The Conditions for True Happiness

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Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus our Dharma sharing on the second training, True Happiness. This is a subject that interests me a lot.

When things aren’t going well, sometimes I encourage myself by repeating, “I already have more than enough conditions to be happy!” But all too often I say it between clenched teeth and I don’t stop to consider what those positive conditions are beyond a roof over my head and enough to eat. I know plenty of things that don’t contribute to happiness—grasping at material goods, prestige, and financial success, for example. But what exactly are “the conditions to be happy?”

Frankly, The Second Mindfulness Training hasn’t been as helpful as I would have liked. It says, “happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions.” This sounded to me like some sort of New Age positive thinking, and that didn’t fit in with my understanding of Buddhism at all. Then one day in my reading I ran into the Discourse on Happiness translated by Thich Nhat Hanh.

In this sutra, the Buddha is asked, “What are the greatest blessings which bring about a peaceful and happy life?” His response is couched in eleven poetic quatrains that emphasize making good choices and doing good actions. Before I read this sutra, I’d assumed the conditions for happiness were passive conditions—preexisting things I needed only to discover, like an acorn under a leaf or an unacknowledged thought in some corner of my mind. Instead, the Buddha lists actions and situations that we can choose and create that will be the basis for our happiness.

For example, the sutra says,

To live honestly, generous in giving,
to offer support to relatives and friends,
living a life of blameless conduct
this is the greatest happiness.


To be humble and polite in manner,
to be grateful and content with a simple life,
not missing the occasion to learn the Dharma—
this is the greatest happiness.

In other words, the way we choose to live and the environments we create are the conditions we can tap into for genuine happiness. The conditions for happiness are not either/or. They are not a matter of thought versus action, rather they are a combination of mindful living creating the foundation for mental attitudes that nourish happiness. This foundation can’t shield us from suffering; suffering will come. But the conditions of happiness will be there for us when we need them most.

As Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in Awakening of the Heart, “The greatest blessing is not the one that falls down from the sky and is handed to us. The greatest blessing is the happiness that each of us can generate for ourselves.”

We will begin our sharing on the second training by reading the Discourse on Happiness and considering these questions:

  • What are the conditions we are creating to support our happiness?
  • Where do we turn when our happiness falters?
  • What does it mean to actively participate in the creation of the conditions for our happiness?

We hope you will join us.

Below are several additional excerpts from Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing about True Happiness.

Many blessings,

Jane Newhagen

Conditions for Happiness
From Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentary on The Discourse on Happiness in Awakening of the Heart

In Vietnam there’s a school of Buddhism called the Four Gratitudes. Just by practicing gratitude, we can find happiness. We must be grateful to our ancestors, our parents, our teachers, our friends, the Earth, the sky, the trees, the grass, the animals, the soil, the stones. Looking at the sunlight or at the forest, we feel gratitude. Looking at our breakfast, we feel gratitude. When we live in the spirit of gratitude, there will be much happiness in our lives. The one who is grateful is the one who has much happiness, while the one who is ungrateful will not be able to have happiness.


As a practitioner, our aim is not to make a lot of money. Our aim is to transform the suffering in our hearts, to live in equanimity, peace, and happiness, and to offer happiness to our family and those around us. Our happiness multiplies exponentially when we see that we can bring happiness to those around us. This is reality, not superstition.


Many people are victims of their fear. If we can alleviate someone’s fear, that is the greatest gift that we can offer them. Our lives will be filled with happiness if we can help others around us. But if we spend our whole lives building up our names and our fortunes, then we cannot find happiness. We might have a lot of money, a big house, a luxurious car, but that’s not real happiness. We can only taste real happiness when we can help others around us.


From The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle. Just be. Just being in the moment in this place is the deepest practice of meditation. Most people cannot believe that just walking as though you have nowhere to go is enough. They think that striving and competing are normal and necessary. Try practicing aimlessness for just five minutes, and you will see how happy you are during those five minutes.

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