on December 8, 2008
This book is suppose to represent the Dalai Lama's views on happiness. Readers should know right off the bat that the Dalai Lama didn't actually write this book. Rather, the book is written by a Western psychiatrist who has had extensive converations with His Holiness. To insure that there were no "inadvertant distortions" of the Dalai Lama's ideas as a result of the editorial process, the Dalai Lama's interpreter reviewed the final manuscript. You be the judge as to whether that means this there was nothing "lost in translation".
So who is this Dalai Lama, aka "His Holiness" anyway? And, why should we read a book about happiness by him? Well, the Dalai Lama is the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people according to Tibetan Buddhism- which in my book makes him a person I'd want to listen to when he talks, especially when it's on one of my favorite subjects, happiness. And if this all sounds like an interesting topic for a book, you should read it- you won't be disappointed.
Now this is the kind of book I could write a long review of- simply because there's just so much wisdom packed into it. But, I think I'll take a short-cut with this one and just hit the highlights.
The Dalai Lama believes that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. Other happiness books have also taken this same position. For example, the book Finding Happiness in a Frustrating World refers to happiness as "the ultimate pursuit". On this most will agree, but what exactly does the Dalai Lama tell us about finding it?
As with most of his ideas on things, the concept is clear and simple: happiness can be achieved through training the mind. According to the Dalai Lama, one begins by identifying those factors which lead to happiness, and those factors which lead to suffering.
Having done this, one then sets about gradually eliminating those factors which lead to suffering and cultivating those which lead to happiness. That is the way.
To that end, that's exactly what makes up the majority of this book's pages- ways to eliminate factors in your life that lead to suffering, and learning to foster those factors that lead to happiness. Some specific topics include:
-dealing with anger, hatred, and anxiety
-deepening your connection to others
When all is said and done, I'd have to say that the time you spend mulling over the book's 300-plus pages is going to be well worth it. For most readers, the Dalai Lama's wisdom and views will probably be very beneficial, if not transforming. Happy trails!
on April 18, 2011
A fantastic read, both in hearing directly the teachings of the Dalai Lama, and the more scientific take of Dr. Cutler.
I picked this up a couple of years ago, and have slowly read it when the moment strikes. I'm sure it would have more of an impact if you read it in one sitting, but it still rouses a desire for self-improvement if taken in moderate doses.
Now, I'll be frank (you can be whomever you like, fear not) - I'm not a big fan of self-help books. New Age Spirtuality? Bleh. I'd rather read a gore-fuelled nightmare than read about chanelling my energy and preaching to rocks. Despite this, I found this to be a very engaging title, and one that makes you think.
In North America, we're a product of our psyches, and often bend to their wills without knowing it. Think about it - you think of all the work you have to do when you get home from work, so you get tired. Really tired. But stop - take a second, why? Well, because you're thinking of how tired you're going to be. Are you tired now? No.
As soon as the realization comes, you're not all that tired anymore. Not looking forward to the work ahead, but at the moment - nah, you're pretty much alright.
The Dalai Lama thinks happiness works much in the same way. Think about happiness, and search for it. Make it a conscious thing, rather than an abstract idea, nice to talk about when it's absent - or seemingly so - from your day.
In any case, pick it up. Quite enlightening, really.
on November 24, 2002
Always one to be skeptical of these kinds of collaborative book efforts, I think it's important to point out that 'The Art of Happiness' was written not by the Dalai Lama, but by Howard C. Cutler, a psychiatrist. Dr. Cutler weaves together exerpts from numerous conversations with the Dalai Lama spanning many years, and from public talks given throughout Arizona in 1993. The result is an enjoyable treatise on a topic of widespread importance: happiness (or the lack thereof). I also highly recommend "Open Your Mind, Open Your Life: A Book of Eastern Wisdom" by Taro Gold, which makes a great companion book to all of the Dalai Lama's works.
on August 20, 2004
Howard C. Cutler knows how to sell a book - stick a big picture of the Dalai Lama on the cover and exploit the heck out of him. This book was very disappointing. I was expecting a book on the wisdom of the Dalai Lama's teachings. Instead I read a discouraging rendition of a psychiatrist's struggle to understand something he obviously just does not get. He blunders through interview after interview with the Dalai Lama spending much more time relating his own interpretations of "The Art of Happiness" than passing on what the Dalai Lama has taught. If you want to read a rude, arrogant psychiatrist's version of happiness, this book is for you. If you would rather hear what the expert has to say, I suggest looking somewhere else.
on March 13, 2003
This book is not typical east meets west. Rather it is a gentle presentation of fundemental behaviors and spiritual practices which truly enrich ones life. The Art of Happiness presents principles for living. The book is is written with many pratical examples which give the reader insight into their reason for being. The majic of the book is that it is presented in a gentle and open manner.
I am a member of a fellowship of men and women who believe that change is based on spiritual principles and the daily affirmation (for some) that a higher power is present in some form. This higher power may be called, God or take on any name or form you wish. The fellowship has been growing worldwide since 1935.
My interest in writing this review is to attest to the fact that The Art of Living and the fellowship follow the same principles. A path of personal growth and recovery are most definitely wound together in the teachings of the Dalai Lama and the principles which undergird the fellowship started by Bill W. and Dr. Bob.
What struck me most about the similarities of each was the emphasis on compassion, our being equal with all others. Another fundemental point made is that the life of identification with suffering is lived without the element of being a do gooder. Rather we strive to identify with the suffereing of our fellow beings. To our western culture compassion lived on a daily basis is counter to the notion of getting to the top, having the most toys at the end of the day.
Bopth the Dalai Lama's teaching and the principles of the fellowship stress a focus on, living a live of tolerance, forgiveness and patients. These are some other very basic and important principles that are life changing and affirming.
This book is almost a must read for those in the fellowship. Lets say, it is my humble suggestion to my fellow traverlers who chose to travel along the path of recovery. The two thoughts seemed to blend so well going hand in glove, a very comfortable spiritual fit. The Art of Living with its 2500 year old principles of self enlightnement are no stranger to those who strive to live a spriritual life and grow a day at a time by practicing (the application) of many principles on a daily basis.
This lifestyle is very much as applicable today as it was in 1935 or 2500 years ago.
Enjoy the journey, enjoy the book, enjoy the practicality of its insights.
on February 10, 2003
This book is a series of conversations; it's not a tome, a novel or a textbook. If you pick it up and expect to run through it in a day or two, you'll be disappointed. It is a series of conversations between the Dalai Lama and his friend the psychiatrist.
Once I read in the front part of the book that this was a series of conversations, I put the book in my briefcase to read on airliners or in airport terminals while traveling on business. I always ordered a cup of coffee, read through one conversation while sipping my coffee, then closed the book. It was almost as if I was sitting across the kitchen while the two of them were talking! I gained a lot more from this than trying to read through it. A friend of mine who is a psychologist told me I read it the correct way, using each conversation as a lesson or study session. A few flight attendants I met on my trips told me they were using the book in the same way. Considering none of the conversations are more than a few pages long, it took quite a few weeks to get through the book, but that wasn't a problem since I wasn't in a rush and I traveled a lot on on planes with time to kill!
Two lessons in this book will help anyone suffering from some sort of horrible trauma. The first is the story of the old monk who thought he was to blame for someone else's death. The second is what to do if something horrible happened to you in the past and you just can't get past the trauma. I'd spoil the lesson if I tell you any more, but I can tell you the lessons will help anyone recover from severe trauma.
This book holds a special place on the bookshelf in my living room. You can guess why.
on January 31, 2003
My husband encouraged me to listen to the audio book of The Art of Happiness. I cannot thank him enough. This book has profoundly changed my life. Immediately after listening to it, I felt calmer, full of hope and much happier. I have since read the book in its entirety. I have a newfound respect and admiration for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Despite the loss of his country and the suffering he and his people have endured, he is a genuinely happy man. He is an inspiration to all human beings, regardless of one's religious background. I have already shared this remarkable book with some of my family and friends, and will continue to share it with anyone who will listen. This book has helped me to see that true and lasting happiness can only be achieved through the practice of kindness and compassion, not through placing blame on others for our past or present unhappiness. I find great comfort in the ideals and teachings expressed in this book by the Dalai Lama. That there is anger and hatred in this world, there is no doubt. That each of us, as human beings, has within us the power to dispel that anger and hatred, is both encouraging and liberating. I highly recommend this book to, well, everyone. Imagine how very different the world would be if each person who reads this book passes it on to just one other person, who reads it and adopts the practice of kindness and compassion. That thought gives me great hope for the potential of tomorrow.
on November 30, 2002
Living enjoyable, happy lives is something that most try to strive for; however, the path to "happiness" is not always readily apparent. The Art of Happiness: a Handbook for Living, by Howard C. Cutler, MD and His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a collection of insight and conversations from the authors. The Dalai Lama gave public talks in Arizona, which Mr. Cutler attended, and they also had many private conversations both in America and while traveling in India. Based on these conversations, Mr. Cutler composed his text, which is intended to be a guide to eliminating the obstacles to and finding happiness. They feel that happiness is determined more by one's state of mind rather than external events, and you can train yourself to change the common practices that lead to an unhappy state of mind.
I found the ideas in this book very interesting as well as practical and logically consistent. I think that this text defends their point very strongly. They argue the premise that through having a positive outlook and avoiding, or gaining a new perspective on, negative events, we can personally control our level of happiness.
The authors provide a good, inductively strong argument. I say this because although the reasoning is good, it is possible to imagine some situations in which a person could not successfully employ these practices. I believe that the basic premise is true; your perspective does strongly shape your level of contentment. The Dalai Lama explains, "While undergoing rigorous training, an athlete may suffer a lot... but the athlete doesn't see it as a painful experience. The athlete would take it as a great accomplishment... but if the same person were subject to some other physical work that was not part of his athletic training, then the athlete would think, 'Oh, why have I been subjected to this terrible ordeal?' So the mental attitude makes a tremendous difference" (Cutler 118).
The Dalai Lama offers several more suggestions for cultivating a better outlook. One is to act with compassion toward every person that you meet. He suggests trying to relate to them on the basic level that you are both human. Connecting on this level opens doors to other connections, and it is one basic quality that we all have. Learning to connect with others on this level will allow you to have a happier outlook. He explains the idea in the following passage. "In generating compassion, you start by recognizing that you do not want suffering and you have a right to have happiness. This can be verified or validated by your own experience. You recognize then that other people, just like yourself, also do not want to suffer and that they have a right to have happiness. So this becomes the basis of your beginning to generate compassion" (Cutler 128).
Suffering and problems in our lives are one of the obstacles to happiness. This too, he suggests, can be controlled by outlook. Accepting that suffering will be a part of your life can prepare you for it; it will make you more tolerant, less overwhelmed when bad events come about. "Without a certain degree of tolerance toward suffering, your life becomes miserable; the it becomes like having a very bad night. That night seems eternal, it never seems to end" (Cutler 141).
The claims that the authors make are very well supported, and they are explained very clearly and thoroughly. This book does a particularly good job of taking all evidence into account and addressing opposing arguments and views. In the beginning, Mr. Cutler is a skeptic of the method as well. He assails the Dalai Lama with endless questions, turning his theory inside and out. However, the Dalai Lama responds each time with well thought out, logically consistent replies. This makes the argument particularly convincing; you are able to follow Mr. Cutler in his thought process of eventually accepting this theory.
Overall, I found this argument to be very sound, with no real logical fallacies. The authors do an excellent job of explaining the basic premise that our perception controls our mood, and they are fair in taking into account that some people may not be able to control their mood. They also address that cultivating this new outlook and making real changes takes a long period of time; it will always be a developing process. The authors provide a very solid argument that finding happiness is something that is possible for us all.
H.H. the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, MD. The Art of Happiness: a Handbook for Living. Riverhead Books, New York, 1998.
on December 28, 2001
"The Art of Happiness" is a treatise on the seemingly simple process of living a happy life that is based on numerous interviews that co-author, Dr. Howard Cutler (a psychologist), conducted with the Dalai Lama. Responding to a series of question posed by Dr. Cutler the Dalai Lama offers practical advice on how to understand the elusive nature of happiness and on how to obtain it.
The Dalai Lama's advice is simple but hardly rigid or superficial like most self-help programs. And while the Dalai Lama's insite is largely based on his understanding of the Buddhist tradition, it is hardly religious in nature. For example, when the Dalai Lama proposes a method for coping with with one's enemies or daily misfortunes he explains how the solution might work for a Buddhist, a Christian, or a rational secularist. His goal, it seems it not to prosletize people (indeed, Buddhism is hardly a prosletizing religion) but to provide a solution that is universally applicable to most belief systems. On many occassions Dr. Cutler challenges the Dalai Lama's approach and finds him all to willing to make a critical examination of his own beliefs.
While this book provides an abundance of useful advice, a few of the Dalai Lama's points particularly resonated with me. For example, the Dalai Lama suggests that we should dedicate ourselves to our own happiness with the same enthusiasm as building a family or with the same ambition as advancing our career. He is quick to point out that unlike the mere pursuit of pleasure, happiness is hardly a selfish quest. When we are happy we tend to have a more saluatary effect on others. When we are miserable we easily make others miserable.
More than anything else, the Dalai Lama urges us to approach life with a supple mind. For example, when we focus on how much someone has wronged us, we tend to be too rigid and we miss the complete picture. The chances are that that person has some redeeming qualities and that something in our own personality helped contribute to the situation. Similarly, the Dalai Lama suggests that we look at misfortune as more than just misfortune. When bad things happen to us, they also provide us with some form of opportunity. For example, while he is saddened by loss of his country and by the suffering of his people, the Dalai Lama also rejoices in the fact that life in exile allows him to shed protocal and communicate with people from all over the world.
I know that a lot of people found Dr. Cutler's narrative an intrusive part of this book. While Dr. Cutler is something of a bumbler who gets carried away with his descriptions of the sunset, I found his contribution to this book appropriate and helpful. Through several personal examples, Dr. Cutler points out that appreciating the Dalai Lama's advice is simple enough but actually applying it to one's life is a bit more challenging.
on October 19, 2001
Here is a surprisingly good book, written by a psychiatrist who interviewed the Dalai Lama many times. The book is a combination of narrative by the author and extended quotes of the Dalai Lama's answers. And Cutler asks some good questions.
Sometimes the Dalai Lama's answers seem simple. Part of it is the language. English is obviously not his first language, so he uses almost nothing but ordinary, everyday English -- no jargon, no technical terms, no psychiatric lingo. And yet he obviously has a profound grasp of human nature. Another reason his answers sound simple is because they are rooted in practicality. He isn't trying to explain how things are, he's trying to describe what you can DO to become happier. Descriptions of actions are much simpler and more concrete than explanations.
I'm the author of the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works, and I found the psychiatrist's orientation and the Dalai Lama's practicality combined to make some excellent self-help. I've tried many of the Dalai Lama's suggestions and they really work. One of his suggestions is to think about the similarities between you and other people -- specifically that they want to be happy, just like you do, and they also suffer, just like you do. I know it sounds almost too basic, but when I've actually thought about that while talking to someone, I feel noticeably closer to the person, and that feeling of closeness is relaxing, soothing, calming, and very pleasant. That feeling of closeness increases my happiness.
The Art of Happiness is an excellent book and I recommend it highly.