Today we have the world at our fingertips, through technology, through travel. And yet we live in a world of extremes. There is extreme wealth for a few, and great poverty for many. We are surrounded by ‘progress’, yet while rich countries see rise in health problems like obesity and depression, poor countries bear the brunt of hunger and climate crises. The gap is widening because the sense of disconnect is widening. We have to reconnect.
The relentless pursuit of individual happiness has got the human race only so far, and I would like to say that perhaps it is time for an alternative pursuit: the pursuit of universal or collective happiness. We need to wake up to the fact that the way things are, the happiness of the few is bringing unhappiness to the many. How can one person’s happiness be deep and genuine if it takes happiness away from others? If we don’t start helping the world, it is going to fall apart, and then where will our happiness be?
Happiness really begins to grow when we align individual needs with universal needs. Everything is connected, and none of the truly valuable things in life are selfish. The pursuit of happines needs to be collective, rather than purely for the individual. And the great thing is that once we understand and embrace this, our experience of happiness becomes deeper on a personal level too. Collective and individual happiness go hand in hand. As soon as you wish happiness to another person, you uncover your own.
However, there is another complication in people’s minds. How can we transmit happiness unless we feel ourselves to be happy? Or, how can we concern ourselves with the happiness of others unless we are fully happy ourselves? To pass on happiness, you require to be full of it first. So if we want to make the world a happier place, we must begin with ourselves. How to ensure this? How to break the cycle of self-pity, or tension or pain and suffering and depression? How can we convert passive thinking into active feeling of happiness?
There is a Buddhist phrase that means ‘take in our hands’, which is to take action or put into practice. Buddha said that to end our suffering we have to understand it from the depths of our hearts, and it is only by looking at suffering directly in the face that we will have a chance to understand it. If we can then turn that understanding into action, then this is really positive transformation. So our thoughts and our actions must work together, like the wings of a bird—if we have one but not the other we will never be able to fly. It is not only our aspirations that feed our actions but our actions that feed our aspirations; they help each other.
When you realise how united these things can be, then it is a cause for great happiness.
I know that some people will feel they get caught up in the thinking part of the equation and struggle with the doing part. But as we develop our self-awareness we can recognise in our hearts when we are thinking too much and now need to take a deep breath and get on with things. When we need to say to ourselves, ‘I’m going to do it’ and take that first step, that is the start of transformation.
Happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy. Even in adversity, you can choose to be happy. You can be overworked, maybe tired, but you do not need to compromise on your state of mind. Consider this as a discipline that you must develop and practice. To make the world a happier world, you need to be in a state of perpetual happiness.
If at times you feel stuck in anxiety because it feels like you have so much to do you don’t know where to start, I would encourage you to practice building your awareness of being in the moment. If you are feeling overwhelmed, then it will be very difficult to enjoy your tasks today, so give yourself a few minutes to calm your mind. Remember the commitment to stay in happiness so that you can pass it on to others.
Be emphatic about your decision to be happy and to see others happy. Don’t delay. This is not a chore. It is your very nature. Nurture it. The author is the spiritual head of the 1,000-year-old Drukpa Order based in the Himalayas