At times we have experienced glimpses of true happiness, in moments of extreme peace and contentment that accompany various experiences or arise in certain situations. While these moments are only glimpses, fleeting in nature, understanding how they come about can offer insight with which we can cultivate a more permanent state of being.
One of the first and most important aspects of true happiness is learning to not be pulled back and forth between the painful and pleasurable experiences of life. We must learn to put everything in perspective, and remain in touch with a foundation of “peaceful serenity”, not swayed from center by our circumstances, and certainly not reliant on them. To do this, we need to learn more about reality, specifically, how our mind works, and the true nature of the world around us.
It is the mental constructs we have created around the world and what we think will make us happy, that is the very source of our unhappiness. We see things as good or bad, and base our judgements on a misunderstanding of external reality, as well as attachment to things that either do not exist, or are impermanent and everchanging. In Buddhism, this “false reality” of ignorance and suffering is called Samsara.
Everything around us is interdependent on innumerable circumstances, and is constantly being acted upon by innumerable forces. Everything in existence is relational and ever-changing. Nothing exists on its own, in-of-itself. Understanding this creates an insight that is the foundation for happiness.
Combining this insight with the understanding that every being is capable of perfection, we can begin to actualize that perfection, and move toward a state of persistent and profound peace, called Sukha. Sukha is the state of true happiness, free of mental and emotional conflict, free of ignorance about the world, and characterized by a deep sense of joy and genuine love for every living being.
These thoughts are a personal summary and interpretation of the teachings of Matthieu Ricard in his book Happiness. These ideas are from Chapter 1: Talking About Happiness. I encourage you to check it out for yourself! It's an easy read, full of great wisdom and insight.
Ricard, M. (2006). Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Company.