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January 15, 2009

Our Sense of Well-Being

The Dalai Lama

The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama


Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

If you search CompassionRise for "happiness" you will find a handful of results -- see the search feature on the upper right side of the start page. Before discussing more of the Dalai Lama's observation today, here are summaries of the three most relevant search results for "happiness."

In We Are the Makers, the Dalai Lama observed: "Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions." CompassionRise observed:

External circumstances such as more material success do not give you more happiness. Many of the most powerful and wealthy people are also famously unhappy. Happiness is something you choose -- it may be inspired by others or by your circumstances but it does not depend on them -- being happy depends on you.

In Look On the Bright Side, the Dalai Lama related of his own, personal happiness: "The fact that there is always a positive side to life is the one thing that gives me a lot of happiness. This world is not perfect. There are problems. But things like happiness and unhappiness are relative. Realizing this gives you hope." CompassionRise related:

By reaching out to others, we may find the inspiration, encouragement, or help we need, or find someone who needs our help; either can make us happy. We may share in others' happiness, or just find something to make us smile.

In Freedom and Creativity, the Dalai Lama stated: "Freedom is the real source of human happiness and creativity." CompassionRise stated:

The detachment of government from religion begun by nonreligious American founders like Thomas Jefferson also allowed for unprecedented cultural creativity, a melting pot with room for personal freedom. The separation of church and state is both derived of and fundamental to ... pursuit of happiness.

The United States' Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson to both rationalize separation from Britain and to inspire Americans to the task itself. Jefferson described what he called the "inalienable rights" of all people, and in so doing used the famous phrase, "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Today the Dalai Lama connects our personal happiness directly to how much we care for the happiness of others. During the 2008 Seeds of Compassion gathering in Seattle, the Dalai Lama said often: "The purpose of life is to be happy." From this it would follow that the happier we are, the more alive we become, or the more of our potential life we have lived. Connecting his message during Seeds of Compassion to his message today, we could say that the purpose of each life is to care for the lives of others. Our biological nature calls us to a life of service.

That is an admirable, but theoretical conclusion; we at least hope it is true, that our biology in fact calls us to care for each other. Science says this idea may be more than wishful thinking. With only basic research, we can find neuroscience in support of biological compassion.

In fact we will turn to neuroscience as written for children. The following material has been used to teach introductory and practical neuroscience to thousands of school children in the United States:

The emotional coping function is also known as the mammalian brain since it is common to all mammals whose babies are born live and completely dependent upon their mother for survival. Neuroscientists refer to this essential brain function as the limbic system. Without our emotional brain mothers would not feel an instinctive need to nurture and feed their young. Nor would babies recognize and sense that their survival depends upon staying close to their mother for protection.

[The mammalian brain] provides us with the ability to understand and sense the deepest feelings of others. This gives us the ability to feel sad when others do; or share the joy of others in a group having fun. This connection to others' feelings is what makes us want to to sacrifice ourselves for others we care about.

The emotional brain senses being more safe when we belong and have a connection with others.

Whatever your definition of "well-being," certainly safety is a part of it. It is established scientific fact that we biologically feel safer when we feel connected to others, when we feel that we belong among them. The Dalai Lama calls on us to reach out to others, to create these connections, to join others. When we gather with other people, we care about them, and when we care about them, we increase our own well-being.