The Role of Happiness in the World Religions

By April L. Bogle, Huffington Post

It’s hard to deny that His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet and the world’s most famous Buddhist, is the also world’s foremost expert on happiness. He clearly states in writings that seeking happiness is the very purpose of life, and he’s dedicated his life to learning how to be happy and sharing this knowledge with others.  But what about other major religious traditions? Is happiness a good thing, or bad? To be sought in this life, or the next?

We’re about to find out: The Dalai Lama will explore the concept of happiness with other world religious leaders Oct. 17 at Emory University’s “Summit on Happiness: Understanding and Promoting Happiness in Today’s Society.” For two hours, he joins in conversation with Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church, and George Washington University Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Krista Tippett, host of the radio program “Being,” will moderate.

Happiness has been a shining spotlight of psychological and scientific study and pop culture since the 1990s, and it shows no signs of fading (witness Coke’s recent ad campaign, “Open Happiness” and happiness courses being offered in major U.S. universities, following Harvard’s lead). Newsweek (Feb. 2, 2008) pinpoints the happiness movement catalyst to discoveries of brain activity underlying well-being, and the emergence of positive psychology, which focuses on strengths and virtues rather weaknesses and faults when assessing mental health.

But the Abrahamic religions have not heavily weighed in on the debate. Where in all the “Values in Action” surveys and the “Happiness Movement” conventions and the university syllabi is the wisdom of the Torah, the Bible, the Quran? Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR) decided to find out by launching a five-year project on the Pursuit of Happiness. Among the questions they hope to answer: What do Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism share in their understandings of happiness? What are the areas of disagreement, and why? Dare they explore a common scientifically explained physiological state of happiness that is brought about by giving up oneself in service to others, either through acceptance of faith or through meditation? Is happiness achievable in this life, or must it wait for the afterlife? Can the world religions construct a way of working together to cultivate peace?

A sneak peak at some of these answers comes from Emory scholars recently interviewed about their work in the Pursuit of Happiness project. Carol Newsom, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament, says happiness in the Old Testament meant “the well-lived life that brings satisfaction” (what the Greeks called eudaimonia). Click on this link to read more of this article at Huffington Post.

Dalai Lama photo by Getty Images

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