I thought I would include this longer essay here as it encapsulates much of what I learned about Buddhism in relation to happiness while many of the concepts here also relate to the Buddhist view of reality and particularly a Secular Buddhist view.
My qualifications for writing this do not come from having letters after my name although it is largely people with letters after their names who have made me who I am today. Let me tell you how I came to be qualified to write this and share what I believe to be true with you.
I wholeheartedly agree with the pronouncements of His Holiness Tenzing Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet when he states that the purpose of life is to be happy, and further, that all living beings operate on one simple principle; they don’t want suffering, they want happiness.
When I first read his words I was 47. I was standing in a book store holding a book I would not be able to afford to buy for almost a year. I had just ended a period of my life where I had witnessed first hand the awesome destructive power of negative thinking and its ability to create unhappiness. I was alone, destitute, and very unsure of my recent decisions. I had spent the previous twenty years reading, thinking and studying about how life works and had known success as a direct result. I would spend every single day of the next year thinking about just what exactly happiness is.
A picture of me at about age ten shows a happy, smiling boy. I love nature and science and reading. I collect everything from rocks to arrowheads to bugs. I belong to the local archery club and the naturalists club and volunteer to help build trails in the public parks. My grades are good and I enjoy helping out at school as the class monitor over lunch times. My heroes are Jane Goodall, anthropologist Lois Leakey and Jacques Cousteau. Unfortunately, this happy picture was soon to fade.
Like many people, I did not grow up in a family where I was provided with the knowledge, support, and role models I would require to live a happy and successful life. The family life I grew up with resulted in my living on the street for ten years from the time I was fourteen years old. I proceeded to implement all 35 of Ben Stein’s recommendations as put forward in his little book, “How To Ruin Your Life”.
At age 28 I finally awoke to my life and realized that I was what most people referred to as a loser. I realized I did not know what winners do. I was never taught or shown. I had no examples to go by. So I set out to learn. I read everything I could that I believed to be relevant. I read widely of all the arts and sciences. I took notes and filled eight notebooks with them on everything from archeology and economics to psychology and history. I studied all the sciences; chemistry, physics, biology, as well as world mythology, philosophy and the classics of literature. I read Asimov’s Guide To Science, the Bible, Shakespeare and the Koran. I read endless biographies including those of Henry David Thoreau, Aristotle Onassis, and Winston Churchill. I found underlying patterns in all these disciplines, schools of thought and lives. I proceeded to apply what I was learning.
By age 35 I had demonstrated that I was an apt pupil and had results to show for my efforts. I was married and owned my own home and had two children. I wore a suit every day, worked for a large government corporation on the executive floor and was earning $60,000 a year as a computer information systems troubleshooter. I worked out with weights at noon five days a week, walked or rode my bicycle to work and swam at the local pool. I continued to read voraciously on a wide range of subjects. I got up every morning at 5am to study for industry exams.
By age 47 I was divorced for the second time. I was unemployed and stone broke. I lived in a single room in a two bedroom apartment I shared with a twenty year old male college student I did not know from Adam. As I did when I was 28, I searched again for an answer to my life’s mystery: why did happiness elude me? I had studied success and practiced success and yet had little to show for it at this point. Browsing the shelves of a local bookstore I opened a book about Buddhism and read the first line: “the purpose of life is to be happy”. I had never heard this idea before. Even with my Masters Degree in Life Skills from the “University Of Public Library”, I had never encountered this idea. For the next year I researched the subject of happiness, not “success” this time, but happiness. I read everything I could find that the east and the west had to say on the matter.
A year later I am stunned by what I have learned and the profound impact its practice has had on me and my life. I am happier than I have ever been. I am a kinder, warmer, more loving person. I am once again that happy, smiling boy in the photograph who loves life and approaches it with open arms. And interestingly, I can now quite easily afford to buy the Dalai Lama’s books.
Read on… this link will take you to a PDF document. To continue reading, scroll down to Chapter Two: What Is Unhappiness?