This seems to be one of the Dalai Lama’s most pivotal teachings, and a lot of his other words of wisdom turn upon this principle. He says that on a basic level, we are all human beings, so there is always this one, underlying basis of similarity between everyone.
For example, say I met the Dalai Lama (which would be awesome, by the way). I could choose to define him as ‘a Tibetan man’, ‘an older man’, ‘a monk’, ‘a man wearing maroon robes’, and it would be quite easy and tempting to do this. But if I simply think of him as ‘a human being’, ‘a man’, ‘a student of philosophy’, ‘someone who wants to be happy’, then I suddenly find many more points of contact than I would never have thought existed.
This can be done with anyone, even if they seem to be the complete antithesis of everything you stand for. Jeremy Corbyn might think he has absolutely nothing in common with Donald Trump. But if you boil it down, they are both fathers, they both care deeply about politics, they will both have worries, they both have to handle the responsibilities of being public figures, and could probably empathise a lot with each other about having to face immense criticism throughout their careers. And if all else fails, they can always go back to the fact that they are both human beings.
Florida Georgia Line’s ‘People Are Different’ might seem to be conveying the complete opposite message to this, by seemingly pointing out the many differences between us, such as in the lines:
“White collar, blue collar, hillbilly, high dollar
Hot head, pot head, non-believer, holy water”
It seems like a pretty odd choice for a post that’s all about finding commonalities, right? But the overall message of the chorus is that despite these apparent and surface differences between people, why should that mean we can’t all get along and see beneath these disparities?
“No matter what shape, no matter what colour
Break bread instead of fighting each other”
As will become clear over the course of this project, our relationships with the people around us are fundamental to our happiness. It might seem that the Buddhist focus on self-improvement, training the mind and meditation, coupled with the traditional image of a monk being a forest-dwelling recluse, would mean there’s no real point in thinking about how they interact with other people.
But the opposite is true, because the Dalai Lama says that love is key to happiness. Of course, self-love is important, as will be shown later in the project. But the love between us and others is also crucial, and I think it’s clear from everyday life that this is the case. Our loved ones, whether this be family, friends, partners, are often our greatest source of happiness, so how we treat them is always going to be vital.
Additionally, though, we should try and extend this love to all people. Now that’s a major ask, especially given there’s bound to be people we’re not too fond of, and might even hate, in the world. But it’s early days in the project, so I’m not going to worry too much about achieving this universal sense of love just yet.
I’m going to press play on ‘People Are Different’, and then meditate on the meaning, and how I can become better at searching for similarities, rather than differences.
“This old world would be a whole lot better place
If we'd all just embrace the fact
That people are different”
In this era of ‘cancel culture’, where we rush to shoot down anyone with a slightly different view to our own, and where there are still horrendous conflicts raging on in the name of conflicting religious views and ideologies, I feel like this message is more poignant than ever.
Which song have you gone for?
I wrote in my introduction to this project that this Kid Cudi song was the perfect place to start. ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ is overwhelmingly optimistic, but it actually comes from a space where Cudi is really struggling with his mental health, and is in a seriously dark place. I want to start this series at the lowest possible point, where all hope seems to be lost. But this is where there is a choice, and probably the most important choice there is:
1. Give up
2. Pour all your effort into improving your mental health
Thankfully, Cudi chooses the second option, and undoubtedly, in every situation, the best option. But this isn’t an easy choice to make, by any means. This first step in our ‘roadmap to happiness’ sounds incredibly simple, and obvious, but it is also the most significant step.
“I’m going in pursuit of happiness, and I know, everything that shines ain’t always going to be gold”
This step involves creating that intention to pursue happiness, to strive for this goal. The Dalai Lama sets out the mental process behind this, starting with LEARNING about mental health and why it is important to be happy, followed by rousing the CONVICTION that this is something worth pursuing. Then comes the DETERMINATION, the resolution to achieve this objective, which subsequently manifests itself in ACTION, the initial practical steps made to put yourself on the right track. Finally, there needs to come a certain amount of EFFORT, because it is possible to reach the ‘Action’ stage, but just be going through the motions.
If the process has really occurred, and you haven’t just gone from ‘Learning’ to ‘Action’, without developing any real ‘Conviction’ or ‘Determination’, then the Dalai Lama says that ‘Effort’ should follow logically and easily. It is the desire to really go for this, to try your best - at the end of the day, that’s all you can do.
At first, my personal reaction to this lesson was that, while this process clearly seems important, surely if you just create the intention, that initial flint that sparks the lighter, the desire to be happy, then won't the rest of the sub-steps follow fairly easily?
But on deeper reflection, it does seem to make sense that bypassing ‘Conviction’ and ‘Determination’ would obstruct our path to happiness. If we’re relying on intention alone, without any real ‘Conviction’ or ‘Determination’, then when the going gets tough, we might not have cultivated the necessary amount of commitment to stick with it.
During meditation, there is always something that you should try and focus your attention on, and this is often the breath, or perhaps an object in front of you. So it might be interesting to try playing the song right before starting a meditation, and then treating the chorus as a kind of affirmation or mantra.
“I’ll be fine, once I get it, I’ll be good”
Which song are you choosing for today's teaching?
PS: Just to warn you, there are hard drug references in 'Pursuit of Happiness'…in no way does this blog advocate pursuing these on the road to happiness!!
I started creating this project last summer because I was heading into my final year of University, and I was very aware that exams were lurking ominously on the horizon. However, I never got round to finishing it. But now that we’re all on lockdown, I thought it might be a good way of trying to keep people’s spirits up during this crazy time.
Many people are separated from loved ones and many are having to spend time in self-isolation. With all the turmoil and uncertainty that the whole COVID-19 situation has brought, it can be really difficult to stay positive. At the time, this project was going to be aimed at helping people cope with the stress and anxiety of final year. But there’s no doubt that looking after our mental health is something that everyone should be aware of, especially with life being what it is right now.
As part of my degree, I’ve had the opportunity to study Buddhism and its teachings in-depth. What I’ve found most interesting is that the main objective of all their values and principles - despite the negative, world-rejecting rep Buddhism often gets - is the goal of achieving happiness.
All you have to do is glance at the ‘Self-Help’ section of any bookstore, and a surprisingly large portion of the books will have some grounding in Buddhism, whether it’s about mindfulness, meditation or something more spiritual.
At the same time as learning all this, outside of my studies I was seeing how today’s music is increasingly centred around issues of mental health, with artists being inspiringly vulnerable and open about their struggles with depression, anxiety, and numerous other issues.
Lots of people talk about how music is healing, and we all know from experience how easy it is to get lost in a song to escape the stresses of real life, or to empathise with the emotion being expressed by the artist, or perhaps to just feel inspired and rejuvenated by an uplifting anthem.
Whatever we mainly use music for, it definitely makes us feel something, and it seems to resonate with us in a way that few other mediums can. How often have we been in a bit of a rut, but after listening to something upbeat, we feel a little brighter? Music can deeply influence our mood, mindset and outlook in a matter of minutes.
So why not treat music as a form of self-help?
In Howard C. Cutler’s historic book, The Art of Happiness, which essentially takes the form of an extended interview with the Dalai Lama, he offers an unprecedented insight into his teachings on how to cultivate happier mental states. The book can be broken down into a step-by-step process of how to achieve happiness.
Okay, this is oversimplifying it a little. But essentially there are 30 key teachings that the Dalai Lama suggests can help us improve our mental wellbeing, and give us the best chance of being happy.
The aim of this project, then, is to create a happiness playlist, with each of the Dalai Lama’s steps being paired up with a song that embodies his teaching.
The Dalai Lama is generally seen as one of the wisest humans on earth. He is renowned for the peaceful aura he emits, and how he always seems to have a smile on his face. So if I’m going to trust anyone’s guidance on how to be happy, his must be a good place to start. Because, putting aside his role as a spiritual figurehead, a human rights activist, and a world peace advocate - he seems like a man who has genuinely found happiness himself.
I want to stress that even though this project will be heavily influenced by Buddhist teachings, you don’t have to be a Buddhist to find this useful.
Buddhism has at its core a very practical methodology that can be applied to people from all walks of life. It looks at the world and asks what is wrong with it, and answers this with the obvious: people are suffering. The mind is where this suffering takes hold, so this is where our focus should be. It then sets out a roadmap to happiness, to training the mind, to improving our mental health.
I’ll be adding a new post and song each day, so it’ll be kind of like the 30-day song challenge that’s been going around online. For each song, and each corresponding step, I’ll give a little explanation, explore the lesson we can draw from it, and also hopefully have some fun with it. After all, I’m pretty sure ‘Being overly serious’ isn’t going to be on the list…
You’re welcome to go along with my song choices and stick with the playlist that I end up with. But my music taste is admittedly a little eclectic, and you might not want Travis Scott, One Direction and Kenny Chesney all in one playlist together… So please feel free to create your own playlist based on the daily teachings, especially because music is so subjective, and that way you can select songs that hold a special meaning for you personally.
Hopefully this project can be, if nothing else, a source of positivity for people in these scary, uncertain times of lockdown and self-isolation. From all the amazing Instagram Live performances that artists have been doing, it’s clear that music is something that can really bring us all together in times like this.
To kickstart the project, I can think of no-one better than the man who made mental health something that was acceptable to rap about, and inspired an entire wave of emo-rappers that now dominate the charts - Kid Cudi. The first Happiness x Music Project song is aptly named, ‘Pursuit of Happiness’.
The post will be uploaded on Sunday 19th April - follow this blog to get the notification!
Here’s to Happiness,
If there is any merit in this project, may it bring happiness and health to my family, friends and loved ones