Monday, July 1, 2013



So many books have been written about happiness. So many speakers have talked about it. So many principles, ways and means, tips and strategies have been proffered.

I am a keen student of happiness and over the years I have come back to simple basic principles to be happy. One has to find out for oneself what these principles are and focus on them. For example, mine are as follows:

One has to focus on keeping the mind in a good state. Thus one has to be more aware of one’s state of mind. It’s like having a weathervane to monitor the direction of the wind. So here one has a ‘mindvane’ to monitor the state of mind. When the mind is going well, is happy, cheerful, steady, calm, peaceful, etc, that’s good, one has just to look on and let it continue to go happily that way. There is no need for any intervention.

However, if the mind is not in a good state, is unhappy, depressed, angry, grouchy, fearful, worried, anxious, tense, agitated, etc., then one’s mind-vane or mind-barometer immediately notices the unhappiness, heaviness, agitation, worry, anxiety, grief, hurt, anger, or whatever form of negativity or suffering is present in the mind.

So here the mental factor or quality of mindfulness is like the mind-vane or internal barometer. It enables one to notice what’s going on in the mind, especially if something is amiss. Mindfulness or awareness itself can help one to reduce the strength of the negative feeling. For example, just by being mindful of the anger or sadness in one’s mind can sometimes weaken or reduce that anger or sadness. This is because the awareness acts a bit like a brake or damper, for if one is not aware of the anger or sadness, chances are the anger will escalate or the sadness may persist and deepen.

Then, having become aware of the unhappy or negative state of mind, one can start to help oneself to loosen up, to let go of that negative or suffering state, to brighten or cheer oneself up, to move on, etc. How does one do that? Here again it depends very much on one’s attitude, how one looks at things, and how determined one is to let go of the negative, painful, or unwholesome mental state. 

One has to talk oneself in getting out of that state. One has to advise or counsel oneself. One has to be a friend to oneself. One can also investigate to see and understand the causes of one’s unhappiness or anger or whatever, and see how one can come to terms with it (with the situation or with somebody) and be at peace. Even if one can’t immediately snap out of an angry, worried, uneasy, or unhappy state and become cheerful and bubbly, one can at least try to bring in a certain modicum of calmness and equanimity.

One has to learn to come to terms with the situation, to things as they are, and to accept it. This does not mean though that one cannot do something pro-active to help improve or change a situation. But whether one can do something pro-active or remain passive, one still has to understand one’s choice of response and be at peace with it, meaning that one has to, in all circumstances, institute equanimity which is a calm and even frame of mind. 

Then gradually from a state of calm and equanimity, and with further prodding and encouragement from oneself, i.e., from one’s own inner wisdom or wise mind, one may eventually (sooner or later) uplift one’s mind and feel much better again. Sometimes we have to be patient, we have to ride the tide, the negative state does not fall away so easily or so soon, one may have to sit it out…but with mindfulness and wise reflection one can contain it and eventually succeed in uplifting one’s mind. Sometimes this upliftment comes very fast and one finds oneself bouncing quickly back from some negativity which one has just fallen into. One finds oneself in a good state of mind again.

How can one reflect in such a way as to uplift one’s mind? There are so many ways to go about it. For example, one reminds oneself of impermanence – no matter how bad one feels, this, too, will pass. Everything passes and we’ll feel better again. Such is life – we feel good, we feel bad, we feel better, we feel worse and then we feel better again and it goes on like this, in cycles, all the time. But with practice and training we find that more and more of the time we are keeping our mind in a good state – peaceful, calm, steady, cheerful, happy – and when we fall into a negative state we find that we are able to spot it and get out of it sooner than later. We are able to bounce back from unhappiness, anger, worry, etc, and re-instate our former calm, peace and cheerfulness which becomes more and more our natural base state of mind.

An important attitude: One has to accept that life is not a bed of roses, that it is not always plain sailing. One has to accept that suffering will rear its familiar unwelcome head now and then. One has to accept the suffering that one may have to face in life. And one sees how one can deal with it wisely and stoically. As a saying goes, suffering is inevitable but being miserable is optional. Some suffering can be avoided and we avoid them. Some suffering can be alleviated by our response and we respond wisely and skilfully to contain and alleviate the suffering. A lot depends on our attitudes and wisdom. As we learn to live more wisely and skilfully we find that we can avoid a good amount of suffering and when we do have to face some suffering we find that we know how to respond in a wise and skillful way so we can contain and reduce that suffering and eventually we find we are feeling much better again – because we know how to let go, how to live lightly, skilfully, and wisely.

It is good to bear in mind that a lot of our suffering comes from our attachments, expectations, and an inability to let go and move on. When we can see this, see where we are stuck, and can let go and move on, we’ll suffer less and, consequently, we’ll live much more lightly and happily.


So it is important to keep a constant watch over the mind, to check our state of mind now and then, to be mindful of the thoughts, moods, feelings, emotions, perceptions, commentary, etc, that go on in our mind. We do this so as to understand our mind and learn how to manage it better. A well-managed mind is conducive to happiness, is the key to happiness. We also try to understand others’ minds so we can relate to them better, more skilfully, so we can have better, more harmonious and meaningful relationships, and hopefully, we can also be a positive influence on others and help bring out the best in them, just as we are trying to bring out the best in ourselves.


The Metta (lovingkindness) practice is a great practice. It is a very effective way of promoting goodwill, kindness and friendliness in our mind and heart towards others and, of course, also towards oneself. By repeating the metta mantra or phrases every now and then we are, in fact, filling our mind with a wholesome thought, keeping it in a good state, so that negative states cannot come in; they have no chance or opportunity to intrude. So keeping the metta phrases going automatically in our mind for as much of the time as possible throughout the day and night is a very clever and skilful strategy to keep the mind in a wholesome and healthy state. So please remember to keep going the metta way, keep repeating those phrases, keep wishing well for others and oneself.

May all beings be happy. May so and so be happy. May I be happy. May all beings be safe…peaceful…healthy….take care of themselves happily.

Then there are the other three brahma-viharas (sublime abidings) of compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity which also help keep the mind in a good state and which each has its own special quality and positive effect on the mind.


Then mindfulness itself. Mindful of the body and sensations, movements, getting up, sitting down, stretching out a hand to open a door, bending down to pick up something, stirring a cup of coffee, etc, etc. Being attentive to the body helps to bring one back to the present moment and cut down on stray and extraneous thoughts which have no benefit to the mind. However, thoughts of goodwill (metta), wise reflection, i.e., reflecting wisely on life, and necessary planning and thinking are fine. In other words, wholesome and necessary thoughts are okay but not unwholesome and negative ones.

So we are going between mindfulness of body and mind, metta, and wholesome thoughts. And, of course, all this will lead to wholesome speech and deeds. They are a natural consequence of our practice to shape and mould the mind.


Wise reflection: Reflecting on life, on how suffering arises, how it can be averted, how happiness arises, how a happy mind can be aroused and maintained. Reflection on the Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha. Acceptance of the truth of suffering and trying to make the most out of our life, make a beautiful garland out of it. Reflecting that there is no self apart from the five aggregates (of body/material form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness). Understanding the nature of the five aggregates and trying to make wholesome aggregates out of them. And remembering the Buddha’s advice not to regard these aggregates as a fixed permanent self but see them as something conditioned and impermanent, something conditioned by craving and ignorance, and see how we can gradually weaken this craving and ignorance, attain perfect peace and contentment, and make an end of suffering.


Living a value-oriented life (rather than a material-oriented one) is extremely important because we feel happy when we are living according to our values of lovingkindness, compassion, understanding, generosity, honesty, integrity, patience, tolerance, perseverance, etc. We measure our self worth by these values and not by how well we are doing materially, how much money we have in the bank, what our social status in life is, etc.

Although we are not perfect we are happy that we are focusing on these values and measuring our self-worth by them. In other words, don't feel bad if you feel you are not perfect enough. Sometimes we tend to be too hard on ourselves. The important thing is that we are trying and there are times when we are very good even if we can't be all that good all the time. We are a work-in-progress. We are still under training. And though we may not be perfect there are parts of us which are excellent. We are actually pretty good.


Doing positive affirmations is also very helpful. We compose positive phrases and repeat them to ourselves. By repetition we remind ourselves to cultivate the positive and happiness-producing attitudes and weaken the negative and suffering-causing ones.


Living in the present moment helps. Sometimes we refuse to think too much or at all. Just take it one moment at a time or one day at a time and have faith and trust that if we continue to live by our cherished core values, somehow things will turn out fine, for we are, no matter what, always learning, growing, developing and becoming wiser and happier persons.

Finding time to meditate daily or regularly is important. It helps to pacify, calm, refresh, strengthen, and uplift one's mind.


Smile. Practise smiling. Smile a lot. Make it a habit to greet others with a smile. Smile to yourself, too, when you are alone. If you can give a smile to others why can’t you give one to yourself? Smiling causes the brain to release endorphins – a feel-good chemical. It is a simple and effective way of lightening up yourself, making yourself feel better. It is also a statement of your intention and determination to keep your mind in a pleasant and cheerful state, to not let it be cowed or discouraged by the adversities you encounter in life.


To recap – focus on understanding the mind, shaping, moulding, and liberating it from suffering-causing attitudes and instituting happiness-producing ones. Make a list of all the skilful and positive attitudes you can adopt and keep strengthening these attitudes.

Living is an art. It is very interesting and challenging – how to manage the mind and keep it happy and peaceful. The important thing is to keep trying and not to give up. At times when we are not feeling so good, it’s okay, it’s understandable that we can’t be so upbeat all the time; accept that too, and see how we can gently and skilfully nudge ourselves back into a good frame of mind.

Actually as we practise more and more, we find that ours is a happy life. We create lots of happiness in our life because of all the positive and wise attitudes we bring to it. Even sufferings are turned into blessings – they become like manure which gives bloom to the beautiful and fragrant roses of our life.

Happy practice!


For more information and discussion on meditation and everyday life practice, Visu may be contacted at



Visu Teoh was born on the island of Penang in Malaysia in 1953. He was a newspaper journalist for 12 years before he became a Buddhist monk (Visuddhacara) for 17 years. He disrobed in 2003. He is married to Barbara, who is German. Presently he and his wife spend about six months in Penang and six months in Europe. Visu has led metta and vipassana retreats in Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, China, Sri Lanka, Italy, France, Ireland, Czech Republic, Netherlands, and Germany.

Visu had trained as a monk and meditator under several teachers – his main teacher being Sayadaw U Pandita, formerly head of the Mahasi Meditation Centre in Burma and now abbot of Panditarama; and other senior teachers being Sayadaw U Lakkhana, Sayadaw U Jatila, and Ven Sujiva (of Malaysia). He has been practising meditation since 1982 starting in Penang and later spending three years at the Mahasi Meditation Centre in Rangoon, Burma. He returned to Penang in 1991 and continued with his practice of meditation and study of the Theravadin Buddhist Pali text. He spent long periods in meditation including three years of solitary practice up a hill in Penang in the late nineties.

He is the author of several books including “Curbing Anger Spreading Love”; “Drinking Tea Living Life: Applying Mindfulness in Everyday Life and Critical Times”; “Loving and Dying”; “Hello with love and other Meditations”; and “Metta Meditation and Positive Attitudes”.