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The practice of happiness

The practice of happiness

Phra Paisal Visalo suggests practical ways to cultivate happiness in our lives this coming year

Everybody wishes for happiness. Whatever we wish for, be it good health, luck, wealth, love, success or not facing difficult situations, they are all manifestations of happiness.

Unfortunately, we usually find happiness short-lived and rare to come by. So we come to another wish. How can we find happiness forever?

Phra Paisal Visalo said the irony is that the more and harder we strive for happiness, the less and further we are from it. To attain genuine happiness, we need to stop and have time for ourselves to take an inward journey to discover the spring of joy, the monk said. The keys to happiness, he believes, are already in our hands.

"Happiness is intrinsically natural for us. It dwells in our heart. We can't realise it because we spare very little or no time at all to contemplate on life. With life in the fast lane, we hardly see who we are, what is essential for our living, what we truly want in life," said Phra Paisal at the launch of Kam Kor Tee Ying Yai, which he co-wrote with Arthit Yam Chao.

"Our view that happiness is out there to be found from people, material goods, fame, positions or awards blinds us from seeing the truth," he added. "Happiness is not about earning or maintaining the status quo. It is about feeling and being happy."

The first step may be cultivating the view that happiness is not everlasting. "Like everything else in nature, happiness changes and subsides. If we can accept this law of impermanence, we will be permanently happy."

Happiness cannot be bought or consumed, said Phra Paisal. It comes to us when we learn to let go of our selfishness, cravings and desire to own things, including happiness. "When we stop demanding that nature, people and things will be as we please, then we will be able to taste the sweetness of joy."

Attachment is the root of our sufferings, said Phra Paisal. "We hold on to the 'me' and 'mine' so much that we are enslaved by whatever we cling to. For example, when someone stains or scratches 'my' car, it feels like 'I' am stained and scratched. In this sense, 'I' have become the car.

"If we ease up our grasp on 'my' car, yes, the car is ruined, but our mind will not be," he said.

The degree of our suffering is relative to the size of our "self". The bigger our ego, the more our suffering, Phra Paisal said.

While Buddhism teaches us to be "nobody", consumerist society encourages us to be "somebody", driving us to go after money, fame, rank, wealth and power.

"The 'big' ego becomes an easy target where suffering can hit without a miss. For example, one may go to a restaurant and feel upset for not being waited on instantly. Or if you thought that you were 'someone', you would not like to have to line up for service.

"When we are angry or arrogant, we are separating ourselves from the others. It is this separation that blocks us from the flow of happiness."

In short, Phra Paisal said what we need to do to realise happiness is to scrape off our ego, which brings about selfishness and separation. He urges us to be "an empty boat", which is not affected by low or high tides. "Ultimately, supreme happiness comes when there is no 'one' who is attached to sufferings or happiness."

To this end, the monk offered some practical advice.

Say 'I'm sorry' and 'never mind'

We are not angels. As human beings it is natural for us to be imperfect and prone to make mistakes, said Phra Paisal. But these days, he went on, we say sorry too little and too late. Consequently, we are relentlessly living in feuds at home, at work and in broader society.

For example, "Sorry" from doctors could prevent doctor-patient relationships coming before the courts. "Sorry" from the government may help heal the wounded hearts of Muslims in the South who feel justice is not being served. An apology might have stopped the situation from becoming so violent. "Sorry" said by parents may prevent children from ending up in juvenile detention centres.

"Sorry," said Phra Paisal, seems to be the hardest word because we associate it with failures, mistakes, incompetence and weakness, which we feel we must not show to others.

"When we say sorry, we are not losing face. We are losing delusion. It is a noble act. It shows one's humility and compassion to feel others' sufferings," said the monk.

It needs understanding and courage to make an apology, he added. "One needs to take off many heavy hats we are wearing, like education, seniority, experience, ranking, social status, and just relate to one another as human fellows."

The sooner one says sorry, the quicker one can mend conflicts and restore relationships. Most importantly, Phra Paisal emphasized, it is a perfect tool to scrub off one's ego.

"When we sincerely feel and say sorry, our mind will be light and liberated. But if we remain headstrong, resisting our mistakes, we are harming ourselves. Our heart becomes hard and cold, our ego gets stronger, and thus our sufferings are deepened."

Like giving an apology, forgiveness also sets our heart free from anger, grudges or sorrow that weighs us down. At times, it cannot be helped that people hurt us with their deeds and words. It is thus crucial that we learn to cultivate a forgiving mind, said Phra Paisal. "We can all make mistakes, thus we all need forgiving."

The sooner one forgives, he said, the sooner one will be happy.

Say 'thank you' and offer compliments

"Thank you," he said, is not merely a social courtesy. When uttered from the heart it can promote our happiness, too. How? Because it takes optimism and humility to say.

Those who are hard to please or see themselves as above others may find it difficult to appreciate or see others' contributions and goodness, said Phra Paisal. They may see only flaws and give complaints and criticism rather than compliments. In this manner, one is likely to feel upset, dissatisfied, frustrated and far from happy.

To be able to thank someone or something needs both truthful and positive perspectives. This outlook can be cultivated and trained, said Phra Paisal. Appreciating the little things in life, the small things people do or say to us, will bring joy and make us smile.

Most importantly, Phra Paisal said our sharpened positive outlook will help us through difficult times. "This inclination can help us see the bright side of suffering and make our plight manageable and not so miserable."

Learn from suffering

Phra Paisal urges us to take the bull by the horns: "Be happy when suffering comes as it provides us a chance to shake off our ego," he said.

We suffer because we cling to suffering, he added.

There are two main kinds of situations that make us suffer, explained the monk. The first is losing what we love and desire. When we lose people, things, positions, or circumstances we prefer, we become miserable and angry.

The second situation that makes us suffer is facing what we hate, be it people we don't like, physical or emotional pain, criticism, failure or disappointment.

"When faced with these situations, do not try to push or bury them away. When you suffer, try to see that it is not 'you' but the 'self', the 'delusions' that is suffering. You need to allow these delusions to suffer so as to tame them. Things won't appear as we please, accept it as it comes with humility."

Set time to oneself

It is impossible to be truly happy when one is always on the run. To realise happiness, Phra Paisal says we need to slow down and give ourselves more time in solitude. He advises us to take time off each day to install happiness in our bodies and minds.

Sadly, people are always running out of time, both for themselves and for others. Our attention can be scattered between many things - schedules, meetings, work and other activities - making it difficult for us to focus on really important issues in life such as what truly constitutes happiness.

Ultimately, Phra Paisal wishes that we will be aloof from being "someone" who feel happiness or suffering. "Then, you will attain permanent happiness."

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