Cake-free happiness

Published 3:18 pm Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My good friend John in Alabama is a big man. He stands a little over six feet and has weighed, in the 30 or so years Ive known him, between 210 and 240 pounds. He self describes as loving to eat. Consequently he struggles with trying to keep his weight nearer 210 than 240.

I talked with John on the phone several times last week and in one of those conversations he told me the following story:

I was really proud of myself today. I was shopping for a few grocery items and when I got to the bakery area there was a Red Velvet cake for sale.

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Thats maybe my favorite thing to eat in the whole world, but instead of buying the cake, I asked if I could get just a slice. The baker obliged and I felt great knowing that if Id bought the whole cake I might have eaten the entire thing at one sitting.

When I got to the check-out line, I was fantasizing about going home and enjoying having that slice of cake and a big glass of milk. But as I got to the register, I took the cake package out and handed it to the cashier and told her that I had decided that I didnt want the cake after all.

As he told the story, I thought that John had, probably unknowingly, followed the Buddhist principle of seeking happiness over pleasure.

Obviously, it would have been more pleasurable to take the cake home and indulge himself in the temporary pleasure of overeating something that would ultimately cause him the pain of having to see the number on his electronic scale go up. It took great discipline to take the longer view, especially in that there was no visible reinforcement, like seeing the number go down.

The Dali Lama in the book The Art of Happiness says that. the very purpose of life is to seek happiness. He adds that happiness is achievable through training the mind. The books author, Dr. Howard C. Cutler, M.D. (a psychiatrist), after many hours with the Dali Lama, observed a set of underlying beliefs that allow the Dali Lama to move toward achieving that goal: .a belief in the fundamental gentleness and goodness of all human beings, a belief in the value of compassion, a belief in the policy of kindness, and a sense of commonality among all living creatures.

How can we achieve this level of gentle consciousness? The Buddhas Eight-fold Path may be an answer. The Buddha described a way to live that&bsp; should move anyone toward a more humane and spiritual life. He taught that we should strive to live with: (the) Right View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration. Understanding these principles is intellectually easy, living up to them is just Practice, Practice, Practice.

As these thoughts played through my mind I said to my friend John.

Congratulations on choosing happiness instead of pleasure.

Ever the jokester, he replied, I cried all the way home.&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;

Don Weathington is a retired psychotherapist and business owner who lives in Gillette Woods at a place called Birdland.