What's the Dalai Lama’s secret to happiness? Be kind

If you want to know how to be happy, I can proudly report that I now know the answer. I participated in “The Dalai Lama’s guide to happiness” on the Ten Percent Happier app, and it basically solved the riddle of life.

I’m kidding, of course.

Sort of.

The program was beautifully done. It took participants into the mountains of India (virtually) for 10 days of learning and meditation, and at the end of the experience, my main takeaway was wonderfully simple: To be happy, be kind.

The Dalai Lama said it over and over and over again. We can’t dwell in our anger and be happy and peaceful, too. But “a more altruistic mind brings more happiness.”

“Warmheartedness is the key factor for a happy life.”

This is so intriguing to me. It’s basic, yes, but it’s also almost uncomfortably eye-opening. It’s like, yeah, I’m kind, I have a warm heart, I’m a good person! But am I happy?


Not as much as I’d like to be.

I mean, of course, happiness isn’t meant to be felt all the time. The Dalai Lama seems to use it interchangeably with contentment. But even in that case — are you content all the time?

Or maybe a better measure is unhappiness. The Dalai Lama, from what I can see from my couch, seems to not experience unhappiness. Could you say the same?

All of this got me thinking about what his holiness actually means when he talks about warmheartedness and altruism, or in essence, kindness. I have to conclude that it's not the style that I know.

If I’m being honest, I’m kind and generous when I’m in the mood — when nothing has set me off, I’ve had enough sleep, I’m not hungry, my house isn’t a gigantic mess.

I hate to say it, but if I’m not in a good mental state, kindness is one of the first things to go. I become short and reactive. Sometimes I bite. Other times, it’s more subtle: I assume the worst, ride a high horse and become highly judgmental.

But the Dalai Lama has been working on this for about 80 years. He talks about his daily altruism practice and how he has actively cultivated the skill of warmheartedness all his life.

This, I’ve concluded, is the key.

The version of kindness and compassion that the Dalai Lama is referring to (the kind that precipitates enduring happiness / contentment) requires conscious tending. Let’s face it, most of us wing it in this department, and that doesn’t do the trick.

There are various meditation practices aimed at building warmheartedness, but I think it’s also something that we could simply prioritize better in our day to day lives.

That is, knowing what we know now, we could commit to integrating kindness more regularly and intentionally. We could get really devoted and conscious about it.

Maybe that looks like one “random act” each day or week. Maybe it’s deciding to be vigilant about noticing the times and places we’re inclined to turn our warmth way down (in big ways and small) and choosing to be fiercer and more relentless about keeping our compassion on.
See what fits for you, but I get the sense that some kind of commitment and daily practice here could be good for all of us. The Dalai Lama probably is onto something…

So, even if it takes 80-plus years to really get this down, let’s try. No discouragement, but lots of kindness and compassion for ourselves along the way.

Marci Izard Sharif is an author, yoga teacher, meditation facilitator and mother. In Feeling Matters, she writes about self-love, sharing self-care tools, stories and resources to know and be kind to yourself.