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Lions Roar : July 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2006 44 AN AMERICAN FRIEND of mine, a successful photography editor, once told me about a conversation she’d had with a group of friends after they’d finished their final college ex- ams and were wondering what to do with their lives. When she’d said, “I want to be happy,” there was an embarrassed silence, and then one of her friends had asked: “How could someone as smart as you want nothing more than to be happy?” My friend answered: “I didn’t say how I want to be happy. There are so many ways to find happiness: start a family, have kids, build a career, seek adventure, help others, find inner peace. Whatever I end up doing, I want my life to be a truly happy one.” The word happiness, writes Henri Bergson, “is commonly used to designate something intricate and ambiguous, one of those ideas which humanity has intentionally left vague, so that each individual might interpret it in his own way.” From a practical point of view, leaving the definition of happiness vague wouldn’t matter if we were talking about some inconsequential feeling. But the truth is altogether different, since we’re actually talking about a way of being that defines the quality of every moment of our lives. So what exactly is happiness? Sociologists define happiness as “the degree to which a person evaluates the overall qual- ity of his present life-as-a -whole positively. In other words, how much the person likes the life he or she leads.” This definition, however, does not distinguish between profound satis- faction and the mere appreciation of the outer conditions of our lives. For some, happiness is just “a momentary, fleeting impression, whose intensity and duration vary according to the availability of the resources that make it possible.” Such happiness must by nature be elusive and dependent on circumstances that are quite often beyond our control. For The four noble truths tell us that to be happy we must first discover the causes of our unhappiness. This is the approach of the renowned French Buddhist monk MATTHIEU RICARD, who says that genuine happiness is only possible after we understand the fundamental mistake that is the root of our suffering. Why Can’t “I” Be Happy?