If you want to be happy, think outside the self


In this 12-minute TED talk, Buddhist scholar Bob Thurman shares simple yet profound insights about happiness. If you don’t want to watch the video (don’t worry – you won’t miss any how-to-be-happy demonstrations), then here’s a summary:

Self-obsession is boring

Thinking of ourselves as alone in the world puts us into a delusion. The more we focus on how we feel, the worse we feel. Thurman quotes the Dalai Lama, who says our own pains and pleasures are too boring, too small a theatre for our intelligence.

We can move into compassion

We can move beyond this obsession with ourselves – through art, meditation, understanding, and becoming aware of our interconnectedness with others. Doing so forces us to feel what others feel, to experience compassion. When we’re no longer locked into ourselves, when we escape the prison of I-me-mine, then we start to become interested in others, and to feel our own selves differently.

Helping is more fun than being caught up in ourselves

To help the suffering we don’t have to join their pain or be miserable. Instead, we can be buoyed by a sense of hope, of what is possible through helping. Being compassionate and generous is fun. Again Thurman cites the Dalai Lama – who’s a great example of joy, despite how deeply he feels the pain of the world.

We can end our self-centered focus, thinking instead of how to help someone else – even a pet! – to be happy. And as soon as we make someone else happier, our whole perception broadens. Suddenly, we’re happier too.

My (&GBS’s) 2 cents

We don’t have to be Buddhist scholars to appreciate the value of focusing less on our own boring dramas and more on how we can contribute to our world. Indeed, the Irish-born, Nobel-Prize-winning writer George Bernard Shaw noted something similar more than a century ago:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

This is the irony of compassion, the karmic trick of kindness. When we think about ourselves, those ailments and grievances loom large in our lives. It’s when we turn our attention to others that we somehow stumble onto the ‘true joy in life’.

One Response

  1. K Amber October 21, 2007

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