What Is Happiness?

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

What Is Happiness?

First, though, it’s good to think about happiness. What is happiness?

The Pali term sukha has a wide range of meanings. It starts with basic pleasure and ease and works up to well-being and bliss. But it’s one of those terms that the Buddha never defines.

Lots of other terms he defines very precisely, but some of the really basic terms—mind/citta, happiness/sukha, and stress/dukkha—never get defined. The teaching is basically about training the mind to end stress and find true happiness, but of these terms, only “training” is defined.

In the case of happiness and stress, he gives examples but he doesn’t provide a formal definition. And I think part of the reason is that he wants you to take a close look at where you search for your happiness, and what you regard as happiness. The same with dukkha: He wants you to look at the direct experience of stress and suffering in your internal sense of your mind. Your understanding of all these terms is going to develop and grow more refined as you practice, as you look at them more carefully.

So it’s good to stop and think: What does happiness mean to you? How do you go about it? What kind of trades do you make with the world, what kind of deals do you make with the world, in order to get the happiness you want? And what are the results?

As the Buddha said, the happiness we’re looking for in the practice is one that’s not only solid, but also blameless. In other words, in your trades with the world and in the way you feed off the world, are you giving more than you take; are you taking more than you give?

If you take more, there’s something blameworthy there. If there’s any harm involved in what you’re doing —either harming yourself by breaking the precepts, trying to incite yourself to passion, aversion, and delusion, or harming others by getting them to do those things—then there’s something in your happiness that’s not pure.

This reflection by Ajaan Geoff is from the Dhamma Talks Section, Meditation Series book, Meditations 8, “Examine Your Happiness.” (Also in audio format at, “Examine Your Happiness,” December 28, 2014.)