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Hint: it isn’t found in a problem-free life.
All of us are searching for happiness, but few of us know how to make it last.
For Buddhists, happiness is found in achieving our greatest potential, which we also call Buddhahood or enlightenment.
Buddhist teacher and educator Josei Toda taught that there are two essential types of happiness: relative and absolute.
Relative happiness is a condition in which your material desires or immediate personal wishes are satisfied. There is no limit to what we can want, but there is definitely a limit to what we can actually have and how long we get to keep it.
The fulfillment we feel from relative happiness doesn’t last forever. You may work hard to adjust your circumstances to your liking (job, home, partner, career, etc.) to achieve happiness. But should those circumstances change or disappear, so will your happiness. Such happiness is called relative because it exists only in relation to external factors.
Absolute happiness means that living itself is happiness; being alive is a joy, no matter where we are or what our circumstances entail. It comes from within and is not contingent on external factors, which is why it’s called “absolute.” Buddhists associate this type of happiness with “attaining Buddhahood.”
True happiness is not dependent on whether we have problems, but how we perceive and deal with them.
To cite an analogy, a person of little strength and experience who encounters a steep mountain will view it as a daunting obstacle. But an experienced hiker can confidently ascend a steep trail even while carrying a heavy backpack, enjoying the view along the way.
Similarly, when someone has established a state of absolute happiness, they can face any difficulty. Their problems become an impetus for bravery, enabling them to calmly and confidently overcome any challenge.
One last thought: The things that constitute relative happiness, such as possessions, relationships or circumstances, all disappear when we die. But absolute happiness is a life state that transcends both life and death. We get to keep it lifetime after lifetime.
This article is based on a chapter from An Introduction to Buddhism, second edition, pp. 28–30.