When I first read this teaching, it seemed to me to fly in the face of everything that had been covered so far. What happened to embracing and being compassionate towards everyone? What’s all this ‘examine your relationships’ business?
I think it’s important to point out that, in The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama mentions this lesson in the context of conflicts in marriage.
However, the discussion between Cutler and the Dalai Lama that ensues can definitely be applied more generally, because they frame the teaching in terms of all relationships, not just that of marriage. It’s important, the Dalai Lama says, to examine the underlying basis of any relationship when there are problems, because it tells you whether it is built on strong or shaky foundations.
For example, imagine a prince being friends with other princes from different kingdoms. This is just hypothetical (and I’m sure there are numerous prince-based friendships that are perfectly good!), but say this prince, for some reason, did something wrong and as a result lost his princeship. He subsequently wasn’t accepted by his other prince friends, because he was no longer on equal footing with them in terms of status, so they couldn’t maintain their relationship with him.
The prince could have saved himself the hurt of these lost friendships, according to the Dalai Lama, by looking at what the relationships were based on - namely, status. Of course, a relationship might start based on something like status, wealth, etc. and then blossom into something a lot deeper, which is great.
But I think the key message from the teaching here is to look at our relationships, and just approach them with the mindset of ‘how can I make this bond as deep and meaningful as possible’. When I first read the principle, it kind of sounded like the lesson was to doubt all your relationships and, despite everything so far being so focussed on cultivating trust and openness, to just fall back into a cycle of mistrust and hostility.
Of course, this is not the message. If anything, it seems to be more about trying to strengthen our relationships through an understanding of what a good, strong bond is centred around - namely, feelings of compassion, love, honesty, and so on.
“When the bones are good, the rest don’t matter/Yeah the paint could peel, the glass could shatter”
I picked ‘The Bones’ because, apart from being an amazing song anyway, it’s perfect for this teaching. It’s all about building a relationship on sturdy foundations so that no matter what obstacles come your way, they’re never enough to destabilise it.
“Yeah life can sure try to put love through it, but we built this right, so nothing’s ever gonna move it”
This song is especially pertinent because I wanted it to be clear that this isn’t about doubting your current relationships - like I said, that’s only going to lead to negative feelings of mistrust and hostility. In Buddhism, doubt is one of the five hindrances of the mind that prevents us from clarity and believing in the path.
Instead, we should trust our intuition and ‘the feeling in our bones’, and if we’re true to ourselves in that sense, everything should seem a lot clearer. In ‘The Bones’, there’s no overthinking or doubt involved, and there’s no superficiality to it. But I also love that in the story of this song, the bones also represent the core base from which the relationship is created, making for a nice metaphor.
“The house don’t fall when the bones are good”
From experience, it’s obvious that our relationships with our loved ones play a key role in our wellbeing and happiness. So it surely makes sense to pour a lot of effort into making these bonds as loving and strong as possible. Linking this back to a previous post in this project, a key way of ensuring this is to be as compassionate and empathetic as possible to those around us (Song 9).
“Let it rain, ‘cause you and I remain the same”
It’s just one word, but in my view it’s easily one of the most important words that will come up in this project. In a social media fuelled culture of instants, where it’s all about an immediate ‘Like’ or ‘Love’ react to a picture, which is just a snapshot of our life, I feel like it’s easy to translate this attitude into real life.
We’re inevitably more inclined to make a much quicker judgment on someone, because that’s what we’re forced to do on social media. As I’ve mentioned before, I think ‘cancel culture’ is a product of this, because all it takes is one controversial comment by a celebrity, and they’re ‘cancelled’.
But is that one comment, or that one image, really representative of what that person’s actually like?
Having said this, social media can sometimes have a really positive impact in improving our willingness to see life from someone else’s perspective. Apps like Instagram and Facebook give people an amazing, far-reaching platform to share their story, and to shine a light on where they’re coming from, in their own words - take the #MeToo campaign, for example. It doesn’t all have to be filtered through a biased news report anymore (sorry, I’m hating on the news again…didn't someone say something about cultivating compassion…?)
From the Buddhist texts and teachings that I’ve read, there seems to be a really strong emphasis on removing judgment. In meditation, for example, it’s key to dispel any expectations or pressure that you put on yourself. If a weird idea or image pops into your head while meditating, you just stick a pin in it and label it neutrally as a thought - you don’t judge it.
Applying this to how we treat other people, I think it’s almost impossible to be truly compassionate without having some level of empathy alongside it. It helps so much in our quest to be kind and understanding, if we genuinely do understand where the person is coming from and why they’re acting as they are.
On a personal note, I know that if I’m stressed or upset with myself about something, it can impact how I react to other people. I might be a bit shorter with them, and have less patience. This experience is useful in that if anyone is particularly short or impatient with me, my initial reaction might be one of annoyance. But if I step in their shoes for a moment, I can appreciate that, like me, it’s just because they’re stressed or upset about something, and that’s why they’re taking it out on those around them. This helps me react to them not with anger or annoyance, but with compassion.
I know I might sound like a broken record (ironic given that I’m trying to combine these teachings with music…!), but this again links back to the idea of us all sharing common ground in that we’re all human (Song 2). We often share similar emotions and similar reactions to those emotions, which can help us greatly in empathising with others.
“So on we go, his welfare is my concern, no burden is he to bear, we’ll get there”
Everyone’s fighting their own personal battles, however small or insignificant they might look from the outside. This song highlights that we’re all on the same road in a way, we’re all trying to figure our lives out, so why not help each other on our journey?
“While we’re on the way there, why not share? And the load doesn’t weigh me down at all, he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”
They might be singing specifically about brotherhood, but this can be applied to all our relationships in life. Everyone’s suffering is valid, so just as the Dalai Lama says we shouldn’t judge ourselves, he also says that we shouldn’t judge others. This will help make those around us happier, as well as bringing us closer to them and again, tying in with Song 8, this makes the world seem a much friendlier place.
I want to finish today’s post with one of the (only) useful things I got out of A-Level English, because I think it perfectly summarises what I’m trying to say. It’s this amazing quote from Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird -
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
This is essentially a continuation of the previous teaching (Song 7), in that it is concerned with how we perceive others, and in turn how we treat others as a result of these perceptions.
While Song 7 was centred around the attitudes we should have towards other people, such as being kind, loving, and compassionate, today’s principle shifts the focus slightly. Instead of simply saying that we should be compassionate, it makes the further step of saying that all humans are naturally compassionate.
This seems like a minimal distinction on the surface, but it has important implications for how we respond to other people’s actions.
You know how there are some people that we just dismiss as ‘bad apples’ or ‘lost causes’ - they’re bad to the bone, bad eggs…the list of metaphorical ‘bads’ is endless.
Well, if we view human nature as being compassionate - something that is supported by science - then we aren’t so quick to dismiss people as being inherently bad and therefore not worthy of support. I think this approach seems like a really good way of supporting forgiveness and improving tolerance.
Personally, I also find it a reassuring thought that deep down we’re all naturally compassionate. Not only does it add weight to the idea that we all have something in common (Song 3), but it also makes the road to becoming truly compassionate seem a lot easier.
If it’s already inside us, it seems like a case of unlocking it by looking inwards, as opposed looking out into the world in order to try and put our finger on this abstract concept of ‘compassion’. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
The song I’ve chosen for this lesson is ‘Most People are Good’ by Luke Bryan, and I love it because it embodies this idea of viewing others as inherently compassionate.
“I believe most people are good, and most mamas oughta qualify for sainthood”
It was written in an increasingly polarising political climate in the US, and the song’s writers have spoken about how they wanted to hone in on the fact that, despite all the rivalry, most people do love one another and try to help each other out.
When events like elections divide a nation, it’s easy to focus on these tensions and battle lines and go back to feeling as if there’s no common ground between the sides involved. But again, this ties in with Song 3 in underlining how there is always a way to find common ground - after all, someone’s political views only make up one small aspect of their personality.
“I believe if you just go by the nightly news, your faith in all mankind would be the first thing you lose”
The news has always kinda bugged me, because all you’re shown is the worst things humans are doing. And it’s true what it says in the song, that if you thought this was an accurate representation of humanity, then you’d quickly lose faith in the goodness and compassion of people.
But there are so many amazing, heartwarming things that humans are doing every single day, and it’s just a matter of what you choose to focus on. It can sound naive or twee to say, ‘Yeah, you know what, I do think most people in the world are good’. But if you view people as being inherently compassionate, then it’s a no-brainer.
Everyone has the capacity for compassion in them, and this should always offer us a ray of hope, even when we see so many terrifying, inhumane acts on the news. Here’s a really good site which only documents ‘good news’, and I’d highly recommend it for a daily dose of positivity, to counter the often disheartening regular news.
“I believe you love who you love, ain’t nothing you should ever be afraid of”
Which song are you choosing for today's teaching?
I found this one especially enlightening, because I’ve never been an amazingly trusting person, and often fear the worst in situations, and this would only make me even less trusting, and then fear the worst even more, in a vicious cycle.
But by really focussing on cultivating an attitude of love, kindness and compassion towards others, even just for a day, it makes the world seem a much less scary place. Trust comes a lot easier, and I guess it’s because we project how we’re feeling onto other people. So if we’re feeling envious or angry towards someone, we presume they must be feeling something similar, and that makes them appear hostile in our minds.
We see words like ‘love’ and ‘kindness’ thrown around a lot, whether it's on a Pinterest pin, a H&M t-shirt, or even the cover of a Paperchase journal. There’s thousands of inspirational quotes and adages online telling us to ‘Be loving’ and ‘Be kind’. It’s awesome that these little nuggets of positivity are now dotted around everywhere, but at the same time, I feel like it can trivialise it.
Deep down, we all know we’re supposed to ‘Be loving’ and to ‘Be kind’. But what does that even really mean? How can you put such abstract ideas into practice? I’m certainly not going to figure it out from staring at a journal cover.
If anything, I think it’s better to take the pressure off ourselves, and to stop worrying about what good deeds we should be doing in order to be a loving and kind person. It doesn’t mean we should start walking loads of old ladies across roads and bringing your tutors an apple every tutorial (that would just be downright odd).
Which means that maybe the journals and Pinterest pins are right after all. It’s not really about focussing on doing loving and kind things in order to be a loving and kind person. In my mind, the sequence works in reverse, and you need to put energy into being a loving and kind person in order to do loving and kind things. And that’s just a mentality.
So I really don’t think we need to torture ourselves over that time we used almond milk in our coffee even though we knew growing almonds is bad for the environment (Chidi from The Good Place, anyone?). The Dalai Lama says it’s more about just having a loving and kind attitude towards other people, and that will inevitably manifest itself in your actions.
“When those dreams you’re dreaming come to you, when the work you put in is realised, let yourself feel the pride, but always stay humble and kind”
The song ‘Humble and Kind’ is perfect for this lesson. Tim McGraw lists things that we should do in order to be better, happier people, such as calling your mum, visiting grandpa, helping those worse off than you, and so on.
But when I listen, it doesn’t really feel as if he’s just reeling off an arbitrary list of good deeds that you’re expected to do. Every time the song returns to the chorus, you’re reminded that all these acts are glued together by the genuine wish to be ‘humble and kind’.
“Bitterness keeps you from flying”
It’s a heartwarming, feel-good song, and it’s centred around the mentality we have towards other people. The Dalai Lama’s principles are geared towards making us happier, so not only will being loving, kind and compassionate will make others feel a lot more happiness, but it’ll help us feel more trusting, and the world will feel a much warmer, friendlier place.
“I know you've got a mountain to climb, but always stay humble and kind”
Which song are you adding to your 'happiness playlist' today?
"The past, that's history
The future, that's a mystery
The present, that's a gift, that's why they call it the present"
This relates to my earlier post about the importance of perspective. Everything we perceive is ultimately coming through a subjective filter, and I think it’s pretty amazing that everyone on this earth sees life through a slightly different lens.
One person might see a sunset and it reminds them of a camping trip they’ve been on, while another might see it and think of a particular piece of music or a film.
This underlines to me just how significant the mind really is. It’s controls our whole experience, and that’s why it is crucial to give mental health, and the training of your mind in a positive way, as much attention as possible.
People go to the gym to hone and fine tune their physical health, but I feel like it’s easy to overlook the need to put the same amount of time and effort into your mental health. I’ve always played lots of sport, so I know I’ve always prioritised the former, but now I’m starting to learn that’s not always the best way to go.
Physical health and mental health are linked, and improving one can improve the other. But in terms of evaluating situations, deciding how to act, whether to respond in a positive way, or a negative way, that’s all down to the mind.
I love this song, ‘Moments’, and Jhené Aiko is an amazing artist whose music makes it so easy to just drift away and lose yourself. I’ve always thought it would be perfect for meditation, and she said in a recent interview that lots of her fans do use her music to meditate to.
The message is generally built around focusing on the present moment, and not worrying about the past or future. All you need to do this, and to do most of the steps in this project, is the mind.
"You better freeze the moment, seize it, own it
Focus is on it, our time to go in"
Personally, this song resonates with me as a little wake-up call, a musical espresso (why has that not been invented?), that reminds me to make the most of now, today, the present moment. Don’t get caught up regretting the past or working yourself up over the future. All you get is now.
I’m really just thinking out loud and writing this to myself, because I’m always zoning out and getting lost in my thoughts, whether they’re about things that have gone by or things looming on the horizon.
This song just brings me back to the present, and makes me concentrate on devoting my energy into getting the most out of. This. Moment. Right.
"Everything you need to be contented is right here
Right in this minute
You can have it when you understand that all that matters is right here"
By the same token, the principle ‘All you need is your mind’ gives me a sense of not blaming other people, or the situations that might befall you, for your predicaments. Obviously, this is a generalisation, and in some instances it’s not this simple.
But as a rule of thumb, you have the power to change your mentality, your mindset, and your level of happiness. It’s not up to anyone else. It’s up to you. It’s your right to find happiness - go out there and grab it with both hands!
This is a principle that I’m reading a lot about at the moment, because my coursework essay is on how Buddhism defines ‘happiness’, and to what extent the Western definition of it is based on the similar, but not identical notion, of ‘pleasure’.
I don’t think anyone would disagree with the idea that pleasure implies a more temporary, fleeting sense of satisfaction, whereas happiness, if we view it in terms of the Aristotelian notion of ‘eudæmonia’, is more of an ultimate goal, and something that is permanent.
The way the Western lifestyle and mindset has developed, it is often quite difficult to distinguish between happiness and pleasure. A lot of people say the key to being happy, is simply to do more of what makes you happy, and this generally seems true.
But while he accepts this idea, the Dalai Lama is keen to distinguish between material pleasures and happiness.
A lot of Instagram’s most successful influencers are the stars and hedonists of this world that we can see flying from city to city, partying on yachts with supermodels, and having access to all the food, drink, drugs and sex they could possibly desire. This is the epitome of material success, and for a lot of people, ‘success’ full-stop.
But is this ‘success’ equivalent to ‘happiness’?
It’s not for me to tell you what is right to strive for in life - it’s not for anyone to tell you, because it’s your life. But we’ve all seen enough corny movies where there’s someone too focussed on making money, and their relationship breaks down because their life revolves around their work, they become unhappy, and then realise that they got it wrong. Money isn’t the key to happiness.
It’s ironic really that so much of our music, film and TV culture hammers home this message to us, yet in order to survive in our society, we inevitably need money. It’s easy for this need to turn into want, and for us to think this is what matters most.
Enjoying more pleasures in life can contribute to a more contented state of mind, and a higher level of satisfaction. Whether it’s taking loads of drugs, having loads of sex, or eating loads of chocolate - pleasure is obviously great, and there’s nothing wrong with it.
I think the Dalai Lama's message here is really just to understand that while pleasure is really positive, it’s not to be confused with genuine happiness. If we could all achieve true, lasting happiness by watching our favourite TV show over and over again, then we would all do it. But sadly, it’s not that easy. (Unless it's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which still makes me cry with laughter, despite having seen it a million times…)
Generally, though, happiness involves a lot more, and these aspects and factors will be outlined as this project progresses. Some already have been covered, such as compassion, perspective, and how we view others. Pleasure does have a part to play - if it didn’t, it would sure be a very boring and unattractive road to achieving happiness - but this doesn’t mean that pleasure and happiness are interchangeable.
If we are always seeking our next hit of dopamine, then there will be times when we don’t manage to find it, and we are left unsatisfied. A life focussed solely on pleasure will inevitably also be one that involves a lot of dissatisfaction.
The song I’ve chosen for this principle is Jaden’s ‘Play this on a mountain at sunset’. It’s a very spacy, misty journey through the singer’s thoughts, and is supposed to mimic a psychedelic trip. The character in the song is struggling and tries to drown his problems in alcohol and drug use.
I went with this one because its hazy, mercurial nature makes it perfect for meditating to, but it also leaves you feeling a bit dissatisfied. It’s pleasing to listen to, and there’s a temporary sense of ease, but then the anxieties start creeping back into the character’s mind.
“Sunset’s still feeling afraid”
The track concludes with the character and his girlfriend feeling a common effect of psychedelics:
“I know my stomach hurts (my stomach hurts too)”
The listener is left with an aftertaste of discontent and dissatisfaction, and I feel like this underlines the emptiness of being overly infatuated with sense-pleasures. Having said this, one of my favourite Buddhist texts is the Mahāsaccaka-sutta, in which the Buddha embraces happiness that isn’t attached to the senses, and soon after attains liberation. Before he embraces happiness, the Buddha had been starving and emaciating himself, but this only led to pain. So while obsession with sense-pleasures, like drugs and alcohol, may not be the answer, it’s important not to go in completely the other direction and reject things that make us happy.
“Why am I afraid of that happiness that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful qualities?”
Remember, you don't have to stick with my song choice...Which song's making the cut today for your happiness playlist?
I feel like it can be difficult to wade through all the information that’s constantly being thrown at us, and determine which way to go on this one. Of course, it seems right and good to be compassionate and caring for others, with most good role models we identify embodying these qualities.
But at the same time, we hear a lot of advice telling us to be our own person, to do what we want and not what others want us to do. "Don’t be a sheep".
So how to we fuse these two suggestions together? They both seem fairly sensible, but they're also entirely contradictory.
The Dalai Lama focuses heavily on compassion, and this is to be expected, given the fact that ‘karūna’, meaning compassion in Sanskrit, is the single most important principle in Tibetan Buddhism.
But if we remove this doctrinal bias, how should we, from a Western, and not necessarily religious or spiritual viewpoint, view compassion?
In an ideal world, I feel like the obvious answer is for everyone to be compassionate. No-one pursues selfish ends, and we all help each other. That sounds pretty hunky-dory, right?
But in reality, if you’re always serving others and putting your own goals and desires at the back of the queue, then because the world isn’t perfect, you’re inevitably going to get pushed around and stepped on a lot.
What’s important to remember about any Buddhist teaching, is that it should always be seen as a means to an end, an answer tailored to a specific problem. Buddhist teachings are actually, when it comes down to it, fairly flexible, and are dependent on the person who is practising. They are designed for individual predicaments, and are not necessarily to be treated as universal, objective truths.
So really, I think the teaching of compassion vs self-satisfaction depends entirely on you. For an egotistical person, lets say, oh, Kanye West, perhaps, it would be suggested that he should try his best to hone his sense of compassion. By contrast, for the kind of person that feels constantly trodden on, and is pushed around by others, then it would more likely be advised that they focus their energy on building a sense of self and self-esteem.
As is often the case in philosophy, it comes down to this idea of there being a middle way. Compassion is the goal, but this is something caught between the vices of being weak-willed, and being egotistical. There is a happy medium.
I feel like if we concentrate our efforts on genuine compassion - the will to help others, to bring happiness to other people, to love others - in a purely abstract way, then I don’t think there is any reason it should necessarily be coupled with the idea of this happiness coming at our own expense. There is room to be compassionate, and to also have your own voice and follow your own heart.
For me personally, this is something I find quite tricky to navigate. Often I think we should be entirely selfless, but then it’s hard to do this without some resentment forming and a general feeling that we’re just pandering to other people all the time.
By the same token, I think it’s difficult sometimes to do what you want, without feeling guilty, because sometimes what you want, for your career, for your life, isn’t what the people around you want. But we’ve got to separate this idea of pursuing what you want in life, from simply being compassionate, and being kind and caring to those around you.
“It's like you're always stuck in second gear
When it hasn't been your day, your week
Your month, or even your year”
I chose this song, ‘I’ll Be There For You’, because it’s fun and it just gives me such a good feeling when I hear it. I obviously associate it with Friends, a show that always brings a lot of warmth and humour, and I think the general message of the track is really positive and uplifting.
“I’ll be there for you, when the rain starts to pour
I’ll be there for you, like I’ve been there before”
It feels quite laid-back too, which just gives me that gentle reminder not to overthink this idea of compassion. It’s just about trying your best to be a good person at the end of the day, and you might not succeed in every aspect of this - but we’re only human. Don’t get too caught up in the philosophy and ethics of this - just try and be as compassionate as you can, and really try to help those that need helping. After all, often when we make those we care about happy, this directly contributes to our own happiness too - so it's a win-win.
Which song are you choosing for today?
I feel like this is a principle we’ve heard loads of times on the radio, seen loads of times as the moral of a film or TV programme, and read loads of times as Instagram captions.
It gets to a point all the inspirational quotes and motivational pep talks floating around the ether start to just wash over us. But this shouldn’t diminish the importance of this teaching.
It sounds so easy, but it’s also surprisingly easy to overlook. I’m definitely guilty of it, and I feel like most of us probably are. We always think the grass is greener on the other side, that we should aim for a better house, a better car, a better job.
And of course, to an extent this is a really positive mentality to have. It fuels us in striving for better things and a better life, and is the source of our ambition, and often our hope - the belief that things can be better.
But on another level, it can also be a negative mindset, in the sense of it leaving us constantly dissatisfied with how things are at present. And seeing as happiness is something that can only ever be experienced in the present (because when it comes down to it, we only ever experience life in the present), we’re focussed on improving happiness for us in this moment, now, today - not in five years time.
There’s a Tibetan Buddhist meditation technique that relates to this. Its aim is actually to improve compassion, something that will come up later in this project, but it seems relevant to this principle too. It involves visualising somebody that is suffering, whether through illness, poverty, injury - whatever the form of suffering might be. And you just focus your mind on that person, seeing their suffering, really trying to empathise with them.
This is how it builds empathy, but it also draws our mind to how fortunate we are not to be in their situation. No matter how bad we might think our situation is, the chances are there’s someone out there with it a heck of a lot worse.
This isn’t so that we can gloat about being better off. It’s about being appreciative for what we do have, and not always focussing our energy on what we don’t.
That’s why I’ve chosen ‘A-Team’, because it’s kind of like the meditation I was talking about before. Ed Sheeran details the struggle of a prostitute, living on the streets, and battling a drug addiction. I love this song because it’s so perceptive, as some people wouldn’t really think twice about the suffering of a prostitute, perhaps thinking that ‘well, they chose that life, so it’s fair enough that they suffer the consequences’.
But this is a really cold and flawed way to think about it, and I feel like ‘A-Team’ draws our attention to the extent of this one person’s suffering. Ed is amazing at painting vivid pictures through his music, and this means it’s easy to imagine the person he’s singing about. We can use this in the same way as the Tibetan meditation involves visualising someone who is in pain, and then imagining yourself in that situation. This will hopefully help us realise how fortunate we are, whilst also cultivating feelings of compassion towards the person who’s suffering.
When it comes down to it, life isn’t always greener on the other side. Robert Downing wrote this quote that I have always tried to live my life by - “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. Or what’s a Heaven for?”
But I’m starting to learn that it’s not all about exceeding your grasp, it’s also about appreciating what’s already in your hands.
The Oxford University professor Michael Plant wrote a really good piece on happiness, and in it he recommends writing down three things you are grateful for each day. This trains your mind to adopt a more appreciative mentality, and one that can improve your chances of achieving happiness.
As the quote from 5th Century BC philosopher Diogenes goes:
“He has the most who is most content with the least”
What's your song choice for today?
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!!