10 habits for a happier life, according to Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh

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There’s a real distinction between simply living life and living life happily.

The difference boils down to habits. Habits, as Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, can either lead us towards happiness or away from it.

Adopting certain habits can change your perspective, allowing you to embrace joy and contentment in everyday moments.

Happiness isn’t just about feeling good, it’s about cultivating a deep sense of peace and fulfillment in everything you do. And guess what? Thich Nhat Hanh has shared ten habits that can lead us towards this path.

Let’s delve into these habits that promise a happier life, straight from the teachings of the Zen Master himself.

1) Mindfulness is key

In the hustle and bustle of daily life, we often get caught up in our thoughts and lose connection with the present moment.

Enter mindfulness, a core teaching of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. The spiritual leader wrote in Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life: “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” 

Mindfulness, simply put, is the practice of being fully present and engaged in whatever we’re doing at the moment—free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.

Why does it matter so much? Mindfulness allows us to live more fully, to appreciate the simple joys of life, and to manage stress and negative emotions more effectively.

It’s the cornerstone of a happier, more fulfilling life. And it’s not just about meditation or yoga. We can practice mindfulness in our day-to-day activities like eating, walking, or even washing dishes.

2) Embracing impermanence

Zen teachings often talk about the idea of impermanence, and Thich Nhat Hanh was no exception. The concept is about accepting the fact that nothing stays the same, everything changes – our feelings, our circumstances, even ourselves.

When I first came across this notion, I’ll admit, it felt a bit uncomfortable. I mean, who doesn’t crave a bit of stability in life? But with time, I started to see how powerful this realization can be.

I remember a period in my life when I was going through a tough break-up. I felt like the sadness and pain were never going to end. But then I would remind myself of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on impermanence. It gave me the perspective that this pain wasn’t permanent. It wasn’t going to last forever.

Embracing impermanence helped me ride out the storm without losing myself in it. It made me realize that just as happiness and good times don’t last forever, neither do pain and suffering.

This teaching doesn’t only apply during difficult times though. It’s also a reminder to appreciate and savor the good times while they last.

3) Simple living

Thich Nhat Hanh often talked about the importance of simplicity in our lives as a pathway to happiness. The idea is to declutter our lives, both physically and mentally, to create space for peace and contentment.

In today’s world, where consumerism is rampant, we often equate happiness with accumulation. The more we have, the happier we’ll be, right? But research tells a different story.

A study found that people who value time over money report greater happiness. It suggests that prioritizing time over material possessions leads to feelings of well-being and satisfaction.

So, if you’re striving for a happier life, it might be worth reassessing your priorities. Consider simplifying your life, decluttering your space, and focusing on experiences .

After all, as Thich Nhat Hanh put it, “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence.”

4) Cultivating compassion

According to Thich Nhat Hanh, compassion is not only about understanding the suffering of others, but also about looking deeply into our own pain and suffering to better understand ourselves.

In our daily life, we often get caught up in our own struggles and forget to look at the world through the eyes of others. We become so focused on our own needs and wants that we overlook the needs and wants of others.

By cultivating compassion, we can learn to see beyond our own perspective and understand the struggles of others. This can help us to be more patient, less judgmental, and more forgiving, which in turn can lead to a happier and more fulfilling life.

As Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “Compassion is a verb.” It’s not just a feeling, but an action. So let’s put compassion into action and make our world a happier place.

5) Deep listening and loving speech

Deep listening is about being fully present when someone is speaking, not just waiting for your turn to speak. It’s about trying to understand their perspective, their emotions, and their needs.

Loving speech, on the other hand, is about expressing ourselves in a way that is kind, truthful, and helpful. It’s about using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope.

These practices can transform our relationships and bring us closer to the people in our lives. They can help us resolve conflicts more effectively and build stronger connections.

In fact, Thich Nhat Hanh suggested that if we practice deep listening and loving speech for just one day, we can already bring a lot of relief and happiness to ourselves and others.

So why not give it a try? Let’s practice deep listening and loving speech as part of our journey towards a happier life.

6) Acceptance of self and others

As Thich Nhat Hanh beautifully put it, “To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” 

Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation or complacency. Rather, it’s about acknowledging reality and embracing all parts of our existence, even the parts we might not like so much.

It’s about looking deeply within ourselves, understanding our own suffering and joy, and cultivating a sense of peace and contentment with who we are.

But it doesn’t stop with ourselves. Acceptance also extends to others. Recognizing that each person has their own journey, their own struggles and victories, helps us cultivate compassion and understanding.

7) Living in the present

Thich Nhat Hanh often stressed the significance of embracing the present moment in his teachings.

He said, “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” 

There was a time when I found myself constantly worrying about what’s next, always planning, always anticipating. This constant forward-thinking was robbing me of the joy of being present.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings served as a wake-up call. I realized that while I was busy fretting about tomorrow, today was quietly slipping away. This realization was a game changer.

Now, I try to consciously bring myself back to the present moment. Whether I’m savoring my morning coffee, listening to a bird sing, or feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin, I remind myself to be truly there in that moment.

You see, it’s too easy to become consumed by anxieties about the future or dwell on past regrets, but genuine happiness can only be discovered in the here and now.

8) The art of doing nothing

In a world that glorifies busyness and productivity, Thich Nhat Hanh invites us to explore the radical idea of “doing nothing”.

As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Doing nothing is something very special. We don’t have to do anything. We can just be.” 

Now, this doesn’t mean becoming lazy or shirking responsibilities. Rather, it’s about giving ourselves permission to pause, to rest, and to just be.

It’s about stepping away from the endless cycle of doing, and taking time to simply exist. It’s an invitation to slow down and appreciate the beauty of life that we often miss in our hurry.

This practice can be a powerful antidote to stress and burnout. It can help us recharge, restore our energy, and cultivate a sense of inner peace.

9) Nurturing positivity

Thich Nhat Hanh captured it perfectly, “Because you are alive, everything is possible.”

In other words, he urged us to foster a positive outlook as a road to happiness. It’s not about dismissing or overlooking negative experiences, but rather about shifting our focus to the brighter side of life.

Positivity can be nurtured by practicing gratitude, appreciating the beauty around us, and finding joy in simple things. It’s about choosing to see the glass as half full, even when circumstances make it seem half empty.

Cultivating positivity can significantly boost our happiness levels. It helps us build resilience, improve our health, and enhance our relationships.

10) Practice of loving-kindness

At the heart of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings is the practice of loving-kindness, known as “Metta” in Buddhism.

“Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name,” he said. This is the essence of the practice of loving-kindness.

Loving-kindness is about cultivating love and compassion not just towards others, but also towards ourselves. It’s about treating ourselves and others with kindness, understanding, and respect, even when it’s challenging.

Practicing loving-kindness can profoundly impact our happiness levels. It can help us foster healthier relationships, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote a sense of well-being and contentment.

But most importantly, it reminds us that love is not something we need to seek outside. It’s already within us, waiting to be cultivated and shared.

Freedom is the only condition for happiness 

The path to happiness, as highlighted by Thich Nhat Hanh, is less about external pursuits and more about an inward journey.

It’s about developing habits that foster mindfulness, compassion, acceptance, and positivity. It’s about cultivating a deep understanding of our own suffering and joy, and extending that understanding to others.

While these habits may seem simple, they hold a profound wisdom that can transform our lives. They guide us to live more fully, more consciously, and more joyfully.

As we embark on our own journey towards happiness, let’s remember Thich Nhat Hanh’s insightful words, “The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.”

Let this wisdom guide us as we cultivate these habits, reminding us that happiness is not a destination but a journey. It’s not just about the absence of suffering but also about the presence of joy in every moment.

Lucas Graham

Lucas Graham, based in Auckland, writes about the psychology behind everyday decisions and life choices. His perspective is grounded in the belief that understanding oneself is the key to better decision-making. Lucas’s articles are a mix of personal anecdotes and observations, offering readers relatable and down-to-earth advice.

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