In everyday life, there is an experience of happiness, may it be from a video of watching a cat tumble to learn how to finally walk, or a touching gesture of sharing an umbrella during a rainy day - everyone can become happy. People find happiness in many different things - some found inner peace by simply reading a book or sometimes going to a holy place to meditate and cleanse the spirit.
In the modern society, in particular, happiness has come to mean material possessions, fancy travels, and heaps of money in the bank. Some find enjoyment in doing what is moral and extending acts of charity to the less fortunate. Others, however, find happiness in relationships—one that speaks of family, friendships, and brotherhood.
The problem with ordinary and material happiness is that it never lasts. Money can be stolen, houses can be burned down, or people we love will eventually leave us for the afterlife. Hence, it is no wonder that people go through life in pursuit of “happiness,” and when they fail to find it, they fall into the trap of bitterness, anxiety, or depression.
But according to Buddha, happiness is never far from us. In fact, here is a verse that clearly states Buddha’s thoughts on happiness:
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts. It is made up of our thoughts. If one speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows one, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the wagon.”
These are the words of a former prince in Nepal who has all the luxury and wealth one can imagine, but did not bring him lasting happiness. Similarly, he said:
“If one speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows one, like a shadow that never leaves.”
In other words, happiness is a state of mind. It is not something that happens to us, but a deliberate decision to choose happiness day in and day out, regardless of the circumstances.
Like the eight kinds of love among the Ancient Greeks, happiness among Buddhist followers comes in various forms. Siddhartha Gautama of Shakya, who later became known as the Buddha, used the word “sukha” to refer to different kinds of happiness, namely:
This kind of happiness is centered around wealth and material things like owning a property, business, and bank account. According to Buddha, it is still somehow a form of happiness even if one is not enjoying his or her possessions or using it.
This is a deeper level of happiness that the first one. The happiness of enjoyment is the capacity to enjoy one’s possessions. It is said that when a person has the possessions, he or she easily finds comforts in hearing some good music, art, food, and beauty among others.
This can be considered a more relevant degree of happiness. In the modern setting, being debt-free is not many people experience in their lives. Debt burdens families, and when the debt is repaid, Buddha said this creates some level of internal happiness and bliss.
Considered as the highest form of happiness among the four sukhas, the “happiness of blamelessness” means to live a life that harms no one. It is centred on being morally and lawfully right by abstaining from wrongful acts like killing, stealing, sexual perversion, lying, and slander among others. Furthermore, this kind of happiness is said to be free of remorse. In other words, joyful, calm and fearless.
Anyone who assumes that the Buddha was a pessimist who discussed nothing but misery is only displaying ignorance of the Buddha’s original teaching. Although the great spiritual teacher is more known for his teachings on suffering and accepting it as part of life, he also understood that this could be eliminated. To sum it through the Four Noble Truths, Buddha taught:
Dukkha is actually a state of mind that was created by the constant accumulation of ignorance that has been cultivated from this mortal plane. With this enormous factor in life, the possibility of becoming truly happy can hardly be achieved.
To address this, Buddha found solace in renouncing what wasn’t needed and lived a life of contentment. He then discovered what he called the “Middle Path” of moderation - a middle between two extremes.
According to the spiritual leader, the existence of true happiness and wisdom lies in The Eightfold Path. These are:
While it might be something that is thought to be common sense, it’s truly quite difficult for people to follow through these. According to Buddha, a close practice of this is actually the way to peace of mind and thus, true happiness. It’s when you are deprived of all your possessions, titles, degrees, but remaining happy--then that’s what true happiness is.
One common misconception about happiness and enlightenment is that one has to be enlightened first to find happiness. But Buddha’s teachings state that it is necessary to cultivate the mental state of happiness first in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment.
In Buddhism, enlightenment is when a person discovers the truth and goes into complete liberation. In other words, he or she is stopped from being reborn for he has reached the great Nirvana. Buddhists believe a person can become enlightened by following the Middle Way.
Again, happiness, which is a factor of enlightenment, is never dependent on objects and material possessions. Rather, happiness is a state of mind refined through mental discipline
One practical Buddhist way to cultivate mental discipline is through meditation and mindfulness. Meditation clears the mind of negative thoughts while seeding positive thoughts and emotions. When a person feels anxious and depressed, meditation can help him find clarity. He would also gain wisdom by realizing that much of the worldly worries do not actually matter in the grand scheme of things.
While it is true that meditation is only a fraction of the whole Buddhism teachings, it can help achieve a positive mental state.