The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Dr Howard C. Cutler is something of a classic text on the Tibetan leader’s approach to how we can deal with the problems which we all face in life and achieve a sense of happiness that lasts. The book is the result of many private conversations that Dr Cutler, a professional psychiatrist, had with the Dalai Lama in an effort to identify the beliefs, ideas and strategies that everyone can use to become happier in daily life.
Whilst there have been many books written by, about and with the Dalai Lama, a majority of them have been aimed at readers who have at least some knowledge of Buddhism in general or of Tibetan Buddhism specifically. The Art of Happiness, which has the subtitle: A Handbook for Living, is quite different. This book is aimed at the man (or woman) on the street, and presupposes no knowledge of Buddhism, so it is useful to everyone, of any background, who would like to live life in a more effective and peaceful manner, and achieve more happiness as a result.
The book is divided into five main sections. The first is entitled The Purpose of Life, and its four chapters explore The Right to Happiness, The Sources of Happiness, Training the Mind for Happiness, and Reclaiming Our Innate State of Happiness.
Human Warmth and Compassion is the topic of the second section. Here the authors discuss A New Model for Intimacy, Deepening Our Connection to Others, and The Value and Benefits of Compassion.
The third section, Transforming Suffering, discusses human suffering at all levels – from physical pain and sickness to the kind of suffering caused by minor annoyances – and how to deal with it effectively. The chapter headings here are Facing Suffering, Self-Created Suffering, Shifting Perspective, and Finding Meaning in Pain and Suffering.
Overcoming Obstacles is the title of the fourth section of this book, and here the Dalai Lama shares his thoughts on Bringing About Change, Dealing with Anger and Hatred, and Dealing with Anxiety and Building Self-Esteem.
The fifth and final section of the book presents Closing Reflections on Living a Spiritual Life, and discusses Basic Spiritual Values.
The Art of Happiness is written from Dr Cutler’s perspective, and has an accessible, down-to-earth style which makes the content very easy to relate to. The book obviously provides the Dalai Lama’s views on all manner of important topics, but with an American psychiatrist playing an active part in the conversation – and the main part in the presentation of that conversation – it also helps us to understand those views in a more Western context.
In short, this book has become a classic for a very good reason, and is highly recommended as an important addition to any Buddhist library.