I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy.
– Dalai Lama
This quote has been dredged up again recently, floating around the internet for the last few weeks drawing criticism. Many people, especially, it seems, minimalists, pseudo-intellectuals, and all manner of “spiritual” or religious folks seem to have taken offense. They view the quote as shallow, or hedonistic, or materialistic, or self-centered, or as something that goes against some basic tenet of their belief system.
Of course, the end of the quote is invariably left out:
From the very core of our being, we desire contentment. In my own limited experience I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the principal source of success in life. Since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. The key is to develop inner peace.
Going back through the annals of philosophy, this view, that happiness isn’t rooted in external stimulus, is shared by pretty much everybody. Even thousands of years ago, when Aristotle argued that “happiness is the meaning and purpose of life”, he went to great lengths to explain that “happiness”, or more accurately eudaimonia, is not something related to physical satisfaction, but instead is a life of virtue, justice, and struggle to be excellent.
So, saying that the purpose of life is to be happy doesn’t really go against any religious teaching. It doesn’t advocate the pursuit of immediate gratification or carnal pleasure. It doesn’t advocate accumulation of stuff. It does just the opposite: it challenges you bust your ass and be a better person.