Elusive Pleasures and Contentment

We spend a lifetime pursuing things that we think will give us pleasure and contentment. Great minds like Aristotle and many others have devoted time thinking about pleasures that would bring happiness and contentment. The puritans were fearful of pursuing such feel good pleasures in case they led them into temptation. Some claim that Buddha was also not too keen on feel good pleasures; he taught real happiness comes from completely eliminating these desires.

We have come a long way to understanding what these pleasures are. Let us take a step back and try to understand what’s going on when we find pleasure in something. When we seek out certain types of food or sexual experiences, new job, new car etc; and when we actually acquire it, our brain then gives us a boost of certain chemicals such as dopamine, which gives us a feeling of good ripples through our consciousness, making us feel happy. This acts as an incentive or the reward for pursuing our object of desire. The more we acquire, more rewarded we feel and more we want. This is the force or the urges and feelings of the incentive / resource seeking system.

Think about the last time you did something that you really enjoyed, perhaps enjoying an evening with friends, having a good holiday or sexual experience. It may have felt good, but it probably didn’t last that long because those kinds of pleasures usually don’t. Pleasure ALWAYS come to an end. Sometimes the feeling of the fulfilled desire is so fleeting that we are on the lookout for the next one in no time at all.

All this does not mean that we renounce our pleasures, but we can engage in seeking pleasure in more skillful way. If we base our happiness only on operating from our incentive system and fulfilling our desires, life will be a roller coaster ride of short-lasting pleasures, striving, seeking, frustration, wanting more and better, with increasing effort s to control our lives and those of others to give us the next fix of pleasure.  These kinds of pleasures are dependent on the world and other people giving us something in some way. In this way we are always distracted or running away from the unpleasant thoughts or experiences of life; we try to lose ourselves and forget the unpleasantness of life by indulging in pleasure. These short-lived pleasures leave us wanting more and we live in constant pursuit of them, hoping we will be content one day but we never seem to reach that state. Moreover, the pleasure prevents us from reflection, exploration, gaining insight into and experiences of the very nature of our mind.

Insight into our mind will allow us to experience other positive feelings that are based on contentment, non striving, being mindful and living –in – the moment.

We will explore these in more detail in the next article.


The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert


Being Nice

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama brings togeth...

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama brings together Buddhists and Western scientists every two years. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dalai Lama through his talks and writing says:- Not only is compassion good for you because it will help you feel good and organize your mind in such a way that makes it more open to happiness, but it’s good for others, too, and being good for others mean that we live in a happier world.

In my previous posting I have written about how evolution first found a way for life to just survive, then went beyond that so as to allow individuals to live better within group settings, without grievously harming each other. Evolution continues to adopt or incorporate ideas that are successful through the gene pool of those who practice and are successful with living and reproducing. Those who are successful at living (I like to say living well) pass their genes to the next generation; and the wisdom and the practices of their ancestors gets carried forward to the next generation. Evolution over millions of years continue to refine and adopt useful practices. We maybe at an “evolutionary stage” where we are beginning to appreciate that ‘being nice’ is a better way to live well.

Todays I asked a group of my friends how many people they know who feel content with their lives. The answer was “not many.” There are many reasons for this and I will elaborate on this point on another occasion. Today I want to explore how we can develop sense of well-being and purpose, resulting in contentment and feeling of living well. I think Dalai Lama is wise in recommending compassion. If compassion had bad consequences like shortening your life or causing illness or discontentment I believe he would not recommend compassion. Having practiced compassion all his life, he knows first hand, what the benefits of compassion are and now even the new research is confirming what Buddhist have been saying for thousands of years, that compassion is good for both ourselves and others. The fact is that evolution has provided us with brain system that makes the ‘ the experience of compassion’ possible , and that compassion can organize our brain patterns in certain ways so as to  allow us to be nice. This cultivates within us a sense of well-being and purpose. It will allow us to have and feel compassion more deeply and for much wider group of individuals than just our family and friends.

Paul Gilbert writes:- Throughout the world, people want to care for others, to become nurses, doctors, social workers, teachers and alternative therapist. Throughout the world, people put their lives at risk to save others – think about such services as the police, peacekeepers, fire, sea and mountain rescue services. If we take the capitalist view, or look at how our history has been shaped by the darker sides of our nature, clashes of tribes and dominant males, it’s easy to forget that, although many of us want to have good lives ourselves, we also want to help and make a difference to others. When we fully acknowledge that we’ve woken up in a world of beauty but also one where many live in hellish conditions, we can see that there’s much we need to do with our science, social polices. and legal systems. In the heart of many is a genuine desire to improve the conditions of humans and , indeed, of all living things.

Our patterns of living will need to change if we are to be happy, healthy , able to love and be loved. Our current way of being; with our stress, striving and competitive social mentalities are getting us into trouble – not to mention what we are doing to the world around us.

Compassion, it seems, is our potential antidote.

Compassion is Consciousness...

The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert


Related articles

Need for Admiration

There are a lot of bright and capable people who are not happy with their lives. Quite often it’s because they have not figured out what is valuable in life that will make them happy. In the article on happiness I discussed what Aristotle thought was worth pursuing for the sake of Eudaimonia.

One of the things people mistakenly think that is worth pursuing is the admiration of others in their community or becoming famous throughout the world. I say it’s mistaken belief because the costs for the admiration or wanting to be famous far outweigh the benefits. Why is there this need by almost everyone to seek admiration or fame? Is it because in the past there was an evolutionary survival benefit for being famous or admired ? and if there was a benefit does it matter in this day and age ?

Let’s see what are the costs of becoming a prominent individual or to be famous. When we seek social status, we give other people power over us. We do things   calculated to make others admire us, and we have to refrain from doing things that will trigger their disfavour. We make it our goal to please others and we are no longer free to please ourselves, we enslave ourselves. This situation is particularly troublesome when we are trying to seek approval of people whose values we reject because they are different from our own. This situation is not uncommon. It am reminded of my friend who was a MLA, she said she quite often had to curry favour with whose opinion she did not share or respected, just to get things done in a bureaucracy. She did not enjoy these situations and always felt the loss of her power. This sense of power loss I think came from her endorsing others notion of what was right and not being true to herself. She also give them power to annoy and upset her if they did not reciprocate when it was their turn to do so.

If we can become indifferent to what other people’s opinions are of us our quality of life will improve. We have no power over other to stop them from sneering at us, so it is foolish to either stop them or spend time worrying about them. We should instead spend this time on something we have complete control over, that is to cultivate ourselves; practice compassion and loving kindness towards all humankind.

It so happens that sometimes, one becomes famous even when there were no intentions of doing so. In this situation use the popularity to promote goals that would enhance humankind’s well-being and continue to be indifferent to what other people think of you. Your life will be infused with sense of freedom and well-being.


A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine



Paradox of Our Times

Lot of people from the west  visiting the third world countries  often notice that people there are usually happier and more content, even though they are not wealthy; but have enough to meet their basic requirement. For some reason people expect them to be less happy because they don’t have enough “material stuff”. They don’t realize that is exactly why people from the west are not happy. The ” material stuff ” gets in the way of making human connections which is the essence of being happy.  The ” stuff ” disconnects and distract us from forming bonding and attachment to others in our communities. It has come to a point where we don’t even know our neighbours very well. We are on our computers loading ourselves with useless information or playing video games or watching television. There is no time to talk to our friends and neighbours, we think we are happier playing with our stuff.

I really admire the Amish people who consider very carefully before they introduce any technology in their community because they have the wisdom to know that any technology  under the pretext of efficiency is not necessarily good for the crucial human connections in their community. Here is a slide show which show this paradox of our times. …..ENJOY.

Happiness – part 3

In the last post we looked at  Aristotle’s concept of happiness. In this post, let us consider some questions about happiness that you may have already wondered about.

Plato on the right and Aristotle on the right.

1. One may for example ask ; which goods are more important to acquire out of the real unlimited goods if we want to cultivate happiness, but can’t devote equal time cultivating them ; Aristotle would say it is better to have strength of character than to have a richly cultivated mind. It is impossible to have a flourishing life and be happy without good habits (moral virtue). One can have highly cultivated intellectual virtue ( a brilliant mind ) but without moral virtue still fail to lead a happy , flourishing , good life. Of course one need some knowledge to live.

2. Can moral virtue be taught ? Socrates didn’t think so; he thought because of our choice of free will no one can succeed in making anyone morally virtuous , they have to be voluntarily disposed to learn and profit from being taught.; and thus cultivate good habits and strength of character. Ones moral character gets formed in youth; it can be changed later but it takes a huge effort. Unfortunately the youth often do not have the maturity to think about the whole life and think about what would be best in the long run. Youth is more likely to be dictated by their immediate likes and dislikes. They don’t have the benefit of prudence,which involves  taking counsel, deliberating about the options,weighing pros and cons, and being neither rash or indecisive.Why some end up with good moral virtues and other don’t, even if they grow up in the same household, no one knows.

3. Can one be perfectly virtuous or completely happy ? Although one should aim at the ideal but it is seldom attained because from time to time we don’t act in accordance with moral virtues;because the appetites over rule us.  This would lead to incomplete happiness; of course more virtuous the person is, the more power one has to make a good like for themselves. Other reasons for incomplete happiness is from misfortunes. We may have to make a tragic choice due to circumstances beyond our control; for example having to choose between two bad or even evil choices; like choosing between one love  and another, between love and duty, between conflicting loyalty etc.

The quest for happiness is ongoing process, good luck on your journey. May you be happy and have good fortune.


1. A Vision of the Future

By Mortimer J. Adler

2. Six Great Ideas

By Mortimer J. Adler

Some thoughts on happiness before my article.

I will write an article on happiness shortly , but in the meanwhile here  are some thoughts on happiness by others:

Top 20 most famous happy quotes and happiness quotations. Get 16 free self improvement and selfhelp guides with inspirational quotes, affirmations, happiness, meditation, relaxation, positive, manifestation, motivational quotes, the secret to happiness

What is happiness, and how can we all get some? Buddhist monk, photographer and author Matthieu Ricard has devoted his life to these questions, and his answer is influenced by his faith as well as by his scientific turn of mind: We can train our minds in habits of happiness. Interwoven with his talk are stunning photographs of the Himalayas and of his spiritual community.

Louie Schwartzberg is an award-winning cinematographer, director, and producer whose notable career spans more than three decades providing breathtaking imagery for feature films, television shows, documentaries and commercials.

This piece includes his short film on Gratitude and Happiness. Brother David Steindl’s spoken words, Gary Malkin’s musical compositions and Louie’s cinematography make this a stunningly beautiful piece, reminding us of the precious gift of life, and the beauty all around us.

The journey begins for real health and happiness.

Where does one begin and start the journey towards real health and happiness? I think the journey needs to start with the basic necessities of life, such as food, shelter, clean environment and water.  Without these one would just struggle to survive and real health and happiness will be just a dream. In Canada we are blessed and most people have these basic needs met.

When the survival is ensured we need to be free of disease and this is what I do in my office most days, try to keep my patients free of disease. I have been thinking for a while that just being free of disease is nowhere near the optimal health and happiness we are capable.

“Optimal health and happiness”, what exactly is it ?  It is probably best to start by stating what it is not.  Optimal health and happiness is not having a fantastic muscular body free of disease and having a smile on your face all the time, rather it is something to do with having enough energy, being able to do things you love without pain or discomfort, being able to make lasting relationships, being able to love and be loved, being able to be free of irrational fears.  It is being content, being able to negotiate through life ethically, compassionately and with ease, it is eating the right foods, it is about keeping active and exercising, it is to be in the right company that will nourish your soul, it is about having right thoughts, it about seeing reality as it is, its about making commitments, its about having good habits, its about being grateful, its about helping, its about accepting help, its about having good concentration, its about being able to see and live with your own thoughts, its about touching and holding your loved ones, its about appreciating nature and beauty , its about feeling beautiful inside even when on the outside things are tough, its about having a beautiful mind, its about connecting , its about being curious, its about listening to your heart and not just your brain, its about being comfortable alone by yourself, its about having enough rest , its about protecting yourself from information overload and noise, it about having spiritual life , its about having faith and about much more..

It seems that the happiness doesn’t come from external goods but rather it is cultivated over lifetime. To look for happiness outside oneself is a useless endeavor. We will talk more about this in the future posts.

Quotes without comment: –

“ We do not acquire or preserve virtue by the help of external goods, but external goods by the help of virtue.”

Aristtotle, Politics, Bk. V11, Ch.1  (4th cent. B.C. )

If you are in good emotional health, you should be able to respond appropriately to whatever situations you encounter: to feel appropriately happy about good forture and appropriately sad about bad, to be able to feel appropriately angry or frustrated about the state of the world and the annoying behavior of others and to let go of these feeling once you’ve acknowledged them. It is important to remember that our moods are supposed to vary through both the positive and the negative regions of the emotional spectrum………..It is near the balance point that you will find resilience, contentment, comfort, and serenity.”

Andrew Weil MD, Spontaneous Happiness  Ch.1 page 19 and 21

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