The Buddha said that wisdom and compassion are like the two wings of a bird; it is only when you have both, working in union together, that you can fly. In modern terms, we can also think of wisdom and compassion as understanding and action. At the heart of all the teachings is the aim to develop the union between our thoughts, our words and our actions. Everything begins and is created first in the mind, but if we do not put our understanding into action, then we forget to walk our path.
There are things in this life that we cannot change or control, but whether we want to experience happiness or not is up to us. If we do not wish to be happier than we are now, that is our choice, but if we wish to deepen our sense of happiness, to become a more joyful person to be around, then the first step is to set our intention and choose happiness over suffering. It sounds like a simple choice, but it is easy to become used to low-level suffering and wonder whether it will be worth the effort to reach beyond our familiar discomfort zone and into less-known territory.
Happiness is our nature. It’s right here, right now, but we need to remind ourselves to notice it in our lives, rather than go chasing after it. Gratitude shines a light on our happiness within; it stills the turbulent surface of our minds and encourages us to pause and reflect for a moment on all the things that we already have—the things that we hold in our hands, ready to make a happy and fulfilling life. It is like diving beneath the waves to discover the beauty of the deep ocean, where there is a whole other world of coral and fish, and life that we could not see from above.
Appreciation begins to help us develop other happiness skills like patience. We remind ourselves to be joyful about all the good things in our lives, rather than envious of others or fixated on acquiring what we do not have. Appreciation helps us to make the most of today, and to be less anxious about tomorrow. We were born with limitless imagination, and then over time we construct a web of beliefs and opinions that become filters through which we see and colour the world. We impose conditions and restrictions on happiness, believing it to be a limited resource, and so we end up limiting our own potential, labelling ourselves and others as one thing or the other. This is the work of the ego, which likes to put everything in boxes. We become so attached to our sense of identity that our minds begin to become quite small and inflexible, and rather than adapt to situations or people, we tend to suffer instead with irritation, impatience, even anger.
As soon as we can be a little looser and understand that there is always potential for change, we free our minds to open up and let so much more happiness in. Our perceptions shape our reality. It is with our minds that we create our world and our place in it. We get very used to seeing things our way, and we don’t really like it when people or circumstances around us don’t conform to our view of how things should be. We believe that others are making us unhappy, or things that happen to us ruin our chances for happiness, but if we give ourselves the opportunity for reflection, we can begin to watch our minds and see how they work. Once we begin to understand that our thoughts form our sense of reality, we can appreciate how the potential for transformation originates in the way we think about life and what we are going to do today to make a better tomorrow.
However, much we might try to cling to the shores of certainty in our lives, life is by its very nature a great unknown, and we do not know what is going to happen next and not knowing can become the seed of fear in our minds. Equally, we may use our pain and suffering from the past to influence how we think about the future: if things have gone wrong before, we may expect them to go wrong again. As we begin to practice choosing happiness, freeing our minds to be happy, seeing things differently and appreciating every day, we might see our fears and uncertainties from an alternative angle. We begin to see that where there is fear, there is life and where there is uncertainty, there will be things that surprise and delight us. This knowledge is the bedrock of wisdom, this knowing is the precursor to choose an affirmative path to life of happiness. The author is the spiritual head of the 1,000-year-old Drukpa Order based in the Himalayas