Book Notes: Zen and the Art of Happiness

I read a lot of books (connect with me on Good Reads to keep up!), and I'm working on my next list of Ten Books that Changed My Life. I wrote the last one almost two years ago and my life has changed A LOT in that time. Until I publish the next round, consider these notes for Zen and the Art of Happiness a must read. This book is short and small, but really packs a punch. For me, it was more digestible and engaging than any other book I've read on on happiness, zen, the way, being present, being here now - you get the point. Even if those topics are too "woo woo" for you (wow that's a lot of rhyming!) - you'll still benefit from this simple approach to happiness.

As usual, these book notes are looong! Make sure you click on the title of the post (or the link at the bottom that says "read the rest of this entry") to see the full version. If you want to print the notes, there is a little icon at the bottom of the post that says "print this post." Enjoy!


Book Notes: Zen and the Art of Happiness By Chris Prentiss

The Way

“Zen is simply the state of centeredness which is here and now.” –Alan Watts

  • The Zen of doing anything is doing it with a particular concentration of mind, a calmness and simplicity of mind, that brings the experience of enlightenment and, through that experience, happiness.

We Are the Authors of Every Next Moment

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts.”

  • Your personal philosophy determines how you respond to events that come into your life. It is completely responsible for your state of happiness and well being.
  • The answers are never “out there.” All the answers are “in there,” inside you, waiting to be discovered.
  • You are like a railroad switch. Every time an event occurs you channel the activity onto the positive or negative track. Even though the event hurt you or took something away from you, you are still in charge of channeling it onto a positive or a negative track. You determine its future outcome.

The New Experience

“Every day is a good day.” –Ummon

  • To reach the goal of happiness, act as though the following is true: “Everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that can happen to me.” (tape these notes around the house and your desk)
  • Everything comes at the appointed time.
  • It’s not necessary to have all the ingredients of a project in hand at the outset. They will come at the appointed time. Its only important that you move forward with the project until that appointed time arrives. With the energy you create by moving forward as if you had the ingredients to start, you actually put into motion a stream of events that lead to your success. Your actions create an “energy vortex” that draws in the necessary ingredients for your venture.

“If you really know how to live, what better way to start the day than with a smile? Smiling helps you approach the day with gentleness and understanding…Smile with your whole being.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

  • Smile. Imagine the situation turning out wonderfully for you. Affirm what’s happening is going to be of tremendous benefit to you.
  • The Universe doesn’t make mistakes. Everything is happening just as it should.

The Inner Road

  • Neither happiness nor unhappiness is contained in the event itself.
  • What determines each person’s state of happiness or unhappiness is not the event itself, but what the event means to that person. All the events of life work like that. It is the way you look at things and the way you relate to them that determines your state of happiness or unhappiness, not the things themselves.

Cause and Effect

Your worst enemy cannot harm you As much as your own thoughts, unguarded. But once mastered, No one can help you as much. --The Dhammapada

  • You can feed yourself new information by choosing new ways of looking at and interpreting the events of your life.

“The highest nobility lies in taming your own mind.” –Atisha

A curse or a blessing?

  • Each incident in life, even a painful experience, basically provides you with only two choices: you can either curse it and call it an “accident” or you can call it “good fortune.”
  • Character is the bow from which we shoot the arrows of the future.

Adapting to Change

“Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.” –Chuang Tzu

  • Change is a constant – we can count on that.
  • A situation only becomes favorable when one adapts to it.

“Embrace simplicity…be content with what you have and are, and not one can despoil you.” –The Tao Te Ching

  • Happiness comes from our response to the conditions of our lives.
  • How you conduct yourself along the path that is your life determines how your life unfolds. You are the doorway through which your life unfolds.
  • A strong personal philosophy does more than sustain us through the tragedies of life. It also sustains us daily in everything we think and do. It gives us optimism and hope. It frees us from the tyranny of events.

“When you can be calm in the midst of activity, this is the true state of nature…When you can be happy in midst of hardship, then you see the true potential of the mind.” –Huachu Daoren

Stress and Your Imagination

  • One of the greatest obstacles between you and happiness is stress. By stress I mean a feeling in your mind of fear, anxiety, distress, worry, unease, or foreboding caused by using your mind to imagine a bad outcome to a past, present, or future event or situation. Nothing else causes stress.
  • Stress comes from the way you relate to events or situations.
  • Neither stress nor happiness is contained in things, events, or situations. Things are just things, events are merely events, situations are only situations. It’s up to you to supply your reaction to them. You get to choose.
  • The tricky part in eliminating stress is controlling our imaginations to envision a happy outcome rather than a poor one.
  • If you stay in control of your imagination, its impossible to feel fear or stress.
  • One of the reasons any obstacle is in your life is so that you can grow from it and become strong.
  • You’re only as strong as your area of greatest weakness.
  • The Universe always strikes at your weakest point because that’s what most needs strengthening. Your challenges are, in effect, hand delivered by a loving Universe to make you stronger.
  • It is by working your way through the problems that you will gain strength, wisdom and knowledge.
  • Realize also that the goals you seek aren’t the be-all and end-all of life, even though you may think you are. It’s the path itself that’s the be-all and end-all. Reaching for your goals and searching for answers is what is leading you along the path you’ve chosen for this lifetime. The path itself is where the truth is to be found, where your destiny manifests itself, and where your happiness lives.
  • Events are the language of the Universe.

Healing Your Past

Do not pursue the past. Do not lose yourself in the future. The past no longer is. The future Has not yet come. Looking deeply at life As it is in the very here and now, The practitioner dwells in Stability and Freedom --Bhaddekaratta Sutta

  • Forgive yourself for the things you regret having done to others, forgive others for the things they did to you; acknowledge the rightness of the events that you thought did not benefit you, and, more than that, acknowledge that each event was for your benefit or will turn out to be for your benefit.

“The present moment is a wonderful moment.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

  • The moment we call now is all that exists.
  • When we live in the now, keeping our awareness and concentration on the present moment, as zen encourages us to do, we rein in our runaway imaginations – not dwelling on the past, not worrying about the future, not judging events as they come and go.
  • Meditation does not have to be long or complicated for you to receive its benefits. Start with five minutes a day. Follow your breath in and out – if you start to think of something other than your breath, gently pull yourself back.

The Secret and the Smile

  • “Be Happy” means choosing to be happy whenever you have the choice. It is not a mindless happiness, but a mindful happiness because it is based upon the knowledge that whatever happens to you will benefit you – and benefit you greatly.
  • Most of the time, we respond to life without taking a moment to choose the way we want to think and feel about a particular event or situation. It takes work to make the choice.
  • The hardest work comes when the situation is hurtful or has taken something from us.

Author’s Note

I acknowledge you for your marvelous effort. I respect you for persevering on your path toward enlightenment. I bow low to you for your greatness of spirit, your warrior’s heart, and your search for the truth of your existence. May you attain to greatness, may your life be long and happy, and may you mount to the skies of happiness as though on the wings of six dragons! –Chris Prentiss