Thursday, December 27, 2012

Completed: The Art of Happiness

Dear Jenny,

I finished this book a few weeks ago, but, for the second time in 2012, got waylaid by moving. (Moving twice in one year? Not recommended.) It was not nearly as "medicinal" as I had feared -- a pretty quick read, in fact, although I think it could have been a bit shorter. (More on that in a bit.)

Since I don't have a lot of time as the year wraps up to delve into every nuance of this book, I'm going to just fire off my general thoughts that I scratched down as I was burning through it. So this is kind of random -- sorry.

Everyone is good. (Everyone?)
According to the Dalai Lama, everyone is basically "good." I'm not sure if I agree and it's something that's been sticking in my mind since I read this. I mean, I want to believe that every baby is born good, but... I just don't know. I feel like there are truly some "bad seeds" born into this world -- people who were bad from the start. Maybe it's simply a matter of not having the right nurturing available to them to overcome this badness, but I do wonder if some people really are wired wrong. On the other hand, any time you hear about someone doing truly awful things, it never seems to be a result of an awesome stable family life. Sooo.... maybe the DL is right. Regardless, it's something to think about -- honestly, it helps me to be more compassionate towards others if I'm at least thinking about this (which was the DL's point, anyway, soo... good job, His Holiness!)

Pleasure vs. happiness
This observation might be the best thing I got out of this book -- the difference between pleasure and happiness. Eating a doughnut brings me pleasure but does not make me happy. Thinking about this makes me more thoughtful in my actions: "Does this thing make me happy or does it simply bring me pleasure?" Not that it's always wrong to do something purely for the sake of pleasure, but in the doughnut example, being overweight makes me unhappy, so what is pleasurable for a moment results in unhappiness later. So, you know... don't do that thing. Got it. (Thanks again, DL!)

On religion
I was actually surprised when religion came up in the book, as I figured the DL would be selling Buddhism. But he's all for everyone doing what works for them, which I thought was great. He writes:
"In this world, there are so many different people, so many different dispositions. There are five billion human beings and in a certain way I think we need five billion different religions, because there is such a large variety of dispositions. I believe that each individual should embark upon a spiritual path that is best suited to his or her mental disposition, natural inclination, temperament, belief, family, and cultural background." [294] 
"People need and appreciate diversity in their food because there are so many different tastes. In the same way, religions are meant to nourish the human spirit. And I think we can learn to celebrate that diversity in religions and develop a deep appreciation of the variety of religions." [295]
I found those comments to be really inspiring, especially coming from a religious world leader. This dude's got it going on.

Preaching to the choir
While reading this book, I just kept feeling like, "Sure. Of course. Right." and I also felt like... anyone who could really benefit from this information probably isn't reading this book. For instance, dealing with anger and hatred through compassion. If you're an angry, hateful person, are you reading The Art of Happiness? I mean, I guess maybe if you get it assigned to you in therapy or something, but... I don't know. Are you going to think, "What this situation needs is a little more compassion?" It does, but I'm not sure how many people who are not already there are thinking of this.

This line is perfect example: "If there is a solution to the problem, there is no need to worry. If there is no solution, there is no sense in worrying, either." [272] That is 100% absolutely true. But... when a person is worried about a problem, do you think they can embrace that idea? Personally, I really believe (and usually embrace) this thinking, but I think if you're a worrier... this is not going to help you much.

A little too convenient
The book was actually written by a psychiatrist who traveled with and interviewed the DL for several years, wrote down what he said, and backed it all up with "real life" stories. This felt a little contrived to me. Especially since he writes, "Not long after we had this conversation..." and tell some story of a patient that perfectly illustrated the DL's point. I'm thinking, "Really? Right after you talked to the DL, you found some magical supporting story?" I guess it helps "illustrate" the DL's points, but really... I felt like the DL's wisdom stood on its own. Especially since the DL usually had a little example parable himself. Maybe for certain people this is going to bring home the point better, but it was unnecessary for me.

Could have been a pamphlet
While I agree with almost all of what the DL has to say in this book (my only real hiccup being that whole "everyone is good" thing) I just felt like, "You know, this would make a great cheat sheet." For anyone not surprised by the information in this book (which, as I said, I think is the majority of people who pick up this book in the first place) I think a handy little reference sheet to hang on our bathroom mirrors reminding us to be tolerant and kind and keep perspective would be the perfect way to ingest this book. In fact, I just checked the wikipedia entry for this book and the summary is not bad -- it's just about the length that I think would be a manageable delivery tool for this information.

As I read the book, I just kept having moments of "Good point!" followed by "Oh, really? Another story to illustrate the point I already got when the DL said it?" It's logical stuff -- it all makes sense to me. Maybe I'm just not the right audience. This book did not change my life, but it did give me pause to entertain healthy thoughts that I have already had... which isn't a bad thing -- again, just not "life-changing" or anything.

Okay. That was all over the map -- just a kind of brain dump after reading this book. That's probably totally disrespectful (as is, perhaps, calling the Dalai Lama "the DL" but he seems to have a pretty good sense of humor) but... it's done. And, overall, I'm glad I read it. Three to go in as many days. Wheee!


1 comment:

  1. K,

    I like your review of the book and the major ideas. I struggle with the "flesh out into book length with endless examples." I'm sad to say that many, many books about teaching use the same method. It's so annoying. When you get it, you get it.

    Doughnuts, on the other hand, give me pleasure and make me happy. I've successfully given up a lot of things without missing them, but I still really enjoy a good doughnut. Heh.