Photograph by Peter Hönnemann
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His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama
Photograph by Peter Hönnemann

The Dalai Lama's Guide to Happiness

A well-traveled Dalai Lama takes us on a journey to joy.

Take it from a traveler who knows: “Trust leads to happy days and happy lives.” That’s what the Dalai Lama told me when I asked him how seeing the world can lead to peace. Short answer: Travel teaches us to trust.

Strapping on a backpack as a 20-year-old, I didn’t need to search for happiness; the very act of setting out on a distant journey was bliss. As the years stacked up, the happiness of engagement with other cultures became a deeper quest. My travels led to Bhutan, drawn by that nation’s policies to encourage happiness.

Visitors to the kingdom get to savor some of the results: With more than half of the country protected in national parks and reserves, trekking through Bhutan’s meadows and majestic old-growth forests, home to rare species such as black-necked cranes and greater one-horned rhinos, will bring a lasting smile to any passionate traveler.

Bhutan’s happiness checklist ranges from protecting the environment to promoting traditional heritage. Yet a national survey classified less than 50 percent of the population as happy. Even in the so-called land of happiness, being happy can prove elusive. Could it be that the clearest path to happiness is not through policy, but something more direct?

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Costumed dancers celebrate Domkhar Tshechu, a festival in Bhutan.

“For a happy life, physical well-being is important, but true wellness must include a happy mind,” the Dalai Lama told me. He advised that when we focus too much on problems “we can make it worse” and if we always think about what is wrong, “it appears unbearable.” By maintaining a wider perspective, “we create a lot of room to keep hope and enthusiasm.” To me, this insight means that traveling really can make the world a happier place because it forces us to trust one another.

So strike out on that journey, experience cultures, and stay true to compassion. “For real happiness, a warm heart is more important than a brilliant mind. Remember that your best, most reliable friend is your own intelligence and your own warmheartedness. Let this be your guide to a happy life.”