Having been a student of Mahayana Buddhism for the past couple years, I had been meaning to read a book by the fourteenth Dalai Lama, and was overjoyed to purchase this one after being alerted that the Kindle edition had gone on sale by the excellent ebook deal-alerting service Bookbub. Since it was the first book by the current Dalai Lama that I ever read, I wasn't sure what to expect but I did expect it to be of high quality—especially since it is his most well-known book. Fortunately, it did not disappoint me in the slightest!
The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living was co-authored by psychiatrist Howard Cutler, who posed questions to the Dalai Lama over the series of many interviews. Cutler provides the setting and context for their meetings and also incorporates his own reflections on the issues raised in their discussions. In addition, transcriptions from several of the Dalai Lama's teachings are scattered throughout the book. It was first published in 1998, and I read the ten-year anniversary edition that was published in 2008 which includes a new preface and introduction.
The book delves into the concept of using various techniques to train the mind in order to achieve true happiness. In the preface, His Holiness the Dalai Lama states, "If you want others to be happy practice compassion; and if you want yourself to be happy practice compassion." This focus on developing compassion is consistent throughout the book and is a main focus in many of the answers that the Dalai Lama gives to Cutler's questions. It seems that this is a sort of prerequisite for cultivating happiness, a foundation upon which all of the other advice is based upon.
Another point that is made time and time again is that happiness comes down to one's state of mind more than by external events. There are a plethora of examples provided in the book, such as how lottery winners do not sustain their initial delight over a longterm period and instead return to the level of moment-to-moment happiness they were accustomed to prior to winning the lottery. Or how studies have shown that people who are struck by tragic events like cancer and blindness typically recover to their normal level of happiness after a reasonable adjustment period. Psychologists label this process "adaptation", which simply refers to the tendency of one's overall level of happiness to migrate back to a certain baseline.
From a Buddhist perspective, the root causes of all suffering are ignorance, craving, and hatred. The book fleshes out this idea and suggests methods for one to overcome them. For example, the Dalai Lama advises, "We cannot overcome anger and hatred simply by suppressing them. We need to actively cultivate the antidotes to hatred: patience and tolerance."
Overall, I was very impressed by this book. When I first started reading it I wished that the Dalai Lama had been the sole author, however I eventually grew to appreciate Cutler's additions. That's mainly because I did not realize that the book was co-authored until after I started reading it, so I had unknowingly and unintentionally set an improper expectation for myself. However, by the end of the book I had overlooked the co-authoring aspect entirely and focused more on the book's content, which is excellent. I would advise this book to anyone who is interested in the Dalai Lama, Buddhism, mindfulness, or becoming truly happy.
5/5 stars. 348 pages.