but that joy will subside after a very short time. Similarly, after a period of suffering because of hearing that they have a serious illness, patients will temporarily forget about it and return to their normal daily lives. The examples above demonstrate that no single event, no matter how serious, can change your long-term happiness.

However, the soul has much more power than that, it will directly affect the way you perceive the world around you. As simple as when you are upset, you will find everyone, even your best friend, annoying and obnoxious.

According to the Dalai Lama, we can completely practice to maintain a happy mental state, and at the same time get rid of pessimistic and negative thoughts. Although it is a long process and requires constant perseverance, it will give us the calmness to fully enjoy a happy life.

Building a heart to share, empathize and help others is the best way to improve physical and mental health.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama emphasizes on building compassion in each person, because this is an important factor in creating lasting happiness and spiritual growth.

Compassion can simply be understood as a feeling of openness and comfort, always sincerely wishing everyone around to be free from suffering. That noble wish is not limited to any particular or particular person, but to all living beings around, be it a friend, a rival, or even a poor fish injured. hook.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without it, humans cannot exist.”

The health benefits of building compassion have been proven by numerous studies. Feeling happy, happy after helping others will help us prolong our life. But the most surprising effect of compassion is its powerful transmission in the community. Those with such noble hearts always feel open and close to everyone around them, whether they are rich or poor, close friends or strangers.

To be able to build compassion within us, we need to learn to empathize with the people around us, always seeing and evaluating from their point of view. This way, you can understand the other person's situation and way of thinking and easily come to terms with what you have in common with them. For example, when a taxi driver charges you more, instead of getting angry, think about what you and him have in common. Both of them were very tired, hungry and wanted to go home quickly. From there, try to put yourself in their shoes and empathize with their way of thinking. By thinking like this, you will more easily learn to sympathize, forgive, and live more comfortably, gently, and joyfully.

Intimacy, closeness is not only in romantic relationships.

Westerners believe that only romantic relationships arise intimacy and closeness. But in reality, that attachment exists in different circumstances depending on different periods and cultures. It arises from the male-female relationship from the Western point of view. However, the Dalai Lama says he feels close to everyone around him, for example being able to talk freely with unfamiliar floor cleaners. By always seizing every opportunity to connect with the people around us, we will have a happier and happier life.

To solve problems in a relationship with someone, you have to understand the basic foundations of relationships. For example, romantic relationships based solely on sexual desire or momentary passion (from the Western point of view) cannot last without a solid foundation. In fact, the longevity of any relationship must be based on respect and understanding from both sides. As Mark Twain said, "No one can fully understand the meaning of a perfect love until they have been married for a quarter of a century."

A sense of morality is another important factor in creating happiness

Although religious beliefs are important to personal happiness, without them does not mean that you will not be able to practice morality.

The benefits of deep religious awareness have been proven through numerous studies. However, those benefits are not dependent on any particular creed. According to the Dalai Lama, any religion in the world can help its followers lead a happier life.

In fact, there is no moral standard outside of religious thought. So anyone, religious or not, can practice basic standards like kindness, caring, and sharing with others. Practicing ethics helps the community become closer and closer, helping people become calmer, more patient and happier.

“If you want others to be happy, build compassion. If you want to be happy, build compassion.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama spends 4 hours a day practicing religious habits, but basic moral ideas can be practiced every day without praying or doing other complicated things. For example, if you are going to scold someone, you can exercise your character by trying to keep your anger down as much as possible. So you can take every opportunity every day to behave in the most beautiful and civilized way.

Instead of exaggerating pain, accept that it is an integral part of life.

Difficulties are a natural and inevitable part of life. Eastern cultures seem to have gotten used to it because they went through a period of struggle with poverty, disease, and war. However, Westerners are not used to that. Therefore, they often feel that they are the pitiful victims of some evil force when facing any difficulties.

Difficulties are inevitable, it's like everyone is born and dies. So dodging is only a temporary solution. However, in order to cope with it, we need to train ourselves with a spirit of steel. If you're scared and think things are out of the ordinary and unfair, you feel like you're the victim and start looking for ways to apologise. In other words, you are pushing yourself into unnecessary misery by exaggerating the inevitable difficulties of life.

For example, we often cling to the familiar and try to resist change. However, change is the law of life, and if we resist it, we can even lose the seemingly familiar things that we try to hold on to.

Always tormenting for past mistakes is also an act of pushing yourself into persistent suffering. For example, couples who have been divorced for a long time but still keep a hostile attitude and boil with anger towards each other.

In conclusion, by calmly accepting difficulties, we can confront and find their causes - including whether you are contributing to them - thereby overcoming pain gently. than.

Eliminate negative thoughts with persistent effort.

The Dalai Lama believes that positive thoughts are the antidote to pessimistic, negative thoughts – the biggest stone standing in our way to happiness. Therefore, to eliminate negativity in our lives, we need to practice the habit of thinking and acting positively and optimistically.

That is similar to the basis of Western cognitive therapy, therapy that helps to recognize and correct distorted thoughts and actions. Pessimists always have a wrong way of thinking, they often focus on negative things in life such as financial or work problems. They overlook the beautiful things in life like good health or a happy family around. So the simplest method is to change that negative thinking to become happier.

Forming the habit of positive thinking is a process that takes a lot of time and cannot be burned. The Dalai Lama said that it took him nearly 40 years to get used to and love the daily customs of Buddhism. Daily prayer time serves as a reminder of his desire to live his own life.

It can be said that persistent efforts daily can help us build positive living habits.

Learn how to think positively

When people face difficulty, nearly all tend to view it in a negative light. It is true that every problem has two sides, it depends on how we look at it from different angles. For example, sitting next to a noisy and annoying person on an airplane can be a great opportunity to practice patience and tolerance.

When faced with obstacles in life, instead of wallowing in grief and wondering “why always me?”, see it as an opportunity to become stronger. In every difficulty, find a "springboard" to reach further.

To be able to easily change our perspective, we need to have a flexible way of thinking about everything. Everyone can practice this flexibility by trying to change the way they see things when faced with difficulties.

People with flexible ways of thinking are sometimes perceived as indecisive and unstable. However, can you at best follow a rigid yet flexible principle?

The Dalai Lama's method is simplified to the most basic level so that it can be applied to most everyday situations instead of a few rules that are too specific and do not apply to certain situations.

Thinking is an activity of the nervous system, so it can be practiced. However, learning how to find the positive side of things takes a lot of time and effort. So we need to start practicing now. Just as a tree's roots can't suddenly grow big and strong as they prepare to face a storm, you can't immediately see the bright side of a cancer you just learned about not long ago.

“A disciplined mind leads to happiness, an undisciplined mind brings suffering.”

Overcome anxiety and low self-esteem by honestly analyzing your thoughts, motivations, and abilities.

Fear and anxiety are things that people have to go through every day. However, when they are not simply a natural response but become severe and persistent, they can cause a variety of mental and physical problems, including deterioration. immune system and cardiovascular disease.

Anxiety can have many causes. To solve this problem, the Dalai Lama did similar to the Western method of mental training through mental intervention. He likes to challenge stressful thoughts and replace them with more positive thoughts.

Sometimes there are specific everyday situations that also cause anxiety. For example, when you want to take your "object" out on a date. In such cases, you should think about why you wanted to do the job in the first place. From there, you can realize that your motivation is precious and worthy of respect, and that motivation will help you overcome your initial anxiety. As the famous saying goes, "When you want to give up, think about why you started."

Excessive anxiety is often related to low self-esteem. According to the Dalai Lama, the best medicine for this feeling is being honest with your abilities and limitations with yourself and those around you. If you recognize and accept your limitations, you can confidently admit your shortcomings without sacrificing self-esteem.

Sometimes feelings of inferiority can cause self-hatred. Many unfortunate suicides stem from a feeling that your best friend's existence is too useless. The therapy for this dangerous mental problem is actually quite simple. Always remind yourself that within each person there is a special ability to develop. This thinking is deeply ingrained in the everyday Tibetan way of thinking. That's why "self-hatred" is a non-existent term in their society.


This book will answer these questions:

  • How can we achieve lasting happiness?
  • Not everyday tasks, but only a positive state of mind can do that
  • Why compassion, intimacy, and a sense of morality bring true happiness
  • Building compassion is the way to a happier and healthier life
  • Close, romantic feelings are not limited to relationships of love.
  • We can practice morality in ourselves to achieve happiness without being too dependent on religious beliefs.
  • How to get over the pain
  • People often exaggerate pain beyond necessity
  • We can get rid of negative thoughts through persistent effort
  • Learn to be flexible in how you see and find the positive in every situation
  • Replace anger with patience and tolerance
  • Eliminate feelings of anxiety and confidence by honestly assessing your thoughts and abilities.

Happiness is not based on external events. By training our souls, we will achieve lasting happiness