The Secret to Happiness (as per the Dalai Lama, et al)

January 15, 2014   |   17 Comments  |   FavoriteLoadingAdd to favorites


For some reason, I’ve taken it upon myself to declare new holidays. The last one was “International I Don’t Feel Bad About Anything Day” which was celebrated by not feeling guilty or judgmental about anything for one whole day.

The new holiday is called “What About You? Day.” We celebrate by replacing the thought, “What About Me?” with “What About You?” for an entire day. Woohoo!!

This may not sound like the world’s most joyful holiday, but I can tell you that it is. It is not simple politeness that caused the Dalai Lama to say, “If you want to be happy, think of others. If you want to be unhappy, think of yourself.” He said it because it is true.

My teacher, Sakyong Mipham, wrote a song-poem (and even an entire book) about the pain brought about by the question that most of us pose first in any situation: “What about me?” When I first read his thoughts on this, my reaction was, uh-oh. People are going to take this as an opportunity to shame themselves for being selfish rather than the expansive, empowering, important gesture that it really is.

I don’t know one person who wasn’t brought up with issues of self-regard. We were taught either that wanting what we wanted was selfish/silly, or, equally detrimental, that getting what we wanted was an entitlement.

People in the first camp may believe that only after everyone else is comfortable, satisfied, fulfilled, and appreciated can they turn whatever energy they have left (usually not much) to pursuits of self-interest.

People in the second camp may believe either that the world is constructed to deprive them–so they must grab what they want–or, seen especially in young people, that if they want it, it is good and the world should somehow give it to them without pause.

The only two choices here are:  1) denying your needs or 2) making them primary, both of which are acts of aggression. If you try to please and accommodate others at your own expense (self-aggression), of course you will end up depleted and resentful. If you try to grab what you think will make you happy (aggression-aggression), you will immediately see, once you have it, that it doesn’t. So you have to start wanting something else. Both roads lead to pain.

The only issues in being generous arise when we think we don’t have or deserve enough ourselves. We may have been taught to think of others first, but not from a sense of richness and kindness, rather because, well, who are we to place our wants on a par with everyone else’s? Thus our gestures of generosity are from a weakened supply.

The truth is, we are neither more or less deserving than anyone else and when we simply drop the “who comes first” question to explore the contents of our heart now and now and now, we discover that we already possess immeasurable bounty. The supply is beyond estimation. Our capacity to love is endless. Our capacity to care is endless. Our capacity for clarity is endless. These are the treasures that really count and when we draw from them to give to others, no depletion occurs. We find that we are riddled with wealth.

This slight inner switch from making offerings to others as a gesture of bounty rather than of need changes everything, nothing less. To make this switch, you may think you have to become a different kind of person first. You don’t. No global change is required and in fact focusing on that is a distraction. All you have to do is, in the words of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, change one word. Change “me” to “you”.

When we change “What about me?” to “What about you?” we are pointed toward our wealth, not our poverty. Richness feels good. Therefore, if you want to be happy, think of others.

To kick off this new holiday, let me ask: What about you? What do you think? What do you need to feel happy? I may or may not be able to help, but I am always glad to listen.

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  • Posted by:  karen

    love this so much, Susan! thank-you, thank-you, thank-you. was also a treat to feast the eyes on poppies in January!

    • Posted by:  susan


  • Posted by:  evie watts

    You just did. Thank you. This is wonderful and has already made my day better, so much better. Might declare it “What about you?” month!!

    • Posted by:  susan

      I am DOWN.

  • Posted by:  mike

    And this is why we offer our practice? as a gesture of love? that perhaps we don’t need the fruits as we already have them? And giving them away makes us clearer of the bounty we have?

    • Posted by:  susan

      Excellent questions.

  • Posted by:  MaryBryn

    making offerings to others as a gesture of bounty — –and not expecting anything in return. Just do it, it feels good, right?

    • Posted by:  susan

      Try it and see!

  • Posted by:  Rachel Whalley

    Love this. I’m writing a book detailing the six ways women avoid conflict, one of which I’ve been calling “self-flagellation.” But now I’m wondering if the better term is “self-aggression.” Did you coin that term, Susan?

    • Posted by:  susan

      Sounds like a good book idea. I did not coin that term. I probably heard it first from my teacher, Sakyong Mipham. Best wishes! Susan

  • Posted by:  Bob

    Thanks, Susan!

    Here is another helpful consideration about happiness along the same lines:


    • Posted by:  susan


  • Posted by:  Stephanie

    Thank you for this beautiful piece. My own anxiety and crazies during a big move these past couple of weeks have mostly emerged from a self-absorbed, what about ME!?

    “…make offerings to others as a gesture of bounty rather than of need…” Drop ‘me,’ relax into having and being and living from a place of ‘enough,’ and offer. Just simply offer. Because I have a feeling that the offering itself replenishes the well of bounty. You always inspire, thank you Susan!

    • Posted by:  susan

      You are so welcome, Stephanie. Moving seems to shake our foundation in a particularly strong way, even if the move is a good one. Happy you have a practice to support you! Warmly, Susan

  • Posted by:  Angela

    Truly love this. Only thinking of others creates real happiness. Thank you for your insight, Susan.

    • Posted by:  susan

      You are so welcome.

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