Here's the first of (hopefully) a series of interviews on happiness and relationships. This first interview was with Peter Clothier, the founder of a fantastic blog called "The Buddha Diaries". I came across this blog a while back and found the articles very interesting and inspiring. Mr. Clothier was very kind to answer a few questions I had prepared.
Though it is a very vague and broad question, what do you think is the KEY to being happy?
The key to being happy is actually pretty simple (and very hard); it comes with learning to disengage from both attraction and repulsion. If I persist in longing for what I don't or possibly can't have, I'll never be happy; if I spend my time trying to avoid at all costs what I consider to be unpleasant or undesirable, I have the same result. True happiness comes with liberation from who I imagine myself to be and what I imagine myself to need. Here's a fine mantra that I think about a lot: This is not me, this is not mine, this is not who I am.
What importance, if any, do you think relationships have when it comes to being happy? By relationships I don’t only mean romantic but also relationships with friends, family or even pets. Many people spend their life alone and claim to be happy, is this truly possible?
It's certainly possible for some people to be perfectly happy on their own. Some others of us--perhaps most--find great happiness in relationships of all kinds. They give us the opportunity to practice generosity in the giving and receiving of love. Are they a necessary ingredient of happiness? I don't think so. They can also easily be--and too often are--the source of dreadful pain and suffering. So your answer very much depends on how you approach relationship. It's neither good nor bad in itself, neither essential nor disposable. It's whether you do it right--freely, without dependence or the intention to exploit.
It is said by certain people that external factors have very little to do with happiness and that joy and happiness must come from within. Would you agree with that? To what extent do you think external factors (lifestyle, circumstances and material goods) affect our happiness?
Those external factors are the source of transient happiness, sure. I myself am more fortunate than most of my fellow travellers on this earth in the circumstances of my life. But as with relationships, dependence on material goods or wealth is bound to bring suffering: remember, this is not mine, this is not who I am. True happiness, as I understand it, cannot be affected by gain or loss, nor assured by external factors (like wealth, possessions) that are inevitably subject to change; if it's conditional, it's not true happiness.
How do we know when we are truly happy?
I'm not there yet myself. Maybe I should tell you when I get there! In the meantime, my guess is that we know it when we're free from all those things that stand between us and that goal; when we no longer have to be someone; when we can be in the moment without clinging to the past or planning for the future.
How much does our happiness depend on the happiness of others? If we live in a stressful, unhappy world, is it still possible to be happy?
Good question. That's one of the things that stands between me and the happiness I strive for: I'm still hung up on the notion that I'm supposed to change the world, or that I'm responsible to ensure the happiness of others, even though I realize that I can do neither. I still look around and see that "stressful, unhappy world" you ask about, and I get caught up in its stress and pain. My goal is to learn how to be responsible without "taking responsibility." A fine distinction.
I'd like to thank Mr. Clothier once again for taking the time to answer these questions. I must say that I find his answers very intriguing, mainly because he made me see the situation from a different angle. I was especially taken by the argument that true happiness cannot be affected by material gain or loss, it makes perfect sense yet I never would have thought of that.
If you'd like to know more about Peter Clothier, I highly recommend you check out his blog:
Thank you Peter, thank you readers. I invite you all to follow and comment!