Seeking happiness outside of ourselves is like waiting for sunshine in a cave facing north.
While everyone wants to be happy one way or another, there’s a big difference between aspiration and achievement. That is the tragedy of human beings. We fear misery but run to it. We want happiness but turn away from it. The very means used to ease suffering often fuel it. How could such a misjudgment occur? Because we are confused about how to go about it. We look for happiness outside ourselves when it is basically an inner state of being. If it were an exterior condition, it would be forever beyond our reach. Our desires are boundless and our control over the world is limited, temporary, and, more often than not, illusory.
We forge bonds of friendship, start families, live in society, work to improve the material conditions of our existence… is that enough to define happiness? No. We can have “everything we need” to be happy and yet be most unhappy; conversely, we can remain serene in adversity. It is naive to imagine that external conditions alone can ensure happiness. That is the surest way to a rude awakening […] Failure, separation, disease, and death can occur at any moment.
We willingly spend a dozen years in school, then go on to college or professional training for several more; we work out at the gym to stay healthy; we spend a lot of time enhancing our comfort, our wealth, and our social status. We put a great deal into all this, and yet we do so little to improve the inner condition that determines the very quality of our lives. What strange hesitancy, fear, or apathy stops us from looking within ourselves, from trying to grasp the true essence of joy and sadness, desire and hatred? Fear of the unknown prevails, and the courage to explore that inner world fails at the frontier of our mind. A Japanese astronomer once confided to me: “It takes a lot of daring to look within.” This remark, made by a scientist at the height of his powers, a steady and open-minded man, intrigued me. Recently I also met a Californian teenager who told me: “I don’t want to look inside myself. I’m afraid of what I’d find there.” Why should he falter before what promised to be an absolutely fascinating research project? As Marcus Aurelius wrote: “Look within; within is the fountain of all good.”
Matthieu Ricard (1946). A French Buddhist Monk. Son of the renowned philosopher Jean-François Revel and the painter Yahne Le Toumelin. In 1972 he abandoned his scientific studies and dedicated himself to the practice of Tibetan Buddhism. He photographed spiritual masters and Himalayan landscapes, was the interpreter and personal secretary of his Holiness the Dalai Lama and a prominent figure in the diffusion of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. He is a prolific author and a promoter of an active dialogue between scientists of different disciplines and Buddhist Masters. As a result of this work, he participated in a study from the University of Wisconsin, where it showed that a life dedicated to meditation and altruism produced, in the areas of the brain associated with positive emotions, levels of activity never before seen in a human being. As a result of these studies he was recognized by this University and by diverse publications as the “happiest man on the earth”. Fragment extract from the book: Happiness. 2008. New York: Warner Books.