Buddhism’s teachings on happiness stem from the teachings of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who lived in India during the 6th century BC. He is widely regarded as a significant philosopher.
This blog aims to explore various aspects of happiness in Buddhism, presented in a clear and straightforward manner. I hope you find it engaging!
What Is Happiness in Buddhism?
Happiness is a feeling, which can be experienced when a person is content. It is a state of being when a person feels satisfied from within.
We pursue happiness in life by doing what we love and what we’re good at. It is a subjective state that can be applied to a wide range of human emotions. So, is happiness a feeling or a state of being? It is both.
As Buddhist thinkers have pinpointed, there are different aspects that lead to inner peace, happiness, and contentment. I will elaborate on them later in this article.
Buddhist Teachings on Happiness
He spoke about mind training or mental development in several suttas including the Maha-satipatthana Sutta.
The core of Buddhist philosophical teachings is to be happy. Happiness is the purpose of life and the reason we exist.
The very central philosophy of Buddhism, however, is that we can never be fulfilled without sharing others’ misery. Therefore, to be truly happy we must share the misery of others.
The Buddha taught that happiness is not based on external conditions like wealth, fame, power, position, knowledge, or relationships. He taught that the mind is the source of happiness.
During the last few years, I’ve read numerous Buddhist books and watched numerous videos on YouTube highlighting the key Buddhist teachings about happiness.
I have also spoken with some Buddhist spiritual leaders in my locality about the concept of happiness. What I have learned from all these experiences can be summarized into five simple principles:
- 1) Patience is a virtue: In order to feel happy, we have to be patient. When you feel bad, you should be patient. Patience will help you to get through the tough times in life. Being patient with others shows love, kindness, and compassion. So, to be able to feel happiness, we should be patient with those people who hurt us, because forgiveness brings peace of mind.
- 2) Effort is an important part of everything: In order to feel happy, we have to make an effort. It’s okay to feel down after failure, but the key is to not give up hope. A little effort can go a long way.
- 3) There is always something good: In order to feel happy, we have to look for the good things in our life.
When we are unhappy, or things are going wrong in our life, it is sometimes difficult to see the good things. But if we are willing to put in the effort, there are many things to be happy about. Maybe you have a loving partner? Maybe you have intelligent children? Maybe you have a tasty meal to eat? Maybe there are nice things to look at around you? Maybe you have a great community?
Whatever it is, there are many things to be happy about. So if you are feeling unhappy, be sure to take some time to acknowledge what is good in your life! This could be the difference between being depressed and being happy!
Even when you’re in a dark place in life, you need to look for the good in order to truly move on. Don’t be afraid of change, embrace it. Realize that growth is a natural process, and with growth comes happiness.
- 4) Everything is impermanent: It’s important to accept that everything in life has an end.
This concept can be difficult for some people to understand. But it’s just the nature of the universe and we should embrace it and understand it. Trying to hold onto things and keep them the way they currently are will only bring you pain and suffering. You can’t change the fact that everything that was, is now gone and everything that is, will soon be gone.
We need to let go to be happy! This is one of the many reasons why many people find Buddhism and meditation to be such a powerful and liberating experience.
- 5) Everything is your choice: Everything that happens to us, good or bad, is still our choice. It’s up to us to either feel happy about it or not.
It doesn’t matter what you’re feeling right now, because you can change it. You can decide that you’re no longer angry, sad, or anything. You can decide that you’re happy.
With this mindset it’s easier to be happy.
No matter what happens, nothing can ever make you unhappy, because nothing is ever outside of your own mind. Even if it seems like the world is against you, you’re always at choice. You decide. It’s all up to you.
Thich Nhat Hanh wrote,
“There is no way to happiness; Happiness is the way”.
The Buddha was interested to find out how to overcome unending craving and ignorance. When you seek happiness, you go somewhere outside yourself searching for something you think you lack. You create unhappiness to see how you can overcome it.
Peace and happiness is found in the present moment. If you seek happiness, you will always be unhappy. Why? Because happiness is a moving point and we always focus on the future.
You cannot seek happiness; it cannot be found; it is already here. But, to see it you must first stop to look. Quiet the mind and open the eyes.
The Buddhist Perspective on Utilitarianism and Happiness
Utilitarianism is defined as the belief that the fundamental aim of all human action is to produce the greatest amount of the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Here, the greatest good can come in many forms, but it is often represented as the most happiness.
Utilitarianism is a prevalent theory in Western philosophy. It’s a philosophy of rightness that focuses on the consequences of actions and is most closely associated with John Stuart Mill, who argued for a free and democratic society, with the basic rights of individual freedom, equality of opportunity, and individual dignity.
In his work, ‘Utilitarianism’, Mill argued that the only intrinsic good is happiness, and that the proper meaning of ethical action is to bring about the best consequences.
However, in general, Buddhism is not really a utilitarian belief, but there are a great deal of similarities between the two. In fact, the Buddha is said to have set out a philosophy that is “the middle way” between self-indulgence and self-denial. In essence, this means that the Buddha taught a practice of balance.
Utilitarianism is really based on the idea of maximising goodness, and doing good for its own sake, not the praise of oneself or the pursuit of pleasure.
It’d be hard to say that the Buddhist view of happiness is utilitarian in the ethical sense of the word.
Buddhists do not use utilitarianism as a way of judging whether an action is morally right or wrong. Although they accept that actions can be judged as “right” or “wrong” from a moral standpoint, they do not accept that the amount of happiness or suffering which a person or a group of people experience can be used as a yardstick.
In Buddhism, happiness does not really play a part in judging the morality of an action, because it is regarded as a subjective, relative measurement.
Zen Buddhism and Happiness
Zen Buddhism is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that was founded in China during the Tang dynasty. Its name is derived from the Chinese word Chán, which means meditation. The followers of Zen believe that the mind is naturally pure. When the mind is disturbed, it is because of the presence of defilements.
The followers of Zen believe that the meditation practice is the only way to cleanse the mind of these defilements. Hence, meditation is the direct path to enlightenment, which is the state of perfect happiness.
The idea of happiness from a zen Buddhism viewpoint is a little different from the conventional idea of happiness. In this view, happiness is so much more than an emotional feeling or a good time.
In fact, happiness is a state of being, a quality of being that allows us to live a calm and peaceful life, no matter what the external circumstances. This state is achieved by developing a mind that is focused, calm and balanced. And this is why a lot of zen Buddhist practices focus on meditation and the practice of mindfulness.
Meditation and mindfulness trains our mind to relax and still itself from fear and anxiety. It enables us to choose awesome responses rather than react emotionally to difficult situations.
To be more exact, zen Buddhism says that happiness is a way of being rather than a feeling.
In Zen Buddhism, happiness is considered a state of satisfaction without any expectations.
According to Zen school of thought, happiness is really the same thing as peace of mind. A peace of mind of oneself. Peace of mind is when you understand that there is no difference between you and the universe, when you understand that everything is an expression of the universe.
It is when you understand that all things are in harmony with each other. When you are able to ‘compensate’ for the universe, you are in harmony with it. This is what happiness really is.
Here, happiness is not defined as pleasure. Happiness is defined as the natural state of one’s soul. It is achieved when one is not disturbed by pleasures or worries.
It is very common for humans to confuse happiness for pleasure. We often say that “x” is making us happy, or “y” is making us happy, when in reality the happiness comes not from “x” or “y” but rather from our state of mind about “x” or “y”.
Use positive thinking to enjoy life, not to dwell on your problems. Use your brain to think about how to improve your life. If you can turn your thoughts in this way, you will find happiness in everything in your life.
The followers of Zen meditate towards self-realization. Because they believe that their minds are already pure, they do not rely on scripture or other external sources to achieve enlightenment. It is all inside the mind.
The moment that they begin to meditate, they start to clean their mind of defilements and gain insights into their true nature. The ultimate goal of Zen meditation is to bring about an experience of enlightenment. This experience is the state of perfect happiness.
Buddhism: About Joy
Joy is at the heart of the Buddhist path.
Joy is usually associated with happiness and pleasure. Joy is also a mental state of being happy.
In the teachings of the Buddha, the human being is presented as a being whose purpose is to be happy, not to suffer. That is, the human being seeks joy and tries to avoid suffering.
However, suffering is not something that just happens to us, but is something we create – not just for ourselves but also for others.
In Buddhism, the human being is not seen as an isolated being. We are social beings and as such, our actions affect others as well as ourselves. If we live a life of greed, hatred and delusion, this inevitably causes suffering for ourselves as well as for others.
But if we live a life of generosity, compassion and wisdom, this brings about happiness both for ourselves and for others. In the Buddhist view, a good life is a life that brings joy, not just for ourselves but for others as well. In this sense, the desire for joy is the basis for all human activity.
Buddhism is a religion that believes that everything that is in the universe is the result of the law of cause and effect.
Joy is the etymological root of happiness, but joy is not simply happiness. Joy is an experience of happiness that is not lazy, but is full of energy. Joy is the result of the transformation of suffering.
Joy is a state of mind that comes from the quality of life that a person experiences. When a person experiences joy, it is a sign that they are living a life of purpose and meaning. It is also a sign that they are living a life of compassion for others. In Buddhism, compassion is a key part of what allows a person to experience joy.
Extreme Happiness in Buddhism
In Buddhism, the concept of bliss or extreme happiness is called ‘ananda’.
The word ‘ananda’ is also translated as delight or rapture.
“Ananda” as a mental state means just that: happiness to the highest degree. It is a deep spiritual happiness, a serene happiness, a happiness that permeates body and mind.
Every living entity naturally wants happiness and joy – which is what bliss is at its very core. Only when one thinks that this type of happiness and joy is impossible does sadness become their reality.
To be real, such happiness needs to be eternal and dynamic and involve another person (someone else).
The more intense it gets, the happier one becomes while reaching for transcendence.
It is important to remember that many people may mistake bliss for nirvana. While they may appear similar at times, both are actually quite different concepts.
Nirvana literally means “blowing out” as it is described as like a candle’s flame. It also means extinction as it literally means “extinguishing”. In Buddhism, the term is used synonymously to signify a state of liberation by overcoming re-birth and ignorance .
There’s a clarity in the state of nirvana wherein an individual happens to see a truth beneath all of the illusions surrounding ourselves and how they relate to one another.
It’s similar to something deeper within one’s self, almost like a feeling that there’s a cool breeze blowing from the top of one’s head down into one’s mind.
Extreme happiness on earth is more or less just part of an illusion, but nirvana leads to transcendence from what we can perceive as reality around us during our lifetimes.
Ananda or extreme happiness is a more consumable item in the realm of the illusion whereas nirvana is beyond it.
Nirvana feels like eternal rest; like floating in platonic bliss, but all bliss is not nirvana. Countless sensations of celestial happiness can be found in life’s simple pleasures like playing games or drinking.
As temporary pleasures, these experiences don’t compare to the eternal nirvana one finds when they are detached from material objects and practices that aren’t conducive to freedom from suffering either.
True Happiness in Buddhism
True happiness is a state of peace, wholeness and compassion. It’s the state of mind that we experience when we’re not grasping for more of any worldly thing and we’re present and content with what we have.
The more you crave something, the more you get it, the more unsatisfied you become. The less you crave, the more you get it, the more satisfied you become. And the more you crave not to crave, the more you crave.
The five precepts are the cornerstone of the Buddha’s teaching, and the foundation for a happy, peaceful, and meaningful life. You can practice them in your everyday life and they apply equally to lay and ordained people of all ages and both genders.
These precepts can help you make choices and set priorities, and avoid disappointing yourself by acting in unskillful ways.
Happiness that depends on outside conditions will last only as long as those conditions last. However, the happiness that doesn’t depend on outside conditions is completely unconditional, and it is possible to cultivate this.
Happiness may also mean a particular state of mind.
The first verse of the Dhammapada states that happiness is a mental quality, one that must be cultivated. The “happiness” that refers to a particular state of mind is a refined, calm, peaceful state of mind. It is a state that produces a sense of lightness and joy.
Buddhism vs Christianity Happiness
There are literally hundreds of different religions in the world and the major religions of the world teach different things about happiness. There are many similarities between Christianity and Buddhism in their views of happiness, but the two religions also hold different views on the topic.
Around 40% of the world’s people consider themselves either Buddhists or Christians. Buddhism and Christianity have a lot of similarities. You can think of Buddhism as a philosophy and Christianity as a religion.
Buddhism and Christianity both believe in life beyond death. A Buddhist’s beliefs are based on mindful meditation practices and good karma, which can lead to enlightenment.
Christianity and Buddhism both believe that happiness is a spiritual issue and that without spiritual happiness it is impossible to be happy in the world.
Both religions believe that happiness is a result of living in harmony with nature and that the way to achieve this harmony is through meditation and prayer.
Both religions believe in helping and caring for others and that this will bring people happiness. The main difference between the two religions is that Buddhism does not believe that there is a creator god and that Christianity believes in the existence of God.
Buddhism teaches the pursuit of Nirvana – an end to suffering, and Christian teaches the pursuit of eternal life. Buddhism sees suffering as a part of you and as such does not shun suffering, as long as the suffering is endured for the purpose of achieving Nirvana.
Christianity sees suffering as a punishment from God and as such more focused on the individual and their personal journey to achieve eternal life.
Both Buddhism and Christianity define happiness as a universal experience of inner joy. It is a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from loving people and things beyond oneself. Both Buddhism and Christianity believe that happiness comes from giving.
In the case of Christianity, the more we give, the more we receive. In Buddhism, the more we give, the less we become attached to the material things of the world.
The following is an interesting scholarly paper, which found that Buddhists and Christians were more likely to report happiness:
Both Buddhism and Christianity have believed that a person can reach a higher state of happiness through personal efforts.
In Buddhism, a person can reach a higher state of happiness through understanding the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Noble Path. In Christianity, a person can reach a higher state of happiness through Jesus Christ.
Buddhism and Christianity both teach the concept of peace and tranquility and recognize them as the basis of happiness.
Buddhism and Christianity both recognize life is inherently full of suffering and death, and that we should try to find the reasons behind them and the way to overcome them.
Buddhism and Christianity also believe that all people are equal and that we should help others and ourselves through compassion and love.