A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill
I was put onto the audio edition of this book by a colleague from my Toastmasters club during a conversation about what makes us happy. The book is a fusion of eastern Buddhist philosophy and western scientific thinking on what it means to adopt happiness as a lasting state of mind. A key point reiterated here which I hear a lot these days is that true happiness is an internal state; it is not dependent on external factors. If we are relying on other people or external circumstances for our happiness, then we are always at the whims and mercies of things that are beyond our control. When we are at peace with who we are inside, our happiness can be based on internal factors over which we have much greater control.
I can relate to a lot of what the author writes about people being neither inherently good nor bad, but everyone having the potential to create suffering or happiness for themselves or other people. I didn't always think this way; I grew up with the western Christian notion that people were sinful and in need of salvation. This book contains the clearest case I've yet heard for why this view of humanity is ultimately counter-productive to both our own happiness, and that of other people.
Mindfulness is a core concept around which Ricard's view of happiness revolves, and he suggests that the way to get there is through meditation. Personally, I don't find meditation particularly easy to get into or enjoyable. I'd rather be off doing something. No doubt I've missed the point and the answer is more practice meditating, but somehow it doesn't seem to do it for me. If mindfulness is the key to happiness and Buddhist meditation in some Tibetan monastery is the way to get there, why aren't I packing my bags right away? Flow is also important. Playing music is probably the closest I come to getting into a meditation-like flow experience. A sense of purpose in life is also a key component of true happiness, and I certainly recognize my happiness dips when it's missing for me.
A lot of what I heard listening to this audio book made great sense to me. Many concepts I have read about elsewhere all get drawn together in this book. It quotes liberally both from Buddhist sources and from western experts on the topic like Martin Seligman. The audio book seemed to go on a bit, but that's probably because I'd heard similar material before and had a stack of other positive material I also wanted to be listening to or reading at the same time. Given that our brains are a giant sponge which stores up whatever we put into it and then generates our experience of life accordingly, chances are that reading this book will end up making you happier than the crap you were going to watch on TV or YouTube tonight. And if you haven't read or heard much on the topic of happiness, this is an excellent place to start your journey.