5 Buddhist philosophies that can teach us about happiness
Tibet is one of the most isolated places in the world, yet the culture of this fascinating country could contain the secrets to happiness. The ancient wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism is gradually being filtered down into western culture as more of us embrace mindfulness and turn to meditation to relieve stress. Today, as our lives grow busier than ever before, we need to pay attention to these ancient philosophies that help us to be kind, mindful and slow down in our approach to life. These five Buddhist philosophies can teach us all a thing or two about happiness.
Compassion, or 'loving kindness' is to important in Buddhism that it has its own meditation 'metta bharana' where you focus on sending kindness to all beings (even your enemies). 'Tonglen', breathing in suffering and breathing out happiness, is practised by Tibetan monks to spread peace and love.
When you're unhappy at work, you've missed the last train home or you're feeling unwell, it's all too easy to view life as a battle or a 'survival of the fittest' challenge, but by practising loving kindness, you can enjoy reconnecting with the world and being happy again. Studies have shown that regular practise of loving kindness meditation can help to increase your positive emotions (1). This YouTube video is a great introduction to this type of meditative practice.
"Get to know your own mind"
According to Tibetan Buddhism, we need just two things in order to be happy in life - loving compassion and mindful awareness. Meditation can help to build these things as we overcome negative thoughts, leaving us feeling calmer and more centred. In the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche gives readers the following advice, "Above all, be at ease, be as natural and spacious as possible. Slip quietly out of the noose of your habitual anxious self, release all grasping, and relax into your true nature. Think of your ordinary emotional, though-ridden self as a block of ice or a slab of butter left out in the sun. If you are feeling hard and cold, let this aggression melt away in the sunlight of your meditation."
Studies carried out have revealed that getting to know your own mind through regular meditation can boost your mental health and emotional well-being, reduce feelings of loneliness and alleviate anxiety and depression (2).
"Connect with others who support you"
The 'Three Jewels' of Buddishm are the Buddha (the example), the Dharma (the path) and the Sangha (the community). In Buddhism, community is one of the most important aspects of happiness, and having the support of others is vital if you want to live a happy life. We're naturally wired to be social beings, and connecting with others in a positive way makes us happier and healthier. Having a strong network of friends and family to support you can even lower your stress levels and it could mean you'll live a longer life (3)!
"Don't fear death"
Fear and denial of death are common in western culture, which can lead to a lot of pain and suffering. In Tibetan Buddhism, death is embraced and seen as the 'crowning achievement' in life. Buddhist believe in reincarnation, but you don't have to have the same beliefs to learn to view death more positively. This can give you a new lease of life as you learn to accept the aspects of life that you can't control or change. Acceptance of things that are outwith your control is the key to reducing suffering, according to Buddhist teachings.
Research carried out in Australia showed that the happiest elderly people were those who had learned to accept things in later life which can't be changed (such as moving into a care home) - acceptance and making the best of a situation really could help you to be happier in old age (4).
"Every cause has an effect"
Buddhism teaches the law of karma - that every cause has an effect or that actions have consequences. It's important to be mindful and aware of how your actions affect others - think about the intentions behind your actions, the effects on yourself and the effects on others. Whilst you can't trick good karma into your life, you can act more thoughtfully and think about how what you say and do will affect others. This creates a positive cycle that will come back to you in the future.
A lot of teachings and philosophies from Tibetan Buddhism make perfect sense - they teach us to be more aware of the impact we have on others, of our own place in the world and that being more loving and compassionate (instead of stressed, cold and bitter) can make us happier. Trying to implement some of the above philosophies in your daily life will bring about positive changes that will soon have you approaching life from a more optimistic angle - give it a try!
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