Tag Archives: Happiness

Book: The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World

The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World
This book has many covers, all of which feature a large photo of the Dalai Lama.

A non-interactive version of McKinney’s “Happiness”. Practical psychology that’s coincidentally Buddhist.
368 pages,

The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World tells us why we should be happy. It does so in fluent prose, a substantial proportion of which is paraphrased from dialogues between the author and the Dalai Lama (hence the Dalai Lama’s name and giant picture on the front cover). It teaches us that we should all be happy, that happiness is contagious, and that happiness is always the antidote to suffering. Very Buddhist.

The author raises many points that would make interesting conversation topics. He argues that hit TV show “Survivor” is the epitome of American individualism and greed: when a dozen strangers are left stranded on an island, they are rewarded for infighting (not co-operating) and all strive to be the last one standing—alone, atop a huge pile of cash. “How unhappy the winners must be!”, the author writes.

He also argues that racism is rooted in a human evolutionary preference for remembering negative news over positive news. Positive news can make you happy (e.g. “we have a bumper harvest this year”) but negative news can save your life (e.g. “a hurricane is coming”). He says this is why one group will more easily remember negative information about another group, unless they are well-acquainted. He thus infers that racism can be eliminated by cultural understanding. I like that.

The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World more closely resembles a psychology book than a Buddhist book. He talks about the roots of fear, and recovery from trauma with the soothing tone of a psychologist. Like McKinney’s book, The Power of Happiness (see review here), The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World is Buddhist by coincidence.

This book concludes with a dramatic change in tone. First, it resembles Thomas Freedman’s The World Is Flat. Not only are we are all equal human beings on a level playing field, who achieve great things when we work together, but we are also much more interconnected than we realise. (The latter example is illustrated by the famous Milton Friedman question, “how many people does it take to make a pencil?”). Answer: probably billions, both past and present. The effect here is to remind us that happiness is not only necessary and possible, but also contagious in the modern world. Happy people make people happy. 🙂

I’m glad I’ve read this book, even though it’s not the best in its genre. (Those, I gave five stars: see Tiny Buddha, Happiness and The Power of Happiness for better-written, 5-star examples.) I gave this book four stars because I’m such a fan of the genre. Most other reviewers would give it just three. ★★★★

Book: The Power of Happiness: A Comprehensive Guide to Daily Joy and Well-Being

Yellow is a happy colour. Think of Bruno Mars’ and Jack Johnson’s album covers. This yellow-covered ebook brightened my day.

All-rounded day-course syllabus in happiness—with homework!
192 estimated pages, ★

The Power of Happiness is excellent value. For $5, I got an ebook, a 32-page PDF workbook, and a series of timely email updates from the author. Compare this $5 ebook package to a day-long coaching seminar, which could set you back $200 or more and cover about the same amount of material (with refreshments included). If you motivate yourself to do the assignments at home (and make your own tea), you could feel a lot of the same benefits (clarity, positive thoughts, direction, knowledge and laughter) for a fraction of the price of a coaching seminar. The Power of Happiness is more than just an ebook—it’s an entire syllabus on happiness.

The PDF workbook asks you to complete ten assignments, such as an eight-point “happiness wheel”, and a list of 99 things that make you happy (very difficult). It also gives you CBT-style exercises based both on your own life and on realistic fictional examples. This book discusses happiness from so many different angles that most readers will not only find comfort in re-reading familiar disciplines, but also discover new slants on happiness, which interested readers can then explore through the abundant references.

The Power of Happiness combines a wealth of research from Buddhism, neurobiology, scientific studies, and self-help guides into a resource-rich home-study syllabus. My most memorable lesson is that happiness is an inside job—that happiness depends on your internal well-being, not on your external circumstances. This lesson is Buddhist by coincidence. The Dalai Lama is quoted in this book as saying, “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions”. The Power of Happiness explains how transient pleasures such as money, food, and job titles are incapable of making us happy because lasting happiness cannot come from things that can be taken away.

Another ‘Buddhist-by-coincidence’ lesson was the five types of thinking that make you unhappy: Attachment to Things, Expectations of Others, Expectations of Yourself, Attachment to a Different Time, The Idea that Things Should Be Different Than They Are. Much of this has also been confirmed by neurobiological studies.

This book is not aimed at treating depression. This book is aimed at elevating the majority of us, who are somewhere between ‘happy’ and ‘unhappy’, further up towards ‘happy’. If you fit into this category (and I certainly do), then you’ll find this happiness syllabus well worth your time. Study it diligently, do all the exercises, and you’ll feel lifted. Great value for $5. ★★★★★

Book: Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill

Healthful soul tonic that everyone needs. Read it with Orchid-Scented Phoenix Tea.
272 pages, ★★★★★

Happiness is an extroverted book with nothing to hide. You’ll notice this from the moment you open it. The friction coefficient of the paperback cover is equal to that of the pages inside, so the fingerfeel of the inside and outside seem to be ‘one’ (very Buddhist). The paper is grippable, not polished, and the pages are slightly imperfectly-cut, which helps author Mattieu Ricard emanate his soothing modesty and humour onto paper. Watch him speak here at TED.com, again, with nothing to hide.

Happiness covers Buddhist teachings of the ego, karma and inner happiness. First, a true Buddhist is egoless. Second, karma (or 因果, “cause-and-effect”) rules the universe: “If we sow the seeds of poisonous weeds, we cannot expect to reap crops”. Third, happiness is independent of external circumstances, particularly material abundance. This is illustrated with numerous examples and meditation exercises. The classic anecdote of a lottery winner becoming ecstatic, then indifferent, then increasingly depressed over time (sometimes suicidal) is used. However, metaphors that relate to nature will dominate this book (in a very Tibetan way), for example, “sating desire is like drinking seawater—it only makes you more thirsty”. The best anecdote of how happiness differs from pleasure comes in the form of the lab-rat who, in control of an electrode that stimulates the ‘pleasure’ parts of its brain, will continue to stimulate itself until it dies of hunger or exhaustion. Happiness uses science and Buddhism, East and West, modern and traditional in tandem.

Science is used throughout Happiness. Compassionate people can withstand pain for longer. Optimistic people live 19% longer. Experienced meditators exhibit significantly-higher gamma-wave activity in the left pre-frontal lobe (associated with happiness) when meditating. Despite knowing that we should never take the pop-sci genre for face-value, the author’s biochemistry background leaves me questioning not the credibility of his research (which has been submitted to Nature), but the credibility of a slightly-conflicting book, A Whole New Mind (read my review here). Both books discuss brain-waves and happiness.

There was an apparent contradiction in this book. The author writes that enlightenment needn’t be preceded by suffering or wrongdoing; that benevolence is not merely practiced to counteract previous crimes. But at the same time, the author writes in the first chapter, that “the first step to ‘happiness’ [in the book’s sense] is to acknowledge that our way of acting and feeling has been wrong”. Whether suffering is to alleviate our own pain or that of others, it does seem that experiencing pain and focussing on it does seem to be a prerequisite to enlightenment. Fight Club‘s chemical burn scene was right.

Another thing that surprised me were his repeated references to China. Being a compassionate monk, he showed no anger in writing (8 times) about the plight of the Tibetans during the Chinese Liberation period. But as a Sinophile, I’m tempted to now go and read more books by Tibetans in exile, and the Communist Party’s official view of this slice of Tibet’s history. Did Tibetans suffer any more than the Han suffered during Liberation and the Cultural Revolution? Possibly not…

I should have read this book years ago (it was published in English in 2006). The section labelled “Why blame the world?” would have been particularly educational for me when struggling a few years ago. I found guidance in Marxism and Maoism, but would have been infinitely better-off with Buddhism (and happiness). I recommend this book for anyone caught up in the superficialities of democracy, the “captivity of negativity” or the trivialities of daily life. ★★★★★