How to Live: Obtaining Happiness and Well-Being

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s simple advice for mindful living.


| Winter 2015



How to Relax

If we can’t rest, it’s because we haven’t stopped running. We began running a long time ago. We continue to run, even in our sleep. We think that happiness and well-being aren’t possible in the present.

Illustration by Jason DeAntonis

Mindful Relaxation: From How to Relax

• Mindfulness is the continuous practice of touching deeply every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly present with your body and your mind, to harmonize your intentions and actions, and to be in harmony with those around you. We don’t need to make a separate time for this outside of our daily activities. We can practice mindfulness in every moment of the day—in the kitchen, the bathroom, or the garden, and as we go from one place to another. We can do the same things we always do—walking, sitting, working, eating, and so on—with mindful awareness of what we’re doing. Our mind is with our actions.

• If we can’t rest, it’s because we haven’t stopped running. We began running a long time ago. We continue to run, even in our sleep. We think that happiness and well-being aren’t possible in the present. If you can stop and establish yourself in the here and the now, you will see that there are many elements of happiness available in this moment, more than enough for you to be happy. Even if there are a few things in the present that you dislike, there are still plenty of positive conditions for your happiness. When you walk in the garden, you may see that a tree is dying and so you feel sad and aren’t able to enjoy the rest of the garden that is still beautiful. If you look again, you can see that the garden is still beautiful and you can enjoy it.

• The world needs joyous and loving people who are capable of just being. If you know the art of being at peace, then you have the basis for your every action. The ground for action is to be, and the quality of being determines the quality of doing. Action must be based on non-action. People sometimes say, “Don’t just sit there, do something.” But we have to reverse that statement to say, “Don’t just do something, sit there,” in order to be in such a way that peace, understanding, and compassion are possible.

Mindful Sitting: From How to Sit

• Every time you sit, whether it’s at work, at the foot of a tree, or on your meditation cushion at home, enjoy your sitting. Then you won’t consider sitting to be a hard practice. It’s very pleasant. Set aside a room or a corner or a cushion that you use just for sitting. When you arrive there, you will immediately begin to feel some of the joy and relaxation that comes from sitting. Whether sitting alone or with a few friends, you can produce your full presence, your true presence.

• Sometimes people say they don’t know what to do when they are sitting. “You only need to sit” is an exhortation of the Soto Zen meditation school. It means that you should sit without waiting for a miracle, and that includes the miracle of enlightenment. If you always sit in expectation, you’re not in the present moment. The present moment contains the whole of life.

• When you sit, you may feel something pushing you to get up and do something else. That’s the energy inside each of us called habit energy. Habit energy is energy that is fueled by an old pattern, situation, or habit. It isn’t based on our real needs and our real situation in the present.