I love self-help books. I’ve loved reading them since high school when I started my journey into the mind to understand depression and anxiety (since I was starting to experience both and didn’t want my life ruined by them as my father had). I’ve read some wonderful books and some downright awful ones, but this book is in a world all of its own. The Art of Happiness is life-changing and I’m about to tell you why.
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Being a connoisseur of sorts when it comes to self-help books, I often find that they are hard to follow because they sound contrived. It’s like I spend $30 on a book that basically just says, “If your sad, try to be happy and think happy things.” and when I’m in a bad mental space that can sound almost insulting in my head. I want to write the author and ask them if they’ve ever REALLY had a bad day in their lives. I don’t feel connected to what is being said or trust that I can implement the suggestions they are recommending.
The Art of Happiness IS NOT LIKE THAT.
Much like the kid in the Airbender series, it’s believed that the Dalai Lama is constantly reincarnated every time he dies. The one on this cover is the 14th. You can read more about him and how the Dalai Lama is chosen HERE. Regardless if you want to believe in this line of reincarnation or not, I still think like many monks this one is trained in hardcore psychology and understanding of the human mind and nature. Still, until reading this book, I hadn’t really learned too much about the Dalai Lama.
I got this book as always during a time in my life when I was feeling less than my best self. I actually put off reading this book a little because I worried about it being contrived and how could a monk who was taken away from his family at a young age and celibate understand anything about my family issues, or marriage issues or even what it was like to be a “normal” human being.
I loved this book because he comes at problems from a “humanistic approach” or the idea that we are all human beings (no one is normal or abnormal) and we are all looking for a way to be happy in life. In this way, he’s not dealing with “family issues” or “marriage issues” but “PEOPLE Issues” with the main focus of every individual trying just to be happy, and sometimes that means finding happiness in ways that are dysfunctional and hurt others.
This isn’t a dry book by any means. It’s written a lot like an interview. You have the interviewer Howard Cutler who is a psychiatrist, and he is able to translate some of the deep concepts the Dalai Lama presents him with so you’re able to apply it to normal life.
The book is broken into sections with the first being about recognizing that you even deserve to be happy in the first place. I love that they start the book like that because if you, like me, are buying it during a dark time, you may not believe that you deserve to be happy or that you can ever be happy. He then talks about taking a moment and thinking about what makes you happy, and what’s keeping you from that and then eliminating what is in the way. Often times though this can lead to blaming others which he goes on to talk about relationships and how in the Western culture we are often given a lot of material to form cinematic thoughts on what love and a relationship looks like. This can lead to comparing our partner to unrealistic standards and not loving them as people just like us.
This book also talked about “the unfairness of life”, “guilt” and “resistance to change” which I rarely see other self-help books address head-on. To be honest, I liked this book because I felt like it flowed like my own thoughts. A concept would be presented and automatically my own resistances would jump up, and then either the Howard Cutler or the Dalai Lama would explain the concept or address the defenses in a way that made the information more palatable to my mind.
One concept I strangely loved is the idea of “Self-Centered Suffering” which is the idea that we can perpetuate our suffering by thinking we are the only ones in the world going through a hard time. I know for me, it’s easy to become obsessed with how bad things are going when I’m having a bad day. When my mother was sick, her illness was all I could see in my life. It made being happy for the little things difficult and I honestly felt isolated from the rest of the world, like no one else had a sick parent. So now, not only did I have to care for a sick parent and my own emotional issues, but I had just caused another problem by isolating myself and allowing the feelings that I was the only one going through it to permeate my mind which made my suffering WORSE!!!
He also explained the concept of “Emotional Compassion” versus “Real Compassion” which was a life-changing thing for me. “Emotional Compassion” is when you are compassionate with someone wanting something in return. For example “You’re having a bad day so I’m going to be nice to you so that when I have a bad day you’ll be nice to me”. This isn’t real compassion because you’re expecting something in return. Real Compassion is recognizing that “Oh you’re suffering, I suffer too, and suffering is part of the human experience and from that point, I can relate”. You’re not putting anyone in debt to you. No one owes you anything and you don’t owe anyone from that perspective.
This book has “A Handbook for Living” written right on the front which honestly I rolled my eyes at. I’ve seen that kind of stuff on so many books. However, this one I can actually say might be true. It covers so many concepts of unhappiness and how you can take your power back and use it for change. It’s not even religious which I really loved. I didn’t feel like I had to be Buddhist or have a deep understanding of Buddhist principals. This was just a clean-cut book on how to face challenges and take control in a way that shows love and compassion to all (including yourself) and how that can help you BE HAPPY.
Let’s be honest. This year has been seriously challenging. It can be hard to not feel like a victim to it. It can be even hard to imagine being HAPPY through it. If you’re in that space and looking for a book that can really empower you, encourage you, and help you feel revitalized again, I highly suggest this book. I also suggest getting it (if you can) as a hardcover because this is one of those books that undoubtedly you will read and then reread again and again.
As always, I hope this post has helped you and encouraged you. If you would like to be kept up to date on posts like this, please be sure to SIGN UP HERE. Also, be sure to check out my SHOP because I’m always adding new and beautiful things. Lastly, if you are in a dark place right now, and feeling like this year has just been the worst, that’s okay. We all experience moments of suffering and while knowing that may not help your situation, you can at least take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. I wish you a beautiful (and compassionate) day. -Heather Astaneh