Why Buddhism Works And Other Approaches to Happiness Don’t

A popular book in Japan a few years ago called What We Should Live For looked at the question of why there were so many youthful suicides in that country — 4,000 a year. It noted that this figure is more than double youth suicides in the United States, despite the fact that the U.S. has three times the population of Japan.

The authors of the book — one a famous writer and the other a prominent industrialist — concluded that today’s Japanese parents coddle their kids and protect them from every form of failure. When life hands some of these kids their first misfortune, their first defeat, they deal with it in a way that their culture has long dictated: They eliminate the stain and shame it causes to themselves and their families by committing suicide.

American kids are equally coddled and protected from failure. But American kids when first facing some overwhelming defeat, don’t kill themselves so much as turn to drink, hard drugs, potent chemicals, and dangerous behavior to mask the pain they feel.

Happiness, for everyone, as has been pointed out before, is transitory. It lasts for a little while, then tends to grow less and less satisfying. Unless a person finds another way to experience happiness, he or she may think that the answer lies in finding a new love or undertaking some new activity. It doesn’t. The answer, in truth, lies in finding a new meaning for life.