One reason we have so much trouble attaining happiness is that we don't even know what it is. We keep trying to annihilate anxiety and other disturbances. But happiness has more to do with broadening your perspective, says a ground-breaking psychiatrist who blends Western and Eastern thinking.
"I'm sick of this," a patient of mine remarked the other morning. "I can't stand myself anymore. When am I going to be happy?" It's not an uncommon question in therapy, yet aspirations for happiness can sound naive or even trivial. How could she be asking for happiness, I thought to myself. Didn't Freud say the that best one could expect of therapy was a return to "common unhappiness?" Yet my patient's yearning was heartfelt. How could I possibly address it without being misleading?
I approached her dilemma not just as a psychotherapist, but as a longtime Buddhist. For Buddhism holds the promise of more than just common unhappiness in life; it sees the pursuit of happiness as our life goal and teaches techniques of mental development to achieve it. To the Dalai Lama, "the purpose of life is to be happy." He wrote those very words in the foreword to my new book Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy From a Buddhist Perspective (Basic Books, 1995).
"On its own," he goes on to say, "no amount of technological development can lead to lasting happiness. What is almost always missing is a corresponding inner development." By inner development the Dalai Lama means something other than mastering the latest version of Microsoft Word. He is talking about cleaning up our mental environment so that real happiness can be both uncovered and sustained. [for more click on the heading]