Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cultivating Happiness: Loving-Kindness

Cultivating Happiness, Part 3 of 6

In the two previous posts on cultivating happiness, we considered the importance of attention and relationship.

Attention because without the ability to direct our attention, we cannot cultivate any particular state of heart/mind. If our minds are jumpy, not much cultivation can be done.

Relationship because happiness arises from healthy social networks. If we find ourselves in the midst of a robust network of trusted and helpful family and friends, we’re going to feel happy.

We all know people who travel to economically marginalized countries and return to marvel about how happy everyone seems to be. “How could they be happy if they were materially so poor?” we wonder. We have so much more wealth, and we don’t feel proportionately happier; the opposite, if anything.

On one level we’ve known this all along. We’ve heard the Greek myth of King Midas. If wealth were what made us happy then King Midas would have been the happiest man ever to have lived, for everything he touched turned to gold. He discovers how empty wealth is when his touch turns his food, his drink, and even his daughter to gold.

And more deeply, who among us hasn't noticed that the bigger newer consumable whatever (computer, camera, bike, boat, car, or house) loses its luster after a short time? Our experience teaches us this again and again; advertisers skillfully and relentlessly undermine our wisdom.

How, exactly, do we make our relationships better? Is there something we can do?

I think so.

We can cultivate what Buddhists call “The Four Immeasurables” also known as the “Four Divine Abidings.”

They are: Loving-kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity. We’ll look at the Loving-kindness this week and in coming posts in this series we’ll discuss in turn the remaining three.

These states of mind are called the Divine Abodes, but that does not imply that only god-like people can experience them. The Divine Abodes are for all of us. They make us feel divine. These feelings are ordinary, but usually fleeting. Everyone has them from time to time.

The purpose of these posts is to clearly identify them so that they can notice them for the happiness they can bring. Once we know them, we can cultivate and stabilize these feelings so that we get to feel them much more frequently.


This post is about Loving Kindness. Called Metta in the Pali language, Loving Kindness is the feeling that arises in your heart area when you have a simple and uncomplicated wish for well-being, happiness, and health. You might feel it for yourself, or for a good friend, or perhaps a puppy at the puppy farm. New parents often feel loving kindness for their soon-to-be-born first baby. It’s this feeling that you just want this person to be happy, joyful, at ease.

The opposite of loving-kindness is ill-will/hatred. Its near-enemy is sentimentality which involves clinging.


To cultivate loving kindness, think of someone for whom you have fond feelings. This person could be your own self. Holding this person in mind, say to yourself with as much feeling as you can muster,

“May I be safe, well, and happy.”

If wishing loving-kindness for yourself does not come easily for you, pick someone else for whom you do have fond feelings. For some people, it is necessary to think not about another human being, but a pet, perhaps a dog. What's important is to choose some being for whom it is easy for you to wish kindness upon. Start there.

Once these feelings come easily you can invite a lot more happiness into your life by widening this circle of Loving-Kindness.

Here is a list to widen the circle:

"May I be safe, well, and happy."

"May my wife or husband be safe, well, and happy."

"May my kids be safe, well, and happy."

"May Mr. Wilson be safe, well, and happy."
(insert the name of your favorite teacher here)

"May my mom and dad be safe, well, and happy."

"May my sisters and brothers be safe, well, and happy."

"May my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, be safe well, and happy."

Use these phrases and fill in the names of friends, neutral people, and difficult people.

All Beings
"May all beings everywhere be safe, well, and happy."


To stabilize Loving Kindness, see if you can feel these wishes in your body, in the heart area. Notice that the more you practice sincerely wishing others safety, happiness, and wellness that paradoxically you feel safer, happier, and healthier. Paradox on paradox: if you intend to benefit yourself by this practice, it won't work. The benefits come only when you forget about yourself.

Next post in this series:



Culmom37 said...

There is absolutely no doubt that I have wishes for family and friends to be safe, well, and happy. I have wishes for all people to feel these ways. If all people, including those difficult, felt these ways, our society would be a much happier place.

Money is WAY overrated, in my opinion and has no direct relation with happiness. Yes, I would love a bigger house, more money in the bank and the ability to go on lavish vacations, but these things would not truly make me happy. They may have the ability to put a smile on my face, but the truth of the matter is my family is what makes me happy and they are able to do that because they are/feel safe, well, and happy.

I would much rather be happy with my family than have a long list of material things that leave me feeling empty inside.

Dan Gurney, Mr. Kindergarten said...

Well said!

The other day my wife and I were taking a walk and we almost took a detour to avoid going past the house of a difficult person. Rather than avoid them, we followed the natural route and went by this person's house.

That's freedom. It feels good to approach life that way. Had we encountered them, I'd have said something friendly to continue to build relationship where once things were strained, but they were inside. No problem.

In the end, a few blocks farther, we ran into a couple that we hadn't seen in a month. We had a wonderful 20 minute confabulation catching up on news. That enjoyable encounter would not have happened had we avoided the difficult person's home.