The Practice of Happiness

For the coming New Year of 2009, I would like to share with you the timeless wisdom of dharma towards The Practice of Happiness, my article written for the package “In spirit”, of Outlook, the Bangkok Post on December 2007.

Phra Paisal Visalo suggests practical guidelines on ways to cultivate happiness in our life for this coming New Year. I think we can follow these guidelines every year.


Everybody wishes for happiness. Whatever we wish for, be it, good health, luck, wealth, love, success, and not facing difficult situations, they are all the many manifestations of happiness.

Unfortunately, we usually find happiness short-lived and rare to come. So we come to another wish. How can we cherish the happy wishes forever?

Phra Paisal Visalo said that the irony is that the more and harder we strive for happiness, the less and further we are from it. To attain genuine happiness, we need to stop and have time for ourselves to take an inward journey to discover the spring of joy, the monk said. The keys to happiness are already at hands.

“Happiness is intrinsically natural for us. It dwells in our heart. We can’t realise it because we spare very little or no time at all to contemplate on life. With life on the fast lane, we hardly see who we are, what is essential for our living, what we truly want in life,’’ said Phra Paisal for the book launch “Kam Kor Tee Ying Yai’’, which he co-wrote with Arthit Yam Chao.

Our view that happiness is out there to search and reach for from people, materials, fame, positions, or awards blind us from seeing the truth, he added. Happiness is not about earning or maintaining status quo. It is about feeling and being happy.

The first step may start from cultivating the right view that happiness is not everlasting. “Like everything else in nature, happiness changes and subsides. If we can accept this law of impermanence, we will be permanently happy.”

Happiness cannot be bought or consumed. It comes to us when we learn to let go of our selfishness, cravings, and possessive mind to own things including happiness. “When we stop demanding that nature, people and things will be as we please, then we will be able to taste a sweetness of joy.’’

Attachment is the root of our sufferings, said Phra Paisal. “We hold on to the ‘me’ and ‘mine’ so much so that we are enslaved by whatever we cling to. For example, when someone stains or scratches “my” car, it feels like “I” am stained and scratched. In this sense, “I” have become the car.

“If we ease up our grasp on ‘my’ car, yes, the car is ruined, but our mind will not be,’’ he said.

The degree of our suffering is relative to the size of our ‘self’. The bigger the ego, the more our sufferings, Phra Paisal said.

While Buddhism teaches us to be ‘nobody’, our consumerism society cheers us to be ‘somebody’. We are driven to go after money, fame, higher positions and ranking, wealth, eulogy, power, for example.

“The ‘big’ ego becomes an easy target where suffering can hit without a miss. For example, one may go to a restaurant and feel upset for not being waited instantly. Or if you thought that you were ‘someone’, you would not like to go in line for services, you want to be treated as you are politician, police, for example.’’

“When we are angry or arrogant, we are separating ourselves from the others. It is this separation that blocks us from the flow of happiness. Unless, we open up ourselves to others and all possibilities in life, our heart becomes light, liberated and most of all, expansive.”

In short, Phra Paisal said, what we need to do to realize happiness is to scrape off our ego, which brings about selfishness and separation. He urges us to be ‘an empty boat’, which is not affected by low or high tides. “Ultimately, the supreme happiness comes when there is ‘no one’ who attaches to sufferings or happiness.’’

By this, the monk gives us some practical guidelines that we can do everyday to lead us on lighter and happier journey in life.

Say “I’m sorry” And “Never mind”

We are no angels. As human beings, it is natural for us to be imperfect and prone to make mistakes, said Phra Paisal. But these days, we say sorry too little and too late. Consequently, we are relentlessly living in feuds at home, office, and society.

“Sorry’’ from medical doctors can be a remedy for patients who lost their limbs or loved ones. This regret will help restore doctor and patient relationship from the court.

“Sorry’’ from the government to the massacre in the deep south may heal the wounded hearts of our Muslim fellows who felt justice has not been served. The situation may not have developed so violent these days.

“Sorry’’ from parents may prevent many children from juvenile detention centres.

“Sorry’’ seems to be the hardest word because we associate it to failures, mistakes, incompetence, and weakness; which we must not show to others, said Phra Paisal.

“When we say sorry, we are not losing face. We are losing delusion. It is a noble act. It shows one’s humility and compassion to feel the others’ sufferings,” said the monk.

It needs understanding and courage to make an apology, he added. “One needs to take off many heavy hats we are wearing, like, education, seniority, experience, positions, ranking, social status—and just to relate to one another as human fellows.’’

The sooner one says ‘sorry’, the quicker one can mend conflicts and restore relationships. Most importantly, Phra Paisal emphasized, it is a perfect tool to scuff off one’s ego.

“When we sincerely feel and say sorry, our mind will be light and liberated. But if we remain head-strong, resisting to our mistakes, we are harming ourselves. Our heart becomes hard and cold, our ego gets stronger, thus our sufferings deepened.’’

Like asking for an apology, to forgive sets our heart free; from anger, grudges or sorrow that weighs us down. At times, it cannot help that people hurt us with their deeds and words, it is thus crucial that we learn to cultivate a forgiving mind. “We all can make mistakes, thus, we all need forgiving.”

The sooner one forgives, the sooner one will be happy.

Say “Thank you” and words of compliment

“Thank you’ is not a social manner. When uttered from the heart, it can promote our happiness too. How? It takes optimism and humility to speak it out.

Those who see themselves above others or are hard to please may find it difficult to appreciate or see others’ contributions and goodness. They may see only flaws of things and give complaints and criticism rather than compliments. In this manner, one is likely to feel upset, dissatisfied, frustrated and far from feeling happy.

To be able to thank someone or something needs both truthful and positive perspectives. This outlook can be cultivated and trained. Appreciate little things in life, any small things people do or say to us, will already bring us joy and smile almost constantly.

Most importantly, Phra Paisal added our sharpened positive outlook will help us through difficult times too. “This inclination can help us see the bright side of suffering and thus make our plight manageable and not so miserable.’’

Learn from suffering

Phra Paisal urges us to take the bull by its horns. “Be happy when suffering comes as it provides us a chance to shake off our ego.’’

We suffer because we cling to suffering, he said.

There are mainly two kinds of situation that normally make us suffer. First, losing what we love and desire. When we lose people, things, positions, or circumstance we prefer, we become miserable and angry.

Second, facing what we hate; be it, people we don’t like, physical or emotional pain, criticism, failure, and disappointment, we are likely to be miserable and angry as well.

“When we face these situations, do not try to push or bury them away. When you suffer, try to see that it is not ‘you’ but the ‘self’, the ‘delusions’ that is suffering. You need to allow these delusions to suffer so as to tame them. Things won’t appear as we please, accept it as it comes with humility.’’

Set time to oneself

It is impossible to be truly happy when one is always on the run. To realize happiness, we need to slow down and give ourselves more time in solitude. Take a time off each day to install happiness in our body and mind will already bring us joy.

Sadly, today, we are always running out of time, for ourselves and thus for others. Our attention are scattered to so many things; schedules, meetings, activities, several jobs in hands. Therefore it becomes difficult for us to focus on really important issues in life. What is truly our happiness?

Without contemplation and time, we are pushed here and there by ulterior forces. Therefore, we are running endlessly on the course of sufferings.

Ultimately, Phra Paisal wishes that we will be aloof from being ‘someone’ who feel happy or suffer. “Then, you will attain permanent happiness.’’

Happy New Year!!!

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