Co-author of The
Art of Happiness and Western psychiatrist Howard Cutler spoke
to healthshop.com about his experience interviewing the Dalai Lama
for the book. Dr. Cutler first met the Dalai Lama in 1982 while
visiting India to study Tibetan medicine.
Perhaps most striking about the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and
temporal leader of Tibet, is his genuine smile and hearty laugh. His
presence emanates contentedness and joy. In The
Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, Howard C. Cutler,
M.D., and the Dalai Lama explore what happiness is and how every
person, regardless of circumstance, religion or personality, is
perfectly poised to achieve it.
Convinced that the Dalai Lama has "learned how to live with a
sense of fulfillment and a degree of serenity that I had never seen
in other people," Cutler explains, "I was drawn to his personal
qualities. He's genuinely happy, down-to-earth, warm and incredibly
smart. You want to be in his presence, because he walks his
Cutler attributes the book's popularity to its widespread appeal.
"I felt it was important to create a book for a Western audience,
one that wasn't academic, scholarly or for only people interested in
Buddhist philosophies," says Cutler. "Even the Dalai Lama is
surprised at the success of The Art of Happiness. Why this
book? I think it's because it distills his essential messages."
Cutler adds that it "gives you principals you can live by" and
"ideas that help every day."
In extensive interviews with the Dalai Lama, Cutler was not
afraid to press him about life's most common but elusive issues and
quandaries: Why do conflicts so often arise in marriages? How have
you handled the deaths of loved ones? How does one cope with
unfairness and injustice? Is self-reliance a virtue? What should be
done about those who intentionally harm others? Is it really
practical to think that we can all be happy, given that suffering is
In recounting their passionate conversations, Cutler elaborates
on the Dalai Lama's thoughts with his own observations as an expert
in psychiatry and as a fallible human being. Cutler also includes
scientific research and case studies. What emerges is a spiritual
guide to living happily.
One's formal religion is not the key to determining one's
happiness, according to the Dalai Lama. He says, "There are five
billion human beings, and in a certain way, I think we need five
billion different religions. I believe that each individual should
embark upon a spiritual path that is best suited to his or her
mental disposition, natural inclination, temperament, belief, family
and cultural background." But the spiritual journey that unites us,
the Dalai Lama teaches, is the seeking of happiness – the very
purpose of our existence.
It's really quite simple and natural,
says the Dalai Lama, to achieve happiness. "One begins by
identifying those factors which lead to happiness and those factors
which lead to suffering. Having done this, one then sets about
gradually eliminating those factors which lead to suffering and
cultivating those factors which lead to happiness. That is the
But the "mental training" required to come to such awareness is a
bit more complicated. It involves inner transformation - an
unrelenting discipline and commitment to "combating negative states
of mind such as anger, hatred and greed, and cultivating positive
states such as kindness, compassion and tolerance." And it involves
a calm, balanced state of mind.
Learning, conviction, determination, action and effort - these
are the necessary steps in making personal change, says the Dalai
Lama. For example, you can apply these to the process of quitting
smoking. First you must become educated in the harm smoking does to
a body, and become convinced of that harm and how it is manifesting
in your own body. Then you must use that information and beliefs to
strengthen your determination to change, figure ways to implement
that change and make a concerted effort to establish new behaviors.
Eliminating damaging behaviors in this way helps transform you into
a happy person.
Obstacles and challenges are
inevitable, admits the Dalai Lama, but they don't have to be
- Combating worry - Worry needn't consume you. The Dalai
Lama suggests that if there is a solution to a problem, there is
no need to worry. And if there is no solution, there is no
need to worry. It's so logical and obvious that it's easily
overlooked, but this philosophy can be liberating and life
- Maintaining perspective - According to the Dalai Lama,
"if you focus too closely, too intensely on a problem when it
occurs, it appears uncontrollable. But if you compare that event
with some other greater event, look at the same problem from a
distance, then it appears smaller and less overwhelming." This
ability to view one's problems from different perspectives is
known as having a supple mind.
- Letting go - Sometimes things can't be changed, wrongs
can't be righted and circumstances can't be controlled. "It's like
an old person eating - an old person with very poor teeth," says
the Dalai Lama. "The soft things you eat; the hard things you just
Happily Ever After
Transforming one's mind toward
achieving happiness is a gradual process and a lifelong commitment.
Make time for daily "reminders of how to speak to others, how to
deal with other people, how to deal with problems in your daily
life, things like that," says the Dalai Lama. Call it prayer,
meditation or whatever you like, but make the time to do it every
day, to reinforce your principles and remain dedicated to your
spiritual journey. You will not only cultivate happiness and mental
well-being, but physical health as well.
Cutler describes the profound effect that the book's creation has
had on him: "I'm trained in medicine and science. I probably wasn't
aware enough to realize the importance of kindness and compassion.
And these qualities are critical. I'm now able to see people
differently, that they are the same as me, striving to be happy.
It's about human connection, you know?"
In practicing and perfecting the art of happiness, remember this
verse, which the Dalai Lama recites to himself regularly to summon
courage and determination:As long as space endures
As long as
sentient beings remain
May I too live
To dispel the miseries
of the world.