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Every year in my philosophy classes (high school seniors) when I teach Plato’s The Republic students grapple with Socrates’ notion of happiness. Before we reach that part of the text we do an exercise. As class begins and without any time to think about their response, I ask students to write down a 1 or 2 sentence definition of happiness. We each write our response on the board and consider the connections (or not) we can find. Here is a sample list in no particular order.

Happiness is the continual pursuit of life.

Happiness is the advancement of wholeness.

Happiness the fount of satisfaction.

Happiness is the freedom from reactivity.

Photo: © Janet Levine, Varanasi, 2007

Happiness is the balance of struggle and reward.

Happiness is nothing more and nothing less.

Happiness is love for self, others, and whatever circumstance arises.

Happiness is the uncontrollable feeling of contentment.

Happiness is doing what you want.

Happiness is having no regrets.

Happiness is the sensation felt in the body when a person acts according to what they believe is good.

Happiness is the state of personal, communal, and spiritual fulfillment.

Scanning the list one sees there are many sentiments both Socrates and the Buddha would commend. Did Socrates know of the Buddha’s teachings? There is no doubt about that in my mind. But that is a topic for another occasion. What does the Buddha say about happiness? Here is the Metta Sutra (teaching) of the Buddha.

“May all beings be happy and at their ease. May they be joyous and live in safety. All beings, omitting none, whether weak or strong; small or great; in high, middle or low realms of existence; near or far away; visible or invisible; born or to-be born. May all beings be happy and at their ease. Let none deceive another, or despise any being in any state. Let none wish harm to another. But even as a mother loves , watches over, and protects her child, her only child; so may all with a boundless mind cherish all living beings, radiating friendliness over the entire world without limit. May we cultivate a boundless goodwill, free from ill-will or enmity, and maintain the sublime abiding of this recollection.”

What is your definition of happiness? Use the comment form below. I am most interested to learn.


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