Trungpa in UK Guardian: “Cheerful” beats “Happy.”

Via Waylon Lewis
on Dec 20, 2008
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Pioneering Buddhist guru Chogyam Trungpa continues to teach, 20 years after passing away! He makes an appearance in this morning’s Guardian, one of the leading papers across the pond. I grew up in his American Buddhist community, and my ma taught me early on the important distinction Trungpa Rinpoche made between ‘happy’ and ‘cheerful.’ We all said ‘Cheerful Birthday,’ ‘Cheerful New Year,’…more than a quirky cute in-joke club password, it signalled a distinction between external, outward-dependent and fleeting satisfaction and a fundamental state of our basically-good being, awakened through meditation practice.

Excerpt via Ed Halliwell of the Guardian


The next week or so will bring most of us a higher-than-usual number of wishes for our “happiness”. Whether it’s “Happy Christmas” (which seems to have eclipsed the more traditional exhortation to be “merry”), “Happy New Year”, or the religion-neutral American import “Happy holidays”, so many hopes for contentment can have the unintended effect of seeming like a reproach, especially if we are not feeling as chipper as the season appears to demand.

It is often claimed that the “festive” period is one of enhanced misery for many, with rates of depression soaring as people grapple with family strife or loneliness that is in stark contrast to social expectations. There is conflicting evidence on this – calls to helplines like the Samaritans do increase over the holidays, but the suicide rate tends to dip, at least until the New Year kicks in. Nevertheless, the common perception of widespread seasonal woe, even if anecdotal, suggests that the forced imposition of “happiness” on a particular time of year can have unintended consequences.

However, there is another, much more useful phrase for describing the potential of the holiday period – “the season of good cheer”. Whereas the word happiness implies an end state, the result of causes and conditions over which we may have little control, cheerfulness is volitional, a deliberate decision to be good-spirited. Indeed, it may be especially appropriate to rouse “good cheer” at times – such as midwinter – when outer circumstances seem wretched and we are more likely to feel downcast.

The value in distinguishing between “happy” and “cheerful” was underlined by the Tibetan meditation master Chogyam TrungpaRinpoche. Trungpa was hugely influential in bringing Buddhism to the west in the 20th century, not least because of his precise and profound understanding of the English language and his ability to apply it in expounding Buddhist principles. He used to make a point of wishing people a “cheerful birthday” or a “cheerful new year”, emphasising that we can make a decision to connect and identify with our basic wellbeing (also known as Buddha-nature), even when we are in the midst of suffering.

By making a conscious decision to be cheerful, including when we are in pain, we diminish our…

…for the rest, click here and go to the source. 



About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


8 Responses to “Trungpa in UK Guardian: “Cheerful” beats “Happy.””

  1. […] the full story here. Thanks for the tip, Waylon of Elephant. This entry was written by Molly De Shong, posted on December 20, 2008 at 11:59 pm. Bookmark the […]

  2. Eric Bodenstab says:

    Has the articles author done Shambhala Training?

    …cheerful v. Happy is kinda of one of those apples and oranges types of deals, in my opinion; I’d gladly take either.

  3. Steve Scarano says:

    I did not see the article on ‘cheerful vs. happy’. However, through experience I know that happy and sad are inseperable. The possibilty in all this is that you can always ‘cheer up’ I stopped wishing people a ‘happy birthday’ long ago. The realization is that people are not always happy on their birthday. So, wishing them a ‘cheerful birthday’ cuts through the happy and sad struggle and opens our mind to the greater possibility of ‘cheering up’ on the spot. Now, we as practioners can relate to that but it can be as simple as Trungpa would say, ‘relating to the kitchen sink’. Cleaning the kitchen sink and putting the dishes away can cheer you up. It is a lot easier to find ways to cheer up then to get tangled up in a happy or sad life. Cheering up takes effort. Cheers, Steve

  4. admin says:

    Thank, Waylon, very much. Quite an article—very well said. Hard to believe it appeared in the popular press. Who is this guy Halliwell; know anything about him?


  5. […] was only at my Seminary, in 1992—which the then-Sawang, now-Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (Trungpa Rinpoche’s eldest son and my guru) led for the first time (he had leapt in, not quite yet […]

  6. […] that’s why I wish you Cheerful, not a Happy, New […]

  7. […] “Happiness,” he’d say, is a temporary, conditional state of mind. It’s part … […]

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