Happiness from the inside out

Escape to reality

People often decide they’ll learn to meditate once they see the connection between inner peace and feeling good or happy.rainbow in clouds

But sometimes people misunderstand “happiness depends on inner peace” to mean that, when they meditate, Buddhists and so on are just trying to find some peace by escaping from reality. Nothing could be further from the truth. We use meditation to become fully engaged both with our reality and with others’ reality. Peace is not just about switching off and ignoring whatever is going on. It’s about waking up to reality. Therefore, peaceful minds are peaceful, but they’re also meaningful.

Where do you look for happiness?

When we go to Buddhist meditation classes, or read some books, it is not too long before we discover that Buddha taught that happiness comes from within. And we nod our heads in agreement and perhaps even tell others about it. But if we examine where we put all our time and energy, where we try to find happiness, this’ll give us a good indication of what we really believe about where our happiness comes from, regardless of the words coming out of our mouth. And it could well be that we still believe that it is to be found out there, somewhere. “If I get this right I’ll be happy” – if I just get this piece of pizza, this promotion, this pay raise, this boyfriend, this GPS…

directionally challengedActually, when I was given my first GPS, a Magellan, back in San Francisco where I was based about 8 years ago, I confess that for a while there I thought I might finally have stumbled upon the one thing in the entire universe that was capable of making me happy. That navigator revolutionized my entire existence! For years I had been saying to people that happiness didn’t depend on externals, and now I was realizing that it did! After years of being directionally challenged, to put it mildly, more like directionally demented, I drove around San Francisco like some crazy woman, and found my way everywhere with absolutely no difficulty whatsoever.

At the time I had to think quite hard about why Lady Magellan wasn’t a source of happiness from her own side – the only lame thing I could come up with was that although she got me places, she didn’t guarantee I enjoyed those places once I was there. (Admittedly, this was before she started to become a bit perverse and peevish and send me on some very odd detours, once even suggesting I drive off a cliff.)

Why am I fessing up to this? It’s because sometimes (often!) I do have to think hard about why someone or something is not capable from their own side of giving me happiness. If I dig deeper, I can see how this is the case, but it is not always immediately obvious, which is why I fall for external sources of happiness over and over again.

Have you found anything that from its own side is capable of giving you happiness, without its depending on the mind?

Where do you look for inner peace?

value of somethingWhereas we do often think that the causes of happiness lie outside the mind, when it comes to peace I think we have more of a sense that peace is an inner state of mind, and we have to work on our mind to get it. “If I want to be peaceful, my mind has to be peaceful.” I never thought, for example, that Lady Magellan could give rise to inner peace. I think it makes more sense to us to think of cultivating peace of mind, whereas when we use the word “pursuing happiness” it seems to suggest more about rearranging things externally. Just a little more Mozzarella on the pizza, or if only my kitten would stop throwing up, I’ll be happy. Happiness is out there and so we have to go out there and get it.

Joining the dots… happiness comes from inner peace, nowhere else

So it is very helpful to understand the relationship between peace and happiness – it helps us join the dots and change priorities. If we knew for sure that happiness depends on inner peace as opposed to external sources, we would find the energy to train in it. With inner peace, we can be happy all the time, no matter what is going on in our world. Without it, if our mind is troubled, we cannot find a moment’s happiness, even if we are magically transported to a fabulous tropical paradise surrounded by all our dearest friends. External conditions can only make us happy if our mind is peaceful.

Happiness come from the inside out, not the outside in.

Japanese-Tea-Garden-San-FranciscoFor example, San Francisco is a very beautiful city. I know, because I drove around it like a crazy woman and saw lots of touristy things, like the Japanese Tea Garden. But it is still going to entirely depend on our frame of mind whether we’re going to enjoy that Japanese Garden or find it, “Boooring! I’m hungry. Where’s my lunch?” If our mind is elsewhere, nothing takes: “I wish my boss would give me a break”, or “I’m so stressed out about that stupid deadline”, then a brief, “Oh, nice Bonsai tree”, then “I can’t believe what that woman said to me…” If our mind is churning and unpeaceful, we can be in one of the most beautiful corners of this planet and it can still be just “Bleahh!”, not making us happier at all. Many of us do live in a beautiful corner of this planet, but are we happy all the time? There are literally countless examples like this.

Everyone wants to be happy all the time. I can’t remember the last time I woke up in the morning thinking, “I hope I have a really miserable day”… Yet, without choice, we often do have a miserable day. This is because happiness is just not going to happen if we are not peaceful inside, regardless of which external source we turn to. Happiness comes from the inside out. We’ve got that backwards at the moment. We’ve tried it from the outside in for a very long time – months, years, decades, possibly half a century or more. And we’ll go on like this until we realize that happiness is not coming from there. That we won’t find happiness out there because happiness is a state of mind and it depends on inner peace, peace of mind. And, in fact, there is nothing out there!

A clearly defined path to peace and happiness

happiness comes from withinMeditation redresses this issue. The Western word “happiness” comes from the Icelandic word “luck”. We are happy by chance, when things suddenly go our way or we receive a windfall; and then something goes wrong and we are randomly unhappy again. But according to Buddhism, by contrast, there’s a clearly defined path to happiness, and this involves training in improving our peaceful and positive minds.

Over to you: In the comments, let us know if you have managed to find a real external source of happiness, so we can all go out and buy one …

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

21 thoughts on “Happiness from the inside out”

  1. I have tried a cigar called Hamlet, and other tobacco-based products, holidays, music, keeping fit, nice food, sex and relationships and a few other bits and pieces, but each time I got it wrong! So I keep trying, thinking that the knowledge I get from Buddhism will show me how to get it right next time. And occasionally it crosses my mind, that isn’t what Buddha meant. Thank goodness for our precious Sangha, otherwise I think I would have given up by now.

  2. Love the graph😊 and actually very clearing how we can be mistaken in our approach

  3. Yes happened to me when my girlfriend said bye bye. And I thought he had no attachment for her until that moment, I realize that her source of happiness in my heart was infected by ignorance. In my head I thought that happiness could only come from internal sources, but in reality I believed, or rather I had the realization of the opposite.

  4. Yes ! I’ve been with Geshela for 22years now studying and training constantly . I’ve many heavy sdverse conditions and thanks to Geshela have become pretty good at transforming them into the path . Generating minds of patience , compassion and knowing them to be mere appearance and mere name . It seems to me that for a long time I had one foot in the dharma and one still hankering after samsaric bodies etc . Now I have renunciation and am much more able to keep my mind free from delusions . It is through great familiarity over along period of time . Conscientiousness mindfulness and alertness , guarding the mind keeping a virtuous mind which is peaceful and therefore happy . I now have great confidence and a lot less fear and anxiety because I know I can transform whatever comes .I know that if I keep training I will attain TAbiding , SSeeing, SGBliss and a direct realisation of emptiness . Then I will really be able to help free all our mothers 🙏❤️🌈

  5. Nice writting, thanks for share. Indeed, it was inspirational for me: I have written a post about the search of inner happiness too, and I have added a link there pointing to here. Namaste!

  6. So true that this applies to countless examples of how in our daily experience, we forget to see this very basic truth – that we are continuously believing “THIS ____ (fill in the current external person/issue/thing) will deliver me some peace/happiness…” and, “THIS is precisely why I am NOT happy, because THIS is happening or not happening… so if I could JUST tweak this, or make that go away…THEN I can go back to the inner peace I keep talking about as an official Buddhist practitioner.”
    I am laughing in that painful personal way because a couple of days ago I woke up thinking “AHHH, a “day off”, I can do or not do whatever I want!” And proceeded to do many things OTHER than sit and touch in to my peaceful mind. By mid afternoon, and all those minutes of feeling not peaceful, I finally realized that I had to sit down and do basic breathing meditation, just to allow some space for experiencing some peace.
    I had to literally fight with myself to do this. Because I was still thinking that if I would just finish my tasks, clean the kitchen, call this person back, check off 10 more things on my list, THEN I could be peaceful enough to do my practice.
    This really underlines the fact (proven over and over if I am honest with myself) that I am still holding the belief that I will REALLY be happy when I have time to get everything ELSE done first, BEFORE I “officially” meditate. What.
    Geshe-la really means it – happiness comes from inner peace. Sorry to be so basic here, but this is a supreme result of decades of practice that I am increasingly grateful for. I am going to rejoice in that. And in you, Dear Luna. Thank you for bringing us back to the deep and profound basics again and again.

  7. I was looking for a city centre Kadampa centre recently in the Uk to go do some prayers.After taking copious notes from Google directions, I set off on the 10 mile drive.Approaching the city ,it all went badly wrong.Clueless as to where I would turn next as I approached a rather large roundabout.I just though to myself ‘Please Geshe-la,just guide me there.’My mind relaxed and as I turned ‘blindly’ left,I found I was on the same road as the Centre!Ha!Of course we all know this journey is a great analogy for our spiritual journey but it is a true story.
    Keep ’em coming,Luna.I think once we notice how sneaky our mind gets when it wants us to follow attachment,we can really start to get some wisdom in it, pronto!

  8. I remember I caught this process going on in 2001 in the Menorca festival… I never forgot it, it became very useful. In the break between sessions I walked down to the beach feeling very peaceful and blissful. Halfway there I stopped to get an ice cream. As I started to eat it there was a distinct feeling of enjoyment in my mind and just as my mind was informing me that the ice cream was causing the good feeling another part of my mind acknowledged that I was already feeling good before the ice cream and I was enjoying it BECAUSE I was peaceful…. Mini revalation!

  9. Hi Luna. Thank you for once again asking just the right question to tease out my delusions from their hiding place.
    Day by day I believe that if my children are happy, I’m happy. So their happiness feels like a true source of happiness to me. Only one problem with this – they’re actually never happy. Well not for long anyway. So i put loads of energy into their happiness – money, advice, housework……on and on trying to create a situation that only exists in my own mind. I hasten to add they’re all grown up and quite capable of living independently. I was once worried about one of my sons actions and one of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was – no need to worry about him if his mothers going to be a Buddha! Light bulb moment – only my mind creates a reality where I can make others happy. And for them I really have a strong motivation to train my mind – one day they’ll be really happy and for now I’m off their case!

    1. Thanks for this comment — this is so common: “Day by day I believe that if my children are happy, I’m happy. So their happiness feels like a true source of happiness to me.” And thanks for a great conclusion 🙂

      1. This is exactly my feeling today – one of my children is obviously unhappy and has been that way for a long time (he is a teenager) and I feel so helpless. I feel strongly that if he were happy I would feel happy. But I know this is a simplistic view and I am struggling to remind myself that my happiness and peace must come from within and that this approach will help him more than me feeling paralysed by anxiety. Which is why I visited you today Luna. So thankyou 🙂

  10. Love it! Thank you for the valuable reminder that becoming a being who relies upon inner conditions is not the same thing as rejecting external conditions.

  11. Oh Luna, these words have re-routed my lost mind through a complete U-turn and heading in the right direction. May I always rely on Kadampa Navigation…. May I always rely on Kadampa Navigation (x 21)

  12. I have to comment on this as while reading it I got the giggles
    I was driving to do some healing work with my sat nav directing me as I did not know where this address was. Now I knew to turn right at this junction but my sat nav sent me left! My mind was full of oh I hope these people are not overly distressed bless them, when I suddenly realised my sat nav lol back in focus here had taken me past my Buddhist centre lol well I really got the giggles then as the thought came to me, if your mind is peaceful you will naturally create that energy with those you are about to help! Still with the giggles I got back round the corner behind the Buddhist centre and back onto the same road lol, the wonders of the sat nav or is it divine intervention ? Or was it all in the mind lol the help I gave had many tears but ended with hugs and laughter over to you Luna just had to share that one lol xxx

      1. Lol I think laughter and a light mind is the key! Also divine intervention helps 🙂 us tune into the right path lol

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