The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World

~by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler

I first really learned about the Dalai Lama while I was an undergraduate student taking "Introduction to Buddhism." As part of the class, we read a marvelous, if short, anthology edited by Sidney Piburn called The Dalai Lama, A Policy of Kindness which collected writings both by and about the Dalai Lama. Ever since, I have become a great admirer of His Holiness and his work and have been meaning to read more. Probably one of the most familiar books he participated in was The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living with Howard C. Cutler. I haven't read the book, but it was crucial in exposing the American public to the Dalai Lama and his philosophies. The first venture between the two men was followed by The Art of Happiness at Work. The third book in the series, The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World, is touted as "the long-awaited sequel." Written ten years after the original, I didn't hesitate at all when I was offered a copy to review.

Where The Art of Happiness dealt with internal, personal happiness, The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World focuses on the intersection of an individual's happiness and the world and society as a whole. Cutler and the Dalai Lama address how it is possible to live in a troubled world--one filled with war, fear, violence, and prejudice--while maintaining a positive outlook, genuine happiness, and hope while at the same time changing society for the better and increasing the overall happiness of people worldwide. The book is divided into three major sections--Part One: I, Us, and Them; Part Two: Violence versus Dialogue; and Part Three: Happiness in a Troubled World.

The Dalai Lama and Cutler provide practical and definite methods and techniques for increasing personal happiness in such a way that benefits society as well. Cutler goes on to support the Dalai Lama's philosophical teachings with with personal anecdotes and experiences, psychological case studies, and scientific experiments. I particularly enjoyed learning about current and ongoing research, however, Cutler never seemed to go into as much detail as I would have liked (sometimes to the extent it would be difficult to track down a specific study mentioned). But the information and findings are very interesting nonetheless. The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World is an exceptionally approachable book. Cutler's writing is very readable and concepts are introduced and explained in an easily understood and accessible way.

Ultimately, I was actually rather disappointed with The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World and I am saddened by that fact. And it really is a pity because the book has some very important lessons and valuable points that it makes. But, unfortunately, it is also extremely repetitive and tedious. Cutler's technique of introducing a topic (this is what I will be talking about), addressing that topic (now I'm talking about it), and then reviewing and summarizing the topic (this is what I just talked about) can be very effective, especially in formal essays, articles, lectures, and addresses, but made the book feel unnecessarily drawn out. Cutler also tended to do this in his interviews with the Dalai Lama which often seemed more like he was having a discussion with himself rather than with His Holiness who ended up contributing significantly less (at least by word count) to the conversations. This, I think, is where my expectations gave me the most trouble--I was hoping for a book that was more focused on the Dalai Lama and his teachings than The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World ended up being.

No comments: