Happiness: A Pursuit or a Practice?
Krista Tippett, host
A basketball court transformed by flowers and incandescent light. Four thousand people in attendance. Four global religious leaders. I have never concentrated as hard as I did in the two hours I spent on that stage. But it was, in the end, a delight. And it was fascinating as an encounter as much as a conversation. The Dalai Lama’s embodied joy, his radiant and playful presence, was as defining as the words he spoke.
The biggest challenge with discussing “happiness” in this culture might be finding our way back to the substance of that word itself — a substance that has been hollowed out by its uses in culture. I found myself very much planted in the definition of happiness that the French-born Tibetan Buddhist scientist/monk Matthieu Ricard offered on this program and podcast in 2009. He defines happiness as “genuine flourishing” — not a pleasurable sensation or mood, but a way of being in the world that can encompass the fullness of human experience — joy and pleasure as well as suffering and loss.
Professor Nasr, Bishop Jefferts Schori, and Rabbi Sacks all added to that definition as they laid out the virtues and habits, the spiritual technologies, that their traditions have carried forward in time. They all described corollaries, in a sense, to the Dalai Lama’s joyful yet disciplined teachings on cultivating compassion and calmness in the mind as way of flourishing in and amidst all of life’s experiences. But the most exciting part of interreligious encounter, for me, is not rushing to hear similarities but savoring particularities — the distinctive vocabularies of thought and practice, the beautiful and intriguing differences that come to light even as we may seem to be circling towards the same goal.
And so among my favorite moments are Prof. Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s explication of beauty as inextricably linked to virtue and happiness in Muslim tradition. Beauty, he says, makes the soul happy. Bishop Jefferts Schori talked about the long tradition in Christianity of practicing gratitude and “the presence of God” in the midst of ordinary activities of life. Rabbi Sacks evoked sabbath as a space to focus on the things in life that are “important but not urgent.” He described the extraordinary power of pausing to let life’s “blessings” — an awareness of the deepest sources of our happiness — “catch up with us.” Such reflections unsettle notions of happiness as a “right” and as something to be “pursued.”
A discussion of happiness is intrinsically serious, too. As we were also reminded in the course of this discussion, spiritual happiness is never merely personal in nature. It is linked to an awareness of the suffering and pleasure of others. And at the same time, it is something we cultivate in our bodies as well as our minds. It communicates itself in our very presence.
There was, fittingly, a great deal of laughter on this stage of religious dignitaries seated center court at Emory. There was a festive atmosphere in the room altogether. Listen, and watch, for yourself. Ponder, and enjoy this dynamic discussion to get a full flavor of the physical and engaged presence of these prominent religious leaders as they contemplate the meaning of happiness.
(video) His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama on Happiness with Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Bishop Jefferts Schori, and Rabbi Sacks
by Trent Gilliss, senior producer
What happens when 4,000 people gather together to watch a stage seated with a Tibetan Buddhist master, the chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and one of the world’s preeminent Muslim scholars — and the topic is understanding happiness? One enthralling discussion with plenty of great stories to take home to your friends and family.
Well, with gracious permission from Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion, you can see it for yourself with this front-row seat for a sold-out event in Atlanta on October 17. The conversation was electric and these prominent religious leaders were fully engaged as they contemplated the meaning of happiness.
Understanding Happiness with the Dalai Lama, a British Rabbi, an Episcopal Bishop, a Muslim Scholar: A Twitterscript
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
On October 17 of this year, Krista led a lively conversation with four dynamic religious leaders: the His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr on “Understanding and Promoting Happiness in Today’s Society.”
Trent and I sat in the media section of the Woodruff Physical Education Center at Emory University and our live-tweeted some of the special gems from discussion. You can also listen to the event’s full audio.
- We’ll be live-tweeting Krista’s panel w/ @, @RabbiSacks, Rev. Schori, + Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Intros are beginning; discussion to start soon.
- Krista and religious leaders have taken the stage, followed by the @DalaiLama. All are standing in silence with one pair of hands clapping.
- The topic of this session: understanding and promoting happiness in today’s society. Smiles everyone!
- "The reason different religious traditions developed is not for misery but for deep satisfaction (happiness). That’s very clear."-@DalaiLama
- The @DalaiLama finally put on his classic deep red visor. He said to Krista - “Now I can see you clearer. There is a bright light in here.”
- "If we could learn 1 thing from you - how to laugh the way you do - it would increase the happiness in the world." @rabbisacks to @dalailama
- "Simha tells us that happiness is part of the tenure and texture of relationships." @rabbisacks on Jewish definition of a shared happiness
- "Consumerism making us feel bad for what we lack is the most efficient system for the manufacturing+distribution of unhappiness" @rabbisacks
- "The paradox of the world is that to listen to a lecture on #happiness people have to stand in line unhappily for 2 hours to get in.” -Nasr
- “#Happiness comes from this right relationship - from knowing you are not God and therefore not putting yourself in the center.” -Rev Schori
- Some people have the idea that just following the truth is enough. #Islambelieves what’s important is to attain #happiness.”-Seyyed H. Nasr
- "The environmental crisis is due to this substitution - believing #happiness is to have, want more and more.” - Seyyed Hossein Nasr
- "Once it was asked to a great #Sufi master ‘What do you want?’ He said ‘I want not to want?’ That’s the epitome of #happiness.” -Seyyed Nasr
- "Happiness is a permanent state of the soul, and we are here to attain it." -Seyyed H. Nasr to the @DalaiLama
- "That’s why all the pain can lead to #happiness when you say to the bad times: I will not let you go until you bless me.” - @rabbisacks
- "Happiness is not finding joy in death. It’s taking what is, and insisting that great happiness for all is possible." - Rev. Schori
- RT @EmoryUniversity ”Say to the bad times, I will not let you go until you bless me.”—-Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
- "In Arabic, beauty and virtue — and the word goodness — are all the same word." -Seyyed H. Nasr
- "The #Arabic word for beauty, virtue, and goodness is the same. Beauty drives us to the divine…Beauty makes the soul happy.” - Seyyed Nasr
- "Just by existing, we’re responsible towards other creatures, humans, nature, and God himself." -Seyyed Hossein Nasr
- "Buddhism is in some ways atheist, but some say atheism means anti-God. In that sense, #Buddhism has respect for all traditions.” @DalaiLama
- "Sometimes we don’t have to pursue happiness, we have to pause and let it catch up to us." - @rabbisacks
- "There is a religious challenge in things that don’t look beautiful." -@RabbiSacks
- "Happiness is a right. The purpose of our life is happiness. It may be simple but it’s what I think!" @DalaiLama
- "When a person lives with hopelessness, they commit suicide. So our life depends on hope for happiness." @DalaiLama
- A nice segue by Krista from @RabbiSacks' fabulous point about slowing down for happiness to the @DalaiLama's teachings on meditation.
- "I almost drowned on my honeymoon, so when I wake up, I know what it means to pray: Thank you #God for giving me back my life.” @RabbiSacks
- "We can face the future of fear if we know we do not face it alone." @RabbiSackson praying to #God and knowing God is with you
- Just realized there’s a person signing this wonderful discussion at Emory. Her just to hear + translate must be incredibly difficult. Kudos.
- "Our modern culture makes it very hard to fail." -@RabbiSacks at The Interfaith Summit on Happiness
- "Train the body so the mind, the self, and the soul can do it’s job more effectively." - Rev. Schori on #running as body meditation
- " #Judaism has a whole approach on the physical dimension of the spiritual life - it’s called food.” @RabbiSacks on #happiness and the body
- "If you want a summary of all the #Jewish holidays it can be done in 3 sentences: they tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat” @RabbiSacks
- "Someone elses’ material needs, are my spiritual duty" @RabbiSacks on the responsibility to help others who are lacking
- @DalaiLama is asked: Where does body fit into happiness? HHDL: Without a body, there’s no longer a brain. Then it’s difficult to think.
- "You have to let go of hate if you want to be free" - @RabbiSacks
- "A #Muslim friend said ‘jihad’ is combating the negative forces within yourself. So then, the whole Buddhist philosophy is Jihad” @DalaiLama
- "After Buddhism there is no religion that speaks more of compassion than #Islamdoes.” - Seyyed Hossein Nasr
- "I’m out of my medium. I’m used to being in a recording studio where people aren’t applauding after comments" - Krista Tippett
There are many inventors whose personal life is just subsumed into their projects. That’s Atanasoff. That why he had a happy life: not because he was or wasn’t recognized, but because the things he built turned out to be what he thought they were going to be.
— Jane Smiley, from her interview with Gary Wolf in the November 2010 issue of Wired.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist discusses the protagonist of her new book titled The Man Who Invented the Computer, a biography on John Vincent Atanasoff. The quotation above is a helpful reminder that curiosity and achievement is a joy in and of itself. To create something and be right (or maybe even fail?) is a reward that accumulates over time, even if it’s not measurable in external adulation.
(I would have linked to the article, but it’s not ready yet.)
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
LIVE Video: A Sold Out Event with the Dalai Lama. A Front Row Seat for You!
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
*UPDATE: Listen to our recording of this magnificent discussion (mp3, 113:52).
"Understanding and Promoting Happiness in Today’s Society"
date: Sunday, October 17th, 2010
time: 1:30 p.m. EDT
» What do Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam teach us about the concept of happiness?
» What do these ancient traditions hold in common about this often elusive state of being, and what are their greatest points of difference?
» How do they define happiness?
» Is happiness the purpose of life, or is it a reward only available after life?
These questions are just the start of a dynamic conversation Krista will be having with the Dalai Lama and other leading religious leaders. We want you to be a part of it. Join us this afternoon and watch our exclusive live video stream from the campus of Emory University with His Holiness and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr.
And here’s a rundown of other events that are part of the summit that don’t include Krista, but we’ll be streaming in case you wish to attend:
"The Nature and Practice of Compassion"
date: Sunday, October 17th, 2010
time: 9:45 a.m. EDT
In this teaching for the Buddhist communities of Atlanta and the southeastern U.S., His Holiness will explain the nature of compassion and the practices for cultivating it as understood in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition — something to which His Holiness has dedicated his entire life. By explaining the essential role of compassion in the flourishing of human life, this teaching will provide a backdrop for all the subsequent events of the visit.
"Richard Gere and Alice Walker in Conversation with the Dalai Lama about Spirituality and Creativity"
date: Tuesday, October 19th, 2010
time: 1:30 p.m. EDT
How do the arts help us to express, or indeed to uncover, our spiritual yearnings and questions or certainties? What do the artist and the spiritual master have to teach each other from their respective disciplines? What is the role of tradition (or, conversely, iconoclasm) in maintaining or renewing art and spiritual life? Is the human being innately spiritual, innately artistic?
And, for the next several days, be sure to watch more of our one-on-one conversations with wise voices and religious leaders from The Interfaith Summit on Happiness in Atlanta, Georgia. Krista will be conducting on-the-ground interviews, and we’ll be live-streaming video of each one. We had an incredible conversation with Rabbi Sacks yesterday (archived video here) and more are on the way, including one with the Dalai Lama’s chief translator, Geshe Thupten Jinpa. We’ll be sending out real-time updates when the stream goes live on our Facebook page and through our Twitter stream. Keep an eye out and let us know how we’re doing!
Please join us for this real-time dialogue. You can leave comments here. If you’re interested in bouncing ideas off of others during this interview, check out our Being LIVE page that contains a real-time Facebook chat module. It’s quite enjoyable hearing what other viewers are thinking and responding to. Check it out!
(photo: David McNew/Getty Images)
Happiness For Sale: $75,000
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
In a time when happiness is being measured through Facebook and Twitter, it’s inevitable that we will see more and more scientific reports to help us find happiness. This one from the Gallup Organization finds:
"Emotional well-being (measured by questions about emotional experiences yesterday) and life evaluation (measured by Cantril’s Self-Anchoring Scale) have different correlates. Income and education are more closely related to life evaluation, but health, care giving, loneliness, and smoking are relatively stronger predictors of daily emotions. When plotted against log income, life evaluation rises steadily. Emotional well-being also rises with log income, but there is no further progress beyond an annual income of $75,000. Low income exacerbates the emotional pain associated with such misfortunes as divorce, ill health, and being alone. We conclude that high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness, and that low income is associated both with low life evaluation and low emotional well-being."
This idea of happiness costing $75,000 reminded me of Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen’s book Development As Freedom. Perhaps in the United States, $75,000 is the amount people need to have the freedom to choose how to live their lives without worrying about their basic needs. Of course, Sen also says that while happiness is an important factor in assessing well-being, it can’t work as a sole measure for very practical reasons. Sen tells David Aaronovitch in an interview for The Sunday Times:
"If you’re asked how happy are you, the answer is exactly informative as to what you would say if somebody asked you how happy you are. It doesn’t tell anyone whether you’re really happy or not. People can get very discontented when they’re very successful. And the sad thing is that people actually do adjust if they’re very deprived. I spent 15 years working on famine and it’s amazing how happy famine victims are when they ultimately get a meal. But that doesn’t mean people are generally more deprived than a famine victim having a first meal."
The elusive definition of happiness is echoed by Buddhist Matthieu Ricard in our show "The Happiest Man in the World." In the audio clip above he reiterates the importance of making that difficult distinction between happiness and pleasure. Should, or can, happiness be surveyed?
(photo: Indian economist Amartya Sen by Henny Ray Abrams/AFP/Getty Images)