They say that the most important word in the phrase ‘I love you’ is the ‘I’. If you have no self-awareness and haven’t learned how to love yourself then you won’t be able to love another.
How many times have we heard the advice that it is best to focus on yourself first before you think about being compassionate for your fellow man? Well, according to one esteemed individual this notion of self-love is all carp. That esteemed individual happens to be His Holiness the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso. In fact, the Dalai Lama says there are two key factors to happiness that have nothing to do with self-compassion.
The Dalai Lama wrote a book called the ‘The Art of Happiness’ where he convincingly makes the case that people who are after their own fulfillment all the time will end up unhappy.
“But isn’t a life based on seeking personal happiness by nature self-centered, even self-indulgent? Not necessarily. In fact, survey after survey has shown that it is unhappy people who tend to be most self-focused and are often socially withdrawn, brooding, and even antagonistic. Happy people, in contrast, are generally found to be more sociable, flexible, and creative and are able to tolerate life’s daily frustrations more easily than unhappy people. And, most important, they are found to be more loving and forgiving than unhappy people.”
The Two Factors of Happiness
There are two key factors that shape our mental well-being.
The Dalai Lama fervently believes that these two factors are the key to our happiness.
He goes on to say:
“Sometimes when I meet old friends, it reminds me how quickly time passes. And it makes me wonder if we’ve utilized our time properly or not. Proper utilization of time is so important. While we have this body, and especially this amazing human brain, I think every minute is something precious. Our day-to-day existence is very much alive with hope, although there is no guarantee of our future. There is no guarantee that tomorrow at this time we will be here. But we are working for that purely on the basis of hope. So, we need to make the best use of our time. I believe that the proper utilization of time is this: if you can, serve other people, other sentient beings. If not, at least refrain from harming them. I think that is the whole basis of my philosophy. So, let us reflect what is truly of value in life, what gives meaning to our lives, and set our priorities on the basis of that. The purpose of our life needs to be positive. We weren’t born with the purpose of causing trouble, harming others. For our life to be of value, I think we must develop basic good human qualities—warmth, kindness, compassion. Then our life becomes meaningful and more peaceful—happier.
The Joy of Giving
The philosophical concept of the ‘joy of giving’ is not some hippie bullshit as far as the Dalai Lama is concerned. This philosophy makes the case for altruism. We can truly be happy when we can bring a bit of happiness into the lives of others. There is no amount of personal satisfaction that can match the happiness of doing a good turn to someone else. Quoting from his book again, this is what His Holiness has to say about helping others:
“If you approach others with the thought of compassion, that will automatically reduce fear and allow openness with other people. It creates a positive, friendly atmosphere. With that attitude, you can approach a relationship in which you, yourself, initially create the possibility of receiving affection or a positive response from the other person. And with that attitude, even if the other person is unfriendly or doesn’t respond to you in a positive way, then at least you’ve approached the person with a feeling of openness that gives you certain flexibility and the freedom to change your approach as needed.”
“I think that in many cases people tend to expect the other person to respond to them in a positive way first, rather than taking the initiative themselves to create that possibility. I feel that’s wrong, it leads to problems and can act as a barrier that just serves to promote a feeling of isolation from others.”
Basically all this boils down to the notion that as human beings in society we are intrinsically bound to each other in subtle ways we may not comprehend. Sometimes the way to fight your own demons is to take on the demons of others. At the end of the day all we have is each other and it might make a world of difference to cast away the cynicism and believe in that even for a moment.