02/25/2014 03:10 pm ET Updated Apr 27, 2014

Six Lessons From the Dalai Lama


This week, the Dalai Lama was in Washington, D.C. to discuss happiness. Who among us couldn't benefit from a crash course in that elusive goal? Speaking on a panel about economic liberty, morality, and happiness, at the American Enterprise Institute, the audience has the opportunity to benefit, and learn from, the Tibetan spiritual leader's wisdom.

Peaceful and disarming, the Lama, as he refers to himself, described himself as a "simple Buddhist monk." And it is in that simplicity that his lessons emerge. Stories and rhetorical questions, punctuated by bouts of laughter, deliver his message of compassion, self-examination, and love.

Here are six lessons -- plus a few personal tidbits and secrets to happiness--the Dalai Lama shared:

Love and Nurture
Motherly love instills compassion and kindness in our DNA at an early age. The knowledge that one is loved and loveable is indispensable, and makes it possible for us to love others. The Lama's adoration for his own mother was clear, which was then immediately followed by a friendly admonition that it is up to each of us to not only nurture the young, but to also care for the elderly (with a self-effacing reference to his own age of 78). His lesson: "The sensitive period isn't limited to just childhood. It must be lifelong."

Be Compassionate

Or as the Lama says, "warm hearted." A member of his entourage shared one of the challenges the Dalai Lama faces--many fixate on him, and not always in a good way. But as a spiritual leader, his inclination is, of course, to walk with the masses. It is through that walk that his kindness helps to bring those who need it most, hope, and possibly a path to heal. You never know how a brief encounter with someone might help to give them that same hope, so act with a warm heart. His lesson: "We all have the spark of God, and it is the nature of God to be compassionate."

Balance in Character
Know thyself. And don't get cocky. Self-confidence left unchecked can lead to ruin, and not just your own. It is a balance for which we must strive--balance through self-awareness and self-examination. His lesson: "Self-confidence, inner strength, and hard work are essential to happiness, and fulfilling your potential."

Question Your Motives
Examine your conscience. Are we acting for the betterment of ourselves, or with others in mind, as well? When asked how everyone in the world could be rich, the Dalai Lama pointedly asked in return, "What is the criteria for being rich?" Wealth comes in many forms--a reminder as we want and wish for more (of anything). His lesson: "The truest form of self-interest is taking care of other people."

Remain a Student
Study. And study rigorously and consistently was the Lama's advice. Coming from a man who meditates five hours of the day that can be a tall order in our 24/7 world. The key is not see contemplation or education as a burden. So shake off any preconceptions and take a few minutes away from the ceaseless noise of life to learn something new--a language, a sport, or simply reading a new book or cooking a new recipe. There is always opportunity for growth. His lesson: "Learn and it will become part of the heart."

The Power of a Smile
In one of his most memorable stories of the forum, the Dalai Lama recalled a photo that had been taken years earlier. It was of him with a group of Indian politicians. One of the men said to the Lama, it looks like we are "advertising our teeth." The old adage applies: smile and the whole world smiles with you. Judging by the response of the audience, smiling is still contagious and does the body--and the world--good. His lesson: "Everyone loves peaceful life, friendly life."

These lessons may be simple, but isn't that a path to peace? Finding the beauty and love in all aspects, especially in ourselves?

Amy K. Mitchell, former editor of ON PATROL magazine, is the founder of ProYOGA (, which brings the benefits of yoga to the corporate world for work life balance. You can follow her on Twitter @ProYOGAUSA.