The Path to Happiness: Now I Understand!

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“The Path to Happiness: Now I Understand!” is part 8 of our series on the traditional Eightfold Path for the cessation of suffering offered by the Buddha 2500 years ago. Missed the other posts in the series? Read them all here.

You made it! You have reached the final installment of our crash course on the Buddha’s path to the end of suffering! The final step is Skillful Understanding.

Skillful Understanding is often considered the first step the Buddha taught on his eightfold path to happiness, but somehow I thought in our condensed version, it might make more sense after you’d learned about the other seven.

Essentially, Skillful Understanding is about understanding the causes of happiness for you and for others.
Essentially, Skillful Understanding is about understanding the causes of happiness for you and for others. It’s about coming to experience for yourself that though we relentlessly pursue pleasure, lasting happiness really can’t be found with one more chocolate chip cookie or a good grade or another beer or even great sex.

All of those pleasures feel great when you are in the middle of them, but they don’t keep you satisfied for long. Once the temporary pleasure ends, you will always want something more. Because that is how the human mind naturally works. Our minds relentlessly move on to the next thing we want, and then the next thing, and so on.

Understanding this, you can begin to work on developing lasting happiness by cultivating inner happiness, the kind that doesn’t depend on getting another cookie or another beer.

You cultivate inner happiness by working on the other 7 steps on the path.

Here, again, are those other steps:

  • Skillful Mindfulness
  • Skillful Speech
  • Skillful Action
  • Skillful Livelihood
  • Skillful Effort
  • Skillful Concentration
  • Skillful Intention

Skillful Understanding is simply understanding that adjusting your life in the direction of these steps will make your life easier. You will be happier and kinder, more focused and more patient.

Here’s how Henepola Gunaratana describes Skillful Understanding:

[You understand that] you alone are the author of your future — experience teaches you that. Your behavior is not an unchangeable law of nature.

 

At every moment you have the opportunity to change — to alter your thoughts, your speech, your actions.

Once you truly understand this, in the depths of your bones, in the bottom of your heart, you feel empowered to change your life. And if you follow these steps, you can change in the direction of greater happiness.

Remember, it is not a linear path, it is a circle, or a spiral like a koru. You don’t develop perfect mindfulness and then move on to perfect speech.

Rather, making even small amounts of progress on one step will lead to small amounts of progress on other steps and so on.

It’s important to realize that the playing field is not level. Some people have more privilege and some people are marginalized and oppressed. Conditions are often not fair or equitable. And while these conditions can make authoring your own happiness hard, they also make it necessary. By understanding the factors that lead to lasting happiness, you have the chance of making small adjustments that can improve your life experience even in difficult circumstances.

If we proceed skillfully with careful attention to the subtle results of all the little choices we make, we can move away from suffering.
In every moment you compose another line of your story. The Buddha advised that if we proceed skillfully with careful attention to the subtle results of all the little choices we make, we can move away from suffering, towards greater peace of mind.

Make adjustments, and try not to get lost in criticism when something doesn’t work. Follow like breadcrumbs the choices that lead away from suffering. This is the path to happiness.

What is your own understanding about the path to happiness? Please share it below. .

Photo by Guilherme Stecanella on Unsplash

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2 comments

  • My path to the happiness started when I took responsibility for my life and for my actions. Once I was able to clearly see that I am the one who can change my life I realized that I will change my life. To explain, I changed my mind set. I realized that I can do things. It might be difficult, take me a long time, and I might even fall several times. However, I know that I can do anything. I have stopped blaming others for things I didn’t like in my life or didn’t have. Consequently, I am happier person, I enjoy life much more, and I deal with problems better than before. Additionally, I was able to trully understand and agree with the saying
    ” Life is good”. Our mind is such a power tool. It is amazing how much strength we can get from our own mind and also that our own mind set can keep us from achieving anything, even simpliest things.

    • Zuzana, I love your description of the way you changed your mind set. I think that one of the keys to creating happiness is truly understanding that just because something is hard to do, doesn’t mean you can’t do it. You then have to cultivate the willingness to stay at it for the things that are hard, but really matter to you. I can see why this shift has helped you feel that life is good!

The Mindful Twenty Something by Holly Rogers
“Wise, but not obscure. Practical, but lighthearted and inspiring.”

— MIRABAI BUSH, co-founder and Senior Fellow of The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society

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