Act to make yourself happier, says Dalai Lama

With a smile: The Dalai Lama says ‘love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries’. © PA

One of the world’s most significant spiritual leaders is promoting a movement which calls on us all to make the world a happier place. But how far is happiness dictated by our actions?

Near the beginning of the Declaration of Independence — the document which outlines the founding principles of the United States — stand three ‘unalienable rights’ of men: ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.

The last of them has long been a source of debate and mystery. The idea of happiness has inspired music, film and literature, but definitions of it and understanding of its causes remain vague.

At the ‘Creating a Happier World’ conference in London yesterday, authors, psychologists and neuroscientists came together in the hope of creating ‘a happier and more caring world’. The conference, which was organised by the Action for Happiness movement and timed to coincide with World Peace Day, attracted a high profile: the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet and patron of the movement, was in attendance.

Man has sought to understand the value of its own happiness for millennia. The Greek philosopher Aristotle gave some of the earliest known commentary on the issue, saying happiness was the highest good which mankind was designed to aim for. His idea was developed by Enlightenment thinker Jeremy Bentham, who suggested that public policy should be conducted on utilitarian grounds, meaning it would support ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’.

But the sources of happiness are more contentious. Scientists say there are seven molecules in the brain which are linked to the phenomenon, each of which has an impact on a different aspect of wellbeing. But we are still seeking to understand how our behaviour can make us happier. Two recent studies had particularly striking conclusions in this regard: the Office of National Statistics declared a link between money and happiness, and a survey in the US showed that millennials (people born between 1980 and the mid-2000s) increasingly felt experiences, rather than material goods, were likely to make them happy.

If you’re happy and you know it

The Dalai Lama hopes people will be ‘inspired to take their own action’ to make the world happier. Happiness, then, is something we can aim for and bring about. We can reflect on our experiences and make a positive contribution to those around us, enriching their lives and our own. Even the simplest actions, such as smiling at each other, can make the world a happier place.

It won’t make much difference, some respond. Happiness is largely something which happens to us; it is a side-effect of our wider lives. It comes from the environment in which we live, the freedoms we enjoy, the way we spend our time and the company we keep. It is largely beyond our immediate control.

You Decide

  1. Are we ourselves the main reason for our own level of happiness?
  2. Is it inevitable that the world will be an unhappy place?


  1. Write a list of ten things that make you happy. Number them in order of importance and explain your choices.
  2. Choose three of the Action for Happiness movement’s 12 steps (from the link under ‘Become An Expert’) and prepare a short talk on them. What do they involve, do you think they will make people happier and how significant do you think they will be? Explain your views.

Some People Say...

“In the modern world we do not give happiness a high enough priority.”

The Dalai Lama

What do you think?

Q & A

What can I do to make myself happier?
The Action for Happiness movement suggest 12 small everyday steps which can make you and others happier. They include taking a pledge, thanking the people you’re grateful to and finding three good things each day. They also feature advice for parents to help build children’s emotional resilience.
I’m feeling unhappy — where can I get support?
Talking to friends and family is almost always the best first step you can take. But if that hasn’t worked, or you don’t feel comfortable talking to them about the problems you face, there are always lots of other ways of getting help. You can call ChildLine, for free and in private, at any time on 0800 1111, or the Samaritans (for 2p a minute plus your phone provider’s access charge) on 08457 90 90 90.

Word Watch

Dalai Lama
This Buddhist monk is the most famous voice of the campaign for Tibet to be independent from China. He led the Tibetan government-in-exile for many years.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, thinkers challenged many traditionally accepted ideas, giving birth to some of the political ideologies which play a central part in our lives today. The emphasis on the power of reason brought into question the power of political, economic and religious elites.
Utilitarianism, which Bentham first articulated in the 1780s, meant maximising human pleasure and minimising pain. It was a revolutionary idea in its time, as it suggested that everyone’s happiness was of equal importance. This went against the hierarchical nature of western European societies in the 18th century. Utilitarianism is still contested today, with some concerned by its true meaning and others arguing that it has unintended negative consequences.
Different aspect of wellbeing
The seven molecules are said to provide bliss, reward, bonding, confidence and energy, and to prevent pain and anxiety.

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