A Supportive Community Helps Us Avoid Burnout

(Photo above by Tara Winstead / Pexels)

Laurie Santos, Yale Psychology Professor and host of the podcast The Happiness Lab, recently shared strategies on how to avoid burnout with The New York Times. She  said we have to guard against the obvious methods for sidestepping burnout like zoning out in front of a TV:

After a busy day, I want to sit and watch crappy Netflix TV shows, even though I know the data suggests that if I worked out or called a friend I’d be happier.

She suggested instead that the happiest people typically are ones who participate in some type of supportive community. “There’s evidence that cultural structures, religious structures, even smaller groups like your CrossFit team, can cause true behavior change,” notes Santos. She also writes that for such a group to truly make an impact on your sense of well-being, it needs to be grounded in a rich sense of beliefs. Not just any group will do. Santos concludes:

That’s critical because what it tells us is, if you can get yourself to do it—to meditate, to volunteer, to engage with social connection—you will be happier. It’s just much easier if you have a cultural apparatus around you.

A critical component of Buddhist practice since the beginning is the sanga or Buddhist community. Shakyamuni Buddha, or Siddhartha Gautama as he is sometimes known, was once asked by his close disciple Ananda:

It seems to me that by having good friends and advancing together with them, one has already halfway attained the Buddha way. Is this way of thinking correct?” Shakyamuni replied: “Ananda, this way of thinking is not correct. Having good friends and advancing together with them is not half the Buddha way but all the Buddha way.

Why is a supportive community so important when it comes to Buddhism? One reason is that it expands our state of life. Though it’s much easier to act alone and not have to be bothered with other’s input, it often leads us to become isolated, and ultimately small and self-centered. On the other hand, constantly interacting with many different types of people gives us a sense of shared humanity. We also borrow from one another’s strengths, especially when working for some kind of shared goal. It creates the kind of connection that leads to sustainable happiness.

Constantly interacting with many different types of people gives us a sense of shared humanity.

Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda writes:

Mutual development and true Buddhist practice lie in joining together with many different kinds of individuals, and sharing various challenges and efforts with them as we encourage one another to advance and grow together. This is the real way to develop ourselves as human beings, and it is also true freedom.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 3, p. 101

He also clarifies that being a part of a community doesn’t mean we have to compromise our individuality. In fact, being a part of a Buddhist community means we are accepted as we are. We use our uniqueness to contribute to the whole.

In fact, being a part of a Buddhist community means we are accepted as we are. We use our uniqueness to contribute to the whole.

Participating in a supportive community also helps us to keep going when we feel like giving up or feel burned out. The 13th-century Buddhist teacher Nichiren Daishonin wrote:

When a tree has been transplanted, though fierce winds may blow, it will not topple if it has a firm stake to hold it up. But even a tree that has grown up in place may fall over if its roots are weak. Even a feeble person will not stumble if those supporting him are strong, but a person of considerable strength, when alone, may fall down on an uneven path.

“Three Tripitaka Masters Pray for Rain,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 598

When we feel frustrated or fed up, having a friend to open up to can make all the difference. When we open up to people we trust, we find that people around us are most likely struggling too, and we are not alone in our suffering.

Getting support from others also doesn’t make us weak. In fact, the great benefit of having a supportive Buddhist community is that it inspires us to put in the work ourselves.

Daisaku Ikeda writes:

Of course, attaining Buddhahood depends on our own Buddhist practice and efforts. We each need to be prepared to stand up alone and make progress without depending upon anyone else. But … our fellow members are important in encouraging and inspiring us in our individual practice. They play a supportive role in our personal attainment of Buddhahood—but that supportive role is absolutely vital.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 3, p. 101

Watching a fellow Buddhist break through a challenge can inspire us to transform something deep within our lives. On the other hand, seeing someone around us suffering can motivate us to achieve something that will inspire them. Having a supportive Buddhist community strengthens our “why” for becoming happy and victorious. We sidestep burnout and refuse to give up on ourselves.

Connect with a Local Buddhability Community

Interested in connecting with a supportive Buddhability community? Just email us! And we’ll let you know about virtual gatherings in your area.

Buddhability is a real community, where Buddhists gather (virtually, for now) in their local neighborhoods. It’s a space with no formality or judgment. We share stories of applying Buddhist teachings to our real lives and discuss Buddhist concepts. It’s also a place where you can ask questions, share your impressions or just simply listen and soak it in. It’s completely up to you.

Exciting news: when you reach out to connect with a local Buddhability community, we’ll send you a free guide on the basics of Buddhism! It’s called The Winning Life.

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