Self-Fulfilling Happiness is Not the Goal

landscape framed
Wangdu-Phodrang Valley, Bhutan

For the past few weeks I have been in meditation on the 7 Points of Mind Training.  This course of study is focused on Lojong, a practice of training the mind.  One of the precepts of Lojong is the idea that we “give all profit and gain to others and take all loss and defeat on ourselves.”  Essentially, that by focusing on improving the lives of everyone we ultimately benefit by helping to make the world a better place to live for all of us.

These Lojong teachings raised a big question for me: is the path or the goal happiness?

I am here to argue that Happiness is not the goal, the path, or the focus.  At least, not for a while (a long, long while).

Stay with me for a moment.  I often teach to my classes a story by Ursula Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.”  In the story, LeGuin tells the tale of a great society of beauty and light.  The cities are opulent, clean, and wonderful in just about every way.  People have every thing they desire and have long since given up wars, greed, and just about everything we consider a drain on human society.

The society, however, is based entirely on the suffering of one small child locked in a small room in the basement of a building.  For the society to have all of this wonder and greatness, the rules state that this one child must sacrifice its happy life for the good of the entire society.  As Le Guin said, “In the room a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect…The door is always locked; and nobody ever comes, except that sometimes-the child has no understanding of time or interval – sometimes the door rattles terribly and opens, and a person, or several people, are there. One of them may come and kick the child to make it stand up. The others never come close, but peer in at it with frightened, disgusted eyes. The food bowl and the water jug are hastily filled, the door is locked, the eyes disappear.”

In this story and the world Le Guin created, the child’s suffering is the price of wealth, clean streets, full libraries, great festivals, and perfect art and music.

And that leads me back to happiness.   Le Guin is saying that our personal happiness cannot exist without the happiness of those around us.  As such, our work in this life is to focus on the happiness, the care, the support of all of the people we can support….in fact, every single sentient being on the planet.

Until we accomplish this task, the task of extending happiness to every single individual we encounter, then we won’t ever really experience the kind of release and joy that comes from experiencing happiness.  As long as one person suffers our lives must be attuned to the needs of those who suffer.




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