Action For Happiness: “An afternoon with Dalai Lama & friends”

Action For Happiness has created a course that helps people become happier and more caring – to focus on what really matters. They are raising £35,000 to get it where it is needed most. Help them bring it to everyone, everywhere. Watch the video and read more here.

To find out more about the event this week, click here. Having been in the audience, I took down some notes and, as such, produced the following account:

On Monday 21st September, Action For Happiness hosted a brilliant event at the Lyceum theatre, with the line-up including:

  • The Dalai Lama
  • Richard Layard (Economist; Programme Director of Centre for Economic Performance at LSE)
  • Richard Davidson (Professor of Psychology & Psychiatry; expert in neuroscience)
  • Suzy Greaves (Acclaimed life coach & author; editor of Psychologies magazine)
  • Anthony Seldon (Previous Headmaster of Wellington College; political historian & commentator)
  • Matthieu Ricard (Buddhist monk; ‘Happiest Man in the World’)

Please note – in my account below, I have attempted – as closely as possible – to match what was said by the individual speakers. The below is not word-for-word and, of course, can never completely capture the full essence! I have attempted to the event and speakers/audience justice.

Another note: I got to my seat around 5 minutes past the advertised started time, so the first couple of minutes were missed!

Setting the scene
I arrived in my seat at the Lyceum to hear a lady, called Jasmine, speaking and talking about her experiences and what the Action For Happiness course has done for her. She spoke about what mindfulness and connecting with others can do for your mental health. Though she still struggles with such issues, the skills and tools she was equipped with – as a result of the course – have helped her work with them.

(Laughter from the audience – for the first time on the day but certainly not the last! – as Dalai Lama embraced Jasmine, and then proceeded to look thoughtfully at her hair.)

Next on stage was an inspirational teacher from John Stainer Community School. He had trained for 6 years to become a primary school teacher. As well as reading Ian Morris’ “Teaching Happiness and Well-Being in Schools” book, he had also gone to Action for Happiness’s launch event, and had also done a mindfulness course. In the spirit of wanting to help spread as much kindness and happiness as possible, he brought the following to his class at school:

  • Neuroscience and the ‘growth mindset’
  • Mindfulness in the classroom
  • Writing ‘3 things that went well’

In addition, he took it upon himself to re-brand bullying week, with the theme “It’s cool to be kind”. This was a school-wide effort, and led to the following (very commendable!) class efforts:

  • Year 5’s singing “Don’t Stop Believing!” to commuters at Brockley station! – bringing a much brighter start to their day!
  • Year 3’s stapling messages of happiness to the front of ‘The Metro’ newspapers! Some of the messages were happiness-quotes, others were created in the minds of the schoolchildren themselves. Arising from this – the school received emails from those who had found the newspapers far and wide, across the Central Line, Northern Line, and so forth.

The kids had wanted to experience first-hand that they can make a change, and create happiness – not just for themselves but for others, too.

3 children from John Stainer school then got on stage and spoke (remarkably confidently and articulately, too), and were then joined by their Headteacher, Sue Hart. Dalai Lama was then presented with a colourful montage of happiness creations, framed, which had been created by the children at John Stainer School.

(Dalai Lama, again, greeted and embraced them individually – and further laughter as he playfully pulled the ear of one of the children on stage – Nolan).

Dalai Lama with Richard Layard
– Richard Layard introduced proceedings, speaking about when he met with Dalai Lama and talked about Action For Happiness’s vision and pledge they wanted their members to make, to encourage this happier world – and up went Dalai Lama’s hand to volunteer himself to be a member.
– Richard also went on to describe how, when searching online for organisations with ‘Happiness’ or similar in their title, they were presented with the message “Your search for happiness has produced no results”.
– He spoke of the Action For Happiness pledge, which many have signed up to online, and is to create as much happiness and as little misery as possible – both in ourselves and for others.

(Richard Layard – RL – asking the questions, with Dalai Lama – DL – answering)

RL: How can we have more peace in our hearts?

DL: When there are no disturbances, no danger. Peace of mind. The ultimate source of peace of mind is within ourselves. So how can we attain inner peace? – when there is an animal, or even the stairs on this stage, there is danger. We need this deeper awareness. Our intelligence, our brains – they are the same, regardless of hair colour, or skin colour. Even if we are old, our mind can be alert and fresh. All 7 billion of us, we are the same, due to our Mother.

(Looking at RL, he then proclaimed “Western brain is not adequate!” and stuck out his tongue! Laughter from the audience)

RL: With regards to compassion and love – many people think that these are religious practices. How can we adopt these in our lives?

DL: Whether religious or not, these are basic aspects of our survival. We blame our problems on God or Buddha – they would probably say “Don’t blame me! You created your problems! (Laughter from the audience) I gave you free will – you are acting in the wrong way.” (Directed towards RL) Our generation created these problems. Let the 21st Century generation solve these problems. We now relax!

RL: What is your secret to being so cheerful all of the time – even when facing difficulties? (RL also referred to the faint din of the fanfare outside – with a protest against Dalai Lama happening throughout the duration of the afternoon, just outside the Lyceum Theatre)

DL: When you experience anger, this is the best time to implement (cheerfulness). If they criticise, be thankful for they are not harming. If they beat you, be thankful that they are not killing. If they kill you, then finished! (Laughter from the audience)

RL: We know about the importance of relationships, and of maintaining these relationships. However, so often, they get polluted by destructive emotions. How can we avoid this?

DL: We are a social animal. There are 7 billion humans. The reality is that our wellbeing depends on the whole of humanity. With global warming, the global economy… So reality is, we need a sense of global responsibility. A sense of oneness of humanity. Since centuries ago, we had war and violence; this is out of date (now). It is “we” and “they”. Now this is now longer a reality. Problems we face today are due to the old perception of “we” and “they”. Reality – we are one small, blue planet. EU – shared, common interests. The Englishmen didn’t fail to sign up! (Laughter from the audience) The spirit of the European Union must spread. NATA HQ should shift to Moscow! Psychologically, Russian people’s minds will come closer. Africa should follow the example of the EU. And Asia also. A sense of universal responsibility.

RL: Moving on to what you call ‘secular ethics’ – our principles should be based on human need, and shouldn’t necessarily be religious principles. Action For Happiness aims to provide these ethical values, helping people to form groups and support each other. How can a movement like ours represent ‘secular ethics’ – and are we doing this in the right way?

DL: Out of 7 billion people, more than 1 billion are non-believers. Another 1 billion are half-hearted believers(!) – they are in a good mood and happy when in Church, but when they are really facing a problem, the ‘holy spirit’ is no longer there! (Laughter from the audience) Quite often ‘religious people’ are just religious by their dress; when they take off the dress, they are no longer a religious person! (Laughter from the audience) There is lack of firm conviction about love, honestly, truthfulness. If people have agreement on these values, all religions agree. The practice of forgiveness and tolerance. Whether a believer or non-believer, we all have some need and we all need ‘affection’. From family and friends – very important, we are a social animal. We need trust, based on honesty. If you maintain distance from another, then maybe we need an artificial smile. But then how can we trust? Friendship can’t form. When we show concern, trust is built, leading to friendship. Very close friendship. Real strength comes from truth and honesty. Then strength comes. (i.e. as opposed to physical strength). Dalai Lama even has also lied! Previously to his tutor. However with truth and honesty, people free inside and in the heart. When lies, something hurts there (DL gestured, with his hand on his chest)

RL: Previously, we (i.e. people in the UK) used to meet often at church. There were some moral values, and we met frequently in groups to inspire each other. Do you think secular ethics in the western world has a problem? How can Action For Happiness help with this?

DL: If you start in England, then move to different areas, and then eventually this should be an international organisation. With one single person or organisation, it is difficult to change the world. (We need) different persons, professions, places. Everyone must try to do this. Not produce more weapons, and not violent nature. I am happy to see more and more scientists showing real interest in deeper human nature. That means emotion, that means mind. They found that basic human nature is more compassion, (with) more heart. When one keeps to oneself – more frustrations (ensure).

RL: Mark (Williamson) says that the (Action For Happiness) course is most powerful when people are talking with one another. Dalai Lama – you have been talking with Western scientists for 30 years, through the ‘Mind of Life’ organisation and meetings…

DL: Consider 3 parts – science of mind, philosophy and religion. A few years ago, there was an Indian physicist, who is now no longer. He said he found quantum physics – found that it had been developed 2,000 years ago in fact. There was also some Buddhism part (to it). The ‘science of mind’ should be included from kindergarten-level through to university-level. Ask anyone – a smiley face, the face of love, this is preferred (to a negative face). The ancient Indian and Buddhist science of mind is very rich – but they just didn’t preserve this. There is science which comes from Buddhist literature. Dalai Lama never discusses about the next life (Buddhism holds the concept of multiple lives), only discusses this very life.

RL: In Britain and other countries, there are mental health problems. It (mental health) affects nearly every family in Britain. It is a major pressure, not properly discussed and without proper resources – especially where they (families) don’t have money. We are working on try to extend the use of therapies (e.g. cognitive-based therapies) to the population. What can we due to reduce the extent of distress with mental health problems?

DL: I don’t know! (Audience laughter and applause) More discussion is needed – not at Buddhist centres, but at economic and science meetings. I know of a person in a jail in Indian – she introduced meditation there which made a big difference to the mind. We need to discuss (things like this) more.

RL: On gratitude – what do you feel most grateful for?

DL: To think that all human beings are very kind – that is useful to generating gratitude. Wherever I go and people smile, that is my country. Though one time in Germany, I smiled at a young female – and she got suspicious, and frowned – negative face! (Laughter from the audience) (Pointing towards someone in the front row of the audience) – Sometimes it is better to see a human smiling face, rather than closed eyes and meditation/visualization!

*At this point RL thanked Dalai Lama, and asked his holiness how he would like to finish, which closing comments he’d like to make*

DL: We have some common responsibility. Think more. Your individual or family problem seems very small. If you think just ‘me’, it’s a small problem. Think about global responsibility. There are three aspects of all major religions. All carry messages of life. There is philosophy – all different philosophies matter to promote the practice of love. Some religions have a creator, some have no creator; Buddhists have a different school of thought. Then there is culture. (With regards to) political responsibility – I have retired. A four-Century-old tradition has now been ceased. My concern now is preservation of Tibetan society. (I spoke with) An ecologist – global warming. The effects on the North and South Poles are also on Tibet. Over 1 billion lives depend on these rivers. There is religion and there is culture of the religion. For example – Christianity and Christian culture, Buddhism and Buddhist culture. Buddhism is ‘individual’, Buddhist culture is ‘community’. Ultimately – a culture of compassion; that kind of culture is a worthwhile culture to preserve. Last year, the (Chinese) President said that Buddhism is a very important part of Chinese culture. (I give you) a plea to visit Tibet and see for yourself. Information (that we receive in the UK, and rest of the world) is censored, distorted. See it (Tibet) for yourself and then analyse. Free information from the outside world is very helpful. Then you can talk and share these things. Even these (world) leaders still believe the distorted information. It is not the information (i.e. the information is false), in reality. 1.3 billion Chinese people have the right to (know this) reality. They they can decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong. Censorship is wrong. I met a Chinese person; in their village, the only concern of the Local Authority is for money, not for the wellbeing of the people.

RL: We need courses maybe for the leaders in China!

DL: (Made a sound of agreement) (We need) education for the 21st Century – compassion. By the end of the 21st Century, we will have better leaders that way, (who are) more compassionate. Right now, they (the leaders) are spoiled already.

Audience (Q) Questions for The Dalai Lama (DL)

Q: Now that I have two young children, I am asking myself such questions more and more. What do you think is most important for this generation?

DL: Closeness and compassion. Now education must help to mention that! Today’s enemy is negative attitude – if you show this, there is no capacity for change, (no way) for this enemy to become a friend.

Q: Should we ever show anger?

DL: I think so. (For example, towards a) Naughty child – not for anger (itself), but for concern of their wellbeing. Anger out of a sense of concern for their wellbeing – that is positive. If anger for frustration, that is negative.

Q: Why are so many rich people unhappy?

DL: Money has no ability to provide inner peace. (A) person who hopes for (a) positive attitude when they kiss their diamond ring – no sign of affection. Dogs – can lick your face – but have a limited ability to show affection to you. (A person) may be rich, but inside too much worry and stress. Material value – no ability to provide us with inner peace. Next question… (With this, laughter from the audience)

Q: With the ‘selfish gene’ – how do we transcend this? And how do we inspire business leaders, investors and shareholders?

DL: First love yourself, then look at the other as dear as yourself – then extend your love. We are selfish – it’s good, nothing wrong. But narrow-minded and blind selfish, and for your short-term interest – wrong. To cheat, bully and – worst of all – kill another. (This is wrong). We must be ‘wise selfish’ rather than ‘foolish selfish’ – to have more care about others. More happiness for more people. The research shows that this is better for us.

Q: If there was one thing we could all do – what would you suggest?

DL: Just one – I don’t know. But love and compassion. Show this to (one an-) other. Buddha stated – you are your own master. So you have to provide the proper way to reduce your (own) anxiety.

Q: How do you deal with difficulty and loss in your life?

DL: First, I use my common sense. Then I am Buddhist. Aaron Beck – an American scientist – I met him. He is 96 or 97 years old. He found, when we develop anger, 98% of that negativity is your own mental projection. So for that, quantum physics is very helpful – as nothing objectively exists. So that’s the Buddhist technique. Nothing exists in reality. Every ‘reality’ is absent of independent existence. And then – altruism. Very helpful. Any practitioner should not expect a big change in a few minutes or days. Mental change takes a long time – years, decades – in my own experience. Physical work is tiring; even more tiring is mental work. You should have a clear awareness of a positive goal, and be determined to really achieve that. In Buddhism, we believe in ‘eons and eons’. So that really provides us with determination. For Buddhists, it gives us inner strength and provides us with purpose in life.

Q: In the news, we are seeing more immigration and more racism. What can we do to solve this?

DL: Affection (we must have). But must make every effort to bring peace in their own country. (Audience applause) It is impossible to accommodate every person here from Syria, Libya, Afghanistan… This is not easy (bringing peace in one’s own country) but we have to think. It includes prayer – these things (prayer) I doubt… But still, there is no harm to pray! (Laughter from the audience)


After the break, the following panel came onto the stage. Each then stood and spoke, in turn:

  • Richard Davidson (Professor of Psychology & Psychiatry; expert in neuroscience)
  • Suzy Greaves (Acclaimed life coach & author; editor of Psychologies magazine)
  • Anthony Seldon (Previous Headmaster of Wellington College; political historian & commentator)
  • Matthieu Ricard (Buddhist monk; ‘Happiest Man in the World’)

Richard Davidson
– Our brains change wittingly or unwittingly; most of the time, they are changing unwittingly
– As Dalai Lama and Action For Happiness attest to, we can actively cultivate our minds
– There are 4 constituents of wellbeing which are validated by neuroscience:

  1. Resilience: the capacity to recover from adversity
  2. Capacity to savour positive emotions: to see positivity in the world; certain kinds of practices can change our brains to sustain higher levels of wellbeing
  3. Attention: a wandering mind causes an unhappy life; from research on meditation, it has been found that ‘attention’ can be educated – i.e. it is something we can learn
  4. Generosity: being kind to others turns out to activate the very circuits in our brain that sustain positive emotions.

Suzy Greaves
– Was asked to speak today about creating a shift in culture
– Though she doesn’t know how, she thinks she knows where to start – ‘attention’, as Richard Davidson also spoke about
– Unfortunately her parents died when she was a teenager; she learnt to focus attention from grief/despair to positivity, early on
– Some things we can’t control – i.e. what happens on the outside; but one thing we can control is what’s on the inside
– We can keep taking those baby steps in the right direction
– She discovered Action For Happiness 5 years ago; and the 10 core scientifically-proven ‘keys’ to help us take those baby steps towards happiness
– She reached out, came together with Action For Happiness, and came up with the idea of ‘happiness clubs’; she had been going to book clubs at the time, where she had had women supporting her for 5 years
– She started a ‘happiness club’ at the start of the year with 3 of her friends; using coaching questions from the magazine, asking these questions to help them; she found this to be a fantastic experience
– Now, there are 1,000 happiness clubs up and down the UK; that’s the start of creating a culture change
– It starts with an idea; she spoke with Mark (Williamson), saying – “Let’s do something”
– As a magazine editor, it is hard out there; especially when there is so much hatred for them in the 21st Century; her magazine is about kindness, love, happiness
– 2,000 people here in the room today, and at the weekend there were 10,000 at the 02 Arena to see Dalai Lama; there is a grass-roots movement here
– Let’s all start taking an action for happiness, and do something differently
– Only one idea is needed, one action needed – one action for happiness

Anthony Seldon
– The subject here today is children; he wants to talk about children, love and wonder, and opportunity
– To open our heart and mind to the unbelievable wonder of the universe
– Schools should be wonderful places – where kids can’t wait to get into school in the morning
– Teaching should be the most important profession in the world
– How important these early formative years are, in who you are and what you will do with your life
– The one most important thing we can do at schools at universities – imagine if we can just punctuate our days with stillness
– After break time/being in the playground, teachers think that children can’t wait to be in maths class; this isn’t the case – their minds are racing
– We have a factory system – slightly relevant in the 20th Century – only slightly; entirely irrelevant in the 21st Century
– Article in The Times today – dwelling on how hopeless our schools are in knowing what employers today need; rather than mathematics, they need skills that are more human, that can’t be done by a computer
– We have to recognise that education is fundamental – we have to try to look at the inner qualities, not just the logical and linguistic; we need to see the whole human being
– Education is something all of us are engaged with all of our lives
– There is only one place and time to begin – and that is now

Matthieu Ricard
– His Holiness talked about peace, loving kindness and compassion; not frustrated, but compassion, not grief, but compassion
– Generosity (which is compassion) is seen to be the quality that leads to the most happiness and flourishing
– All day long it is me, me, me – this leads to being angry and depressed; when we receive any praise, there is this big boom of arrogance
– Look at loving kindness – this gives a much more deeply gratifying state of mind
– If you are only concerned with yourself, how can you be resilient?
– There is the courage of compassion versus distress (which is self-centred)
– Look at our planet – will selfishness solve the problem of the planet?
– If you don’t care for your fellow human beings now, they will know you are selfish
– If you do mindfulness – do caring mindfulness; you can be mindful without being caring, but you cannot be caring without being mindful

Panel Discussion

Q: There has been lots of talk about changing our minds, but this seems quite difficult. How do we do this?

Richard (Davidson): Dalai Lama made a comment about the length of time it takes to change the mind. It does take work and it is not easy; but begin modestly and maximise the likelihood of success by starting with very small chunks that are very realistic to do. e.g. Try for 1-2 minutes and do it throughout the day. With children, once they experience the quality of calming the mind, this becomes familiar, and they come back to it. We do a lot of work with children – including those in tough schools in touch, low income areas. They are going in with simple programs, letting them simply listen to a bell that they ring; as soon as they can’t hear the bell, they are told to raise their hand. This lets them be perfectly still for 10-15 seconds, a class of children 4- and 5-years old. Just giving them a taste. It is hard, but if we can take small steps at the beginning, we can maximise the chances of success.

Suzy: Make it easy. Make an architecture of happiness habits. Connecting, sharing and making a commitment. Things that make a difference – even things such as letting the traffic in in front of you; small things which make a difference. Practising altruism – you make them feel good and you feel good.

Anthony: Schools think that you need rigour, structure, lack of yielding. But they don’t realise that you also need love. So we end up with schools rather dull and soulless. This is driven by this culture of fear; the teacher is afraid of the parents, the kids are afraid of the teacher and parents, the teacher is also afraid of the Head of Department and Headteacher, the Headteacher is afraid of Ofsted and the Government, and so on. Why don’t we just trust teachers to do what they were brought in to do?

Q: I wanted to ask Matthew about the refugee situation…

Matthew: 10,000 years ago, there were no boundaries (on Earth). We see the solidarity of people in times like this – the “banality of goodness”. There is no big, difficult task that cannot be broken down into some easier, smaller tasks. People are too focused on entertainment. Effort is joy, virtuous; why should we be shy of being effortful?

Q: How much is all of this (what we have been talking about) about the discipline of habits?

Richard: It is certainly relevant (the discipline of habits) and does play some role.

Suzy: There is a lot out there about fundamental habits. It is much easier to make changes we need. Let’s build the foundation; it does take effort, but I do think it can be done in a short time – perhaps 12 weeks.

Anthony: To make progress in life on anything – science, sport, learning – one must have discipline. People must have it inwardly and want it (for themselves) rather than being imposed on them from us/anyone/anything.

Matthew: As Westerners – we want everything quick, easy and cheap! Discipline is a joyful effort. Take every moment to bring joyful happiness to yourself and others – what’s the problem?

Q&A – Audience and Panel

Q: When I was younger I was quite geeky. What can people do to be their authentic selves? – I think our schools make us more our adaptive selves.

Anthony: The issue in education – there is no stillness in it. It doesn’t look at what the child really wants. Parents have such hopes and aspirations for there children, which they may not want for themselves.

Q: With the talk today about ‘attention’ – do we think social media/technology tends to spread attention rather than concentrate it?

Richard (Davidson): The attention of adults today is less than it was 50 years ago. Technology is a likely contributor, but not the only one – there also also others; e.g. the effects of environmental pollutants on the brain. I don’t think the issue is with our digital devices; it is more our relationship to them. With the help of The Gates Foundation, we are developing games for kids to cultivate kind mindfulness; and to cultivate empathy and pro-social behaviour. It is possible to have (computer) games that don’t involve shooting people! Also – the idea of multi-tasking, folks, is a complete and utter myth.

Q: I work at the New Economics Foundation – influencing policy-makers. How do you think we can go about changing those in positions of power?

Suzy: I have, in fact, been invited to Parliament in a couple of weeks. It always starts with the person, with the individual. There is an All-Party Parliamentary Group on mindfulness – a report to be released in 2 weeks.

Matthieu: I have done studies with my friend Paul Edman (as a guinea-pig!). I was hooked up when speaking to different people – and my facial expression measured whilst in discussion with a confrontational person. Maintain your sense of kindness! (Always, even when faced with a confrontational person). This is the best possible answer in any case.

Q: There seems to be this fear – that one person, even a small group, even 150 people – how can they impact humanity?

Richard (Davidson): Ae all have an innate ability. It doesn’t take much to produce kindness and take responsibility. It is a positive double-whammy – it helps others and helps ourselves. We can start in our own immediate circles.

Suzy: A lot of this work is being brave and having courage to say “I am going to make a difference, no matter what the response”. All of a sudden, people will gather. Before you know it, 5,000 people will be doing it. So be brave. Take one action.

Anthony: I have always been very drawn to the child who finds it very difficult to fit in; whether they are a child who is bullied, or someone who is disrupting the class. The key is to get the disruptive child to look after the child who’s upset. We just have to stand together; in truth, we are not separate, we just think we are at times.

Matthieu: Sometimes, just 10 or 20% (population) is needed for the critical mass, and for the tipping point to occur. You don’t need everyone.

Closing comment by Chair: People come together when disaster happens. We need to remember who we truly are, not become someone we are not. As Dalai Lama says, we are social creatures.

Daniel Goleman
– Dalai Lama listens to BBC World News at 5.30am every morning, wherever he is in the world.
– I asked Dalai Lama – “How do you not be so depressed?”; Dalai Lama said that acts of kindness far outweigh acts of negativity.
– Written a book with Dalai Lama – looking at how tho minimise destructive emotions.
– It is not enough to get the inner world intact, we must also do something in the outer world.
– As Dalai Lama says, we shouldn’t just take our inner satisfaction as a measure of our ‘goodness’.
– The economic situation is unfair, with the gap between the rich and poor growing.
– The Graystone Foundation is an inspiring story; they provide the chocolate fudge in Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. It was set up to give jobs to homeless people in The Bronx, New York: “We don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people.”

Dalai Lama closing comments
We need a world of dialogue, not war. Recognising the oneness of humanity. We are all the same. Educate the heart. It doesn’t matter what we do, it matters that we act.

When you are about to act, see who it benefits:

  • Is it just me, or a group?
  • Is it just this group, or everyone?
  • It it just for now, or for the future?

Action For Happiness has created a course that helps people become happier and more caring – to focus on what really matters. They are raising £35,000 to get it where it is needed most. Help them bring it to everyone, everywhere. Watch the video and read more

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