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Perhaps the most important thing I have learned in this extraordinary life is that we are responsible for our own happiness. It is not determined by anything outside of ourselves even though it often appears to be.

The rich can be miserable (“Oh, I’m so unhappy. I wanted Johnson to drive me to Tiffany’s in the Lamborghini but now I have to go in the stupid Rolls. How awful.”) And the poor can be joyful (“Ah, there is enough food for the whole family this year. We are so blessed.”) With that reality we have tremendous power; we can stop blaming; we can stop grasping; we can enjoy inner peace.

My wife likes coffee (tea for me please) but she never wanted to add the task of brewing it fresh each morning to her already full schedule. She would claim that instant was good enough. Then, a few years ago, when we were staying in a friend’s house, I made her freshly brewed coffee each morning. She beamed every time she tasted it. I asked her to please let me make it for her at home but she argued that my schedule was also very busy. I was able to prevail and every morning since then, the first thing I do each morning (well, almost the first thing) is to make her fresh coffee. I call it “my job.”

I love my job because it starts her day with something she truly enjoys. Her enjoyment brings me such pleasure. Every day begins with a smile for both of us. So simple; so basic.

Our happiness and the happiness of those around us blossoms as our hearts and minds open and our actions emerge from genuine kindness, compassion, and generosity. These qualities live in our simplest acts, our gentlest words, and our moments of patience. The practice of virtuous qualities such as kindness and compassion must begin with one’s self. No one is more worthy of your love and kindness than you are yourself.

When we appreciate our self it is much easier to appreciate others. Likewise, when we learn to be compassionate and patient with our self, it is easier to be so with others. Conversely, it is difficult to offer what we don’t have and don’t understand.

Some say that the world is a harsh and difficult place. At times that may be true but who will make the world a better place if not you and me? The changes that we must make in the world we must make first in ourselves. If you want to live in a more peaceful world you must develop a more peaceful world within.

No matter what is happening around you, no matter the turmoil, injustice, abuse, the reality is that only you can destroy your inner peace. Resolve not to do so. Make your world a better place one smile at a time; one act of kindness at a time; one moment of patience at a time. Everything you need is already within you.

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Allan Lokos is the founder and guiding teacher of The Community Meditation Center in New York City. He is the author of Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living and Pocket Peace: Effective Practices for Enlightened Living. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Tricycle magazine, Beliefnet, Back Stage newspaper, and the anthology, Audacious Creativity. Among the many places he has taught are Columbia University Teachers College, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Marymount College, The Rubin Museum, New York Insight Meditation Center, The New York Open Center, Tibet House USA, and Insight Meditation Community of Washington.

Allan has practiced meditation since the mid-nineties and studied with such renowned teachers as Sharon Salzberg, Thich Nhat Hanh, Joseph Goldstein, Andrew Olendzki, Stephen Batchelor, Larry Rosenberg, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, and Tsoknyi Rinpoche. He has also attended a number of weeklong teachings with His Holiness, The Dalai Lama.

Earlier in this life Allan enjoyed a 30 year career as a professional singer on Broadway, in opera, and in concert. He was in the original Broadway companies of Oliver!, Pickwick, and the Stratford Festival/Broadway production of The Pirates of Penzance. Allan was selected as one of "50 Inspiring Religious Leaders You Should Follow on Twitter."

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This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Beautiful post. So true, we can not give,what we don’t have. My mantra is: Always come from a place of love. Works wonders for me.

  2. Not everyone realizes the potential to experience the relationship you describe here as you noted, “It is difficult to offer what we don’t have and don’t understand”. My husband and I did and so too, does my daughter. The comfort and warmth and love that is felt knowing the other is happy and feeling the same is contagious and the act of pleasing each other simple and fulfilling. My husband died of prostate cancer and it was his smile and my smile that kept each other going right to the end. As long as he was smiling, I was okay and as long as I was smiling he was okay. I am sad that my daughter lost her father when she was 12 and her stepfather when she was 16, which was less than 2 years after we were married but although our loss is heartbreaking, we will always appreciate how fortunate we were to have had them in our lives.

  3. If only. Being in the same distressing situation for over 30 years has worn my patience away. iI do try, but living with someone who never smiles, who is unable to understand my feelings, who always wants everything his way and just so and cannot deal with change, who often flies into a rage – all because he has Aspergers – is not conducive to a calm and happy life. Now he is getting signs of dementia as well, and cannot remember things I tell him and argues that I have not told him. I find I am turning into a clone of him, as the constant stress and uncertainty continues. There……

  4. I am my family’s caregiver for over 20 years and never pursued my own life of happiness because of my defaulted responsibilities. I am the only daughter and have no choice in the matter. I had my Mom who has vascular dementia for years now and had to take her out of a Nursing home because her doctor was found guilty of medical insurance fraud and malpractice. After spending all that money leaving us destitute and scared , how can anyone live a life of happiness despite the fact that we still have the ability to pray?

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