With all the misery around us, is it selfish to be too happy?

07/27/2013 4:15 PM

07/27/2013 4:16 PM

Swallowing the sea

Lama Chuck Stanford, Rime Buddhist Center, Kansas City, Mo. – There is such incredible suffering going on around the world today: Wars and conflicts continue around the planet, 30,000 people die of starvation every day, and 85 percent of them are younger than 5. In Africa alone, about 7,000 people die of AIDS every day.

When we think of all the suffering in the world, it is a bit overwhelming – like being asked to swallow the sea.

The question then becomes how do we respond to all this suffering? We can choose to allow it to harden our hearts and try not to think about it. Or we can choose to let it soften our hearts and try our best to help our fellow sentient beings.

Many of us mistakenly believe that true happiness is found in hedonic pleasures outside of ourselves, such as material possessions. However, all of these pleasures are impermanent.

The 8th-century Indian saint, Shantideva, in his seminal text Bodhicaryavatara, said: “All those who suffer in the world do so because of a desire for their own happiness. All those happy in the world are so because of their desire for the happiness of others.”

So, you see the source of real happiness is found in helping and being of benefit to others. Therefore, real happiness is the opposite of selfishness but is, in fact, selflessness.

What would Jesus do?

Elder Donald D. Deshler, of the Seventy, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – There can be a very direct connection between the misery and difficulties that some people face and our personal happiness. We learn about this connection through something that Jesus Christ taught. In response to a query from a Pharisee who asked: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Jesus replied: “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. … And the second is like unto it: Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

True happiness comes from doing what Jesus taught and showed us to do, to be obedient, decent, honest, forgiving and humble, for example. Most of all, he taught us the importance of having charity toward others. To underscore the supreme importance of Christlike charity, we learn from the Scriptures that even though we may have many other talents, if we “have not charity (we) are nothing.”

We can easily fall into the trap of thinking that a new house, a new outfit, a promotion or becoming famous will make us happy. Some of these things may make us happy for a while. But generally, it never lasts because beauty, prestige or fame are often fleeting and don’t bring lasting happiness as much as we think or hope that they would.

Rather, true happiness comes when we pattern our lives after the Savior of the world. When we encounter those who are struggling, suffering or in need of our help, we should always ask ourselves:

“What would Jesus do?” The answer, of course, is to do all that we can to help, comfort, relieve and succor. As we do, we will be happy because of selfless love and service.

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