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"The Art of Happiness - A Handbook for Living"

This is the title of a book by co-authored by Howard C. Cutler, and his Holiness the Dalai Lama. Guided by a series of conversations and public appearances of the Dalai Lama, the Phoenix, AZ based psychiater Cutler determines to seek out The Purpose of Life.

As the title of the book suggests (and there has been some discussion about this subject on E2), Cutler is a proponent of the Buddhist philosophy of the Dalai Lama, that the ultimate purpose of life is simply the pursuit of happiness; Independent of social, ethnical or religious background, achieving happines is the very purpose of life.

I believe that the pursuit of happiness is indeed a valid goal; at least it is not an objectionable goal, and certainly does not suffer from drawbacks that other (perhaps less noble) goals may have. E.g. infinite fame or wealth can turn you into a suspicious person with a constant fear of losing everything. Also, as Cutler writes: "Our feelings of contentment are strongly influenced by our tendency to compare." When your income increases from $20,000 to $30,000, you get used to it, and eventually you will only be happy if you make $40,000. Or in H.L. Mencken's definition of a wealthy man: "one whose income is $100 a year higher than his wife's sister's husband."

Having outlined that happiness is the purpose of life, Cutler describes the sources of happiness. Key issues are inner contentment; be positive about what you have, and not negative about what you feel you are missing, inner worth: the capacity to relate to others, and recognizing the difference between happiness and pleasure.

The remainder of the book is dedicated to achieving happiness; how to generate human warmth and compassion. An important factor in achieving happiness is suffering; how to face suffering, how to gain strength by transforming suffering and recognizing self-created suffering. Other topics include dealing with hatred, overcoming obstacles or anxiety, and shifting perspectives to achieve a positive change.

The book has some very practical, applicable ideas on gaining happiness in life, although some advice appears to be a bit too much common sense. Also, Cutler's line of thought sometimes seems a bit simplistic and naive, but the Dalai Lama directs most of his questions into useful contributions.

The Art of Happiness - A Handbook for Living

Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Riverhead Books

CONTENTS:

  • Author's Note
  • Introduction
  • Part I. The Purpose of Life
    • The right to happiness
    • The sources of happiness
    • Training the mind for happiness
    • Reclaiming our innate state of happiness
  • Part II. Human Warmth and Compassion
    • A new model for intimacy
    • Deepening our connections to others
    • The values and benefits of compassion
  • Part III. Transforming Suffering
    • Facing suffering
    • Self-created suffering
    • Shifting perspective
    • Finding meaning in pain and suffering
  • Part IV. Overcoming Obstacles
    • Bringing about change
    • Dealing with anger and hatred
    • Dealing with anxiety and building self-esteem
  • Part V. Closing Reflections on Living a Spiritual Life
    • Basic spiritual values
  • Acknowledgments
  • Selected titles by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

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