Absolute and relative happiness

“Though worldly troubles may arise, never let them disturb you. No one can avoid problems, not even sages or worthies.”

The Buddhist monk, Nichiren, wrote this to a samurai warrior in 1276 in a letter called ‘Happiness in this world’.  I was listening a youtube TEDx by Dan Gilbert who has also written a best seller on his ideas.  He classifies happiness as ‘synthetic’ i.e made by you and ‘natural’, i.e happiness that comes from external events such as getting a prize, finding a partner, etc.  He says that synthetic happiness is better than natural happiness.  I agree and am pleased to note that scientific results have proved what Buddhists and other philosophers have known for thousands of years.

However, apart from the strangeness of calling happiness synthetic, the other point is that we need other things to realise this kind of happiness.  And what are those?- this Gilbert does not say.  First, one needs a degree of control over oneself and be free from external influences. In today’s world, this is not easy task.  In Buddhism, we talk about two kinds of happiness- relative and absolute.  Relative happiness depends upon external events and objects while absolute happiness is within us, all the time.  To compare those to Dan Gilbert’s definitions, relative would be similar to natural and absolute happiness to what he calls synthetic. I prefer to call them in the Buddhist way rather than in Dan Gilbert’s terms.  Spiritual practice offers a way of resisting those external temptations in order to find absolute happiness.  This way is through mediation or chanting.  Many other religions also do this through use or stilling of our voices- through praying, singing or through silence.  To try to achieve Dan Gilbert’s synthetic happiness without having the support of a spiritual practice is not possible.  Spiritual practice leads us away from material practice or happiness.  Secondly, a belief in the essential of our beings as happy is the key to being happy.  If you believe you will be unhappy, you will be and vice versa.  Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) said in 40 BC, ‘No man is happy who does not think himself so.’

Even two minutes of meditation have proved to be beneficial to people.  I have been doing this for many weeks now and have noticed a clear difference in my way of thinking and feel  quite relaxed.  By believing that happiness lies within me, I have also learnt to overcome the sorrow of losing a loved one.  Try feeling happy today without referring to any thing external- it is wonderful freedom!