Dalai Lama - Happiness 9 to 5
by Swati Chopra
I meditate, do yoga, and try to practise values like kindness and giving. I just wish I didn’t have to go to work each day! I have a frustrating job, irritating colleagues and a hard-nosed boss. I can’t just up and leave. I sometimes feel that my job is the greatest hindrance to happiness in my life…”
Sounds familiar? Not surprising, since most of us feel bogged down in our workplaces and feel we can begin to live only after six each evening, when we leave the ball and chain behind. Until we return to it the next day. Barring the lucky (and courageous) few who have managed to make careers out of what they love doing, most of the working population in cities and towns around the world often feels stuck in the grind. Happiness and fulfilment, instead of permeating each moment of our lives, shrink to restricted slots on weekends and holidays and spaces outside the workplace.
The good news is, it needn’t be so, that it is possible to live in a way that integrates each part of our selves and our lives into a whole, meaningful existence. So that we can be truly happy each day, each moment of our lives, yes, including all of the eight hours we spend at work.
Just how to manifest this seemingly miraculous shift in our lives is what the book The Art of Happiness at Work (Hodder Mobius/Penguin India) attempts to help us with.
Compiled by American psychologist Dr Howard Cutler from a series of conversations he had with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, this book is a sequel to the bestseller The Art of Happiness. While the earlier book enumerated general principles to happiness and spiritual and emotional well-being, The Art of Happiness at Work specifically targets the finding of satisfaction and joy through and from our work lives.
Following are a few ways towards a happier workday, gleaned from the Dalai Lama’s responses to Dr Cutler’s questions:
Choosing your attitude
Even in the most rigid environment, there is scope for making certain choices for and about yourself. The most important of these choices is of one’s own attitude. You may not be able to control what your boss or co-workers do and say, but you certainly can make the choice about your own attitude and behaviour. You can utilise “inner strengths to change your attitude at work even though the nature of the work may be difficult,” says the Dalai Lama.
Learning to analyse
Many times, we suffer not so much from what others do to us but from our own responses of hurt and anger that in turn stem from our perceptions about others and ourselves. Often, in the heat of the moment, we are unable to see the connection between the hurt and our own reaction to it, and quickly attribute it to the actions of others. According to the Dalai Lama, if we learn to analyse each negative emotion in its entirety, we will be able to see where it originated from, and how damaging it can be.
Understanding your self
Taking self-analysis a step further, we arrive at the need to know and connect with our self, the core of our being. According to His Holiness, at a deeper level, self-understanding would mean having an accurate picture of who you really are, which helps one become grounded in reality. This sort of centring might help mitigate negative emotions such as anger, jealousy and the stubborn belief that one is always right, as these often arise from misperceptions about one’s self. As Howard Cutler paraphrases: “His (Dalai Lama’s) concept of self-awareness goes beyond merely knowing what one’s particular skills or talents are. To him, self-understanding requires the elements of honesty and courage in addition to self-examination—it involves coming to an accurate assessment of who one is, to see reality clearly, without exaggeration or distortion.”
Every office has its share of disgruntled employees who are dissatisfied with their lot in life and suffer from the unhappiness this brings to them. While getting that promotion and salary increment is always a high, as it boosts our self-worth and also simply for the material benefits it brings along, there is something to be said about the age-old value of contentment. According to the Dalai Lama, contentment is the potion to beat all dissatisfaction. Says he: “By all means we should exert our best effort, make a good attempt. But if that fails, instead of frustration or becoming angry, think, ‘okay, I will carry on with this work’. Be content with the work you have.”
Dealing with co-workers
A lot of misery at work seems to stem from people’s inability to get along with one another. The Dalai Lama attributes this to our failure to recognise the value of the other, to our belief that we are self-sufficient and do not need others. The key to dealing with this is to realise our interdependence. “On that basis (of interdependence), one will be more willing to work cooperatively with others… If you want to strengthen and enhance the relationship… empathy and compassion would be required,” he says.
But how to deal with conflict? And how to feel compassionate in the face of hostility from others? The first step is to realise that the other’s hostility might stem from something totally unrelated to us. The second is to cultivate unbiased, universal compassion, which flows towards all alike. Impossible? The Dalai Lama gives an example of an old Tibetan master imprisoned with his students in a Chinese prison. The students would somehow bear their own torture, but would become angry at the guards’ ill treatment of their master. To this the master would respond by advising them to treat this as an opportunity to practise. “He spoke to them about the importance of maintaining their compassion, even towards the guards, who were sowing the seeds for their own future suffering by their misdeeds,” says His Holiness. If the old master could maintain his compassion under such harsh conditions, why can’t we?
Finding a purpose
Ultimately, it is a question of achieving a right balance, so that instead of using our jobs and the money we earn from them as sources of power, freedom or self-worth, we are able to use them as tools in our quest for a happy, fulfilled life. One element that must be present, according to His Holiness, is that of productivity, of having some kind of a positive purpose.
By the end of the book, having spent a week with the Dalai Lama at his home in Dharamsala, Howard Cutler arrives at what is his own assessment of the happy work life. And this is centred on Cutler’s observation of the Dalai Lama’s work routine that seems to seamlessly blend into his life. Says Cutler: “So here was the answer—since he had no need for pretence, for acting a certain way in public or while ‘at work’, and another way in private, and could just be himself wherever he went, this made his work seem effortless. Of course, most of us have a long way to go before reaching that level of integration, but the more we can reduce the gap between who we are and what we do, the more effortless our work will become.” And, I suppose, happier too.
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