My happiness does not depend on this: old teaching, new words

“My happiness does not depend on this.” The thought crossed my mind as I sat one day in a traffic jam under a grey sky, on my way to bring a computer for repair. What I did not realise at the time was that my mind had taken the old Buddhist idea of non-attachment and non-clinging and presented it to me in language I understood.

I did realise, though, that this thought could be very rewarding indeed in my daily life. I had been worrying about the response I would get from the repair people when I brought my computer back because their previous repair had caused the new problem – but once I realised that whatever their response, my happiness level a week later would probably be the same as it was today, the tension evaporated. I brought the computer back anyway and they fixed it.

After that I began to play with the concept. Now I remind myself every day that at least 95% of the time “my happiness does not depend on this” whatever “this” might happen to be. A stolen iPhone, snow in April, a new tax, a series of challenges to be met over the next week (and, of course, the week after and the week and the week after) – all demand attention and effort; some will bring satisfaction and some frustration but whatever happens my happiness does not depend on the outcome. Knowing this seems to free me up to get on with doing what needs to be done, accepting that it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t get precisely what I want.

I have tended to live my life making the assumption that each thing I do is essential to my happiness and that it will be very bad indeed if I don’t succeed in doing it. I don’t know where this assumption came from and most of the time it has operated outside my conscious awareness. But bringing it into awareness has helped me to realise, in practice, the sheer silliness of this way of looking at things.

It was only after using my “new” concept for a while that I came to realise that this phrase was my mind’s translation of so much I had read about non-clinging, non-attachment, non-grasping and so on.

This has been of help not only to me but also to my mindfulness students to whom I like to emphasise that mindfulness is not simply a set of techniques but that the practice supports a philosophy of living, an attitudinal approach to the world and to ourselves in the world.

But surely my happiness depends on something? Of course. One important aspect of the attitude that “my happiness does not depend on this” is that it allows recognition of those things on which my happiness does, indeed, depend – usually close relationships. Would a hard-core Buddhist argue that my happiness should not depend even on close relationships? Perhaps, but then I am not a hard-core Buddhist – I’m a person who finds Buddhist philosophy valuable in helping me to approach my life in the world: so I am quite willing to have those relatively few things on which my happiness does depend getting their full place at centre stage while life’s smaller desires and inconveniences are sent to the wings.

When I wrote in my Irish Times column about the idea that “my happiness does not depend on this” I got one of the best responses ever to a column in many years. Readers all the way from full-time mums to company directors emailed to say what a difference this idea had made to them.

What fascinates me about this is that these readers were encountering an old Buddhist idea and found it immediately valuable. They took to it, as we say in Ireland, “like ducks to water.” And I am tickled by the fact that a 2,600 year old or so precept can come like a revelation in an era when we have had decades of being bombarded with advice on psychology and on how to live our lives.

Padraig O’Morain is the author of Light Mind – Mindfulness in Daily Living and teaches mindfulness in ireland. His website is

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7 Comments. Leave new

Eileen Cain
April 6, 2012 1:59 am

Thanks for your column. I often think “my happiness does not depend on X,” but that’s usually just intellectual. I still feel that my happiness depends on X. Does this shift – does it stop being just an intellectual realization and finally reach the level where you believe and/or feel that your happiness does not depend on X?

Padraig O'Morain
April 6, 2012 4:33 am

As with mindfulness practice in general you need to remind yourself of this idea every day. Because we are motivated to seek what we want and to avoid what we don’t want, non-attachment doesn’t come naturally and that is why a daily reminder is necessary.


Thanks for your article! I have also found that the teaching of impermanence is quite helpful–even if things go according to what I think that I want, there will always be the next situation to encounter. Ultimately, happiness comes from within, and can become less dependent on circumstance and outcome! I also can remember that there are things that I might have thought were not great at the time, that ended up being wonderful teachers! Ultimately, i have found that embracing the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows as a teaching keeps me from being so concerned with each individual situation.



Thank you so much for this article. I have a question in regards to what you wrote…”One important aspect of the attitude that “my happiness does not depend on this” is that it allows recognition of those things on which my happiness does, indeed, depend – usually close relationships.” My life has indeed been blessed with relationships. But as we know, some of them change and fade away. My husband died 3 years ago and it brought fear into my life regarding the impermanence of other relationships. So what about that? If our happiness depends on relationships and they die? Or we move or our friendships change…then we are no longer happy? I’m trying to find the balance between loving relationships but not counting on people for my happiness because they can change. Can you help me with a perspective?

Many Blessings!


Padraig O'Morain
April 18, 2012 6:27 pm

Thank you for this, Shelly. I am sorry for your loss and I can understand how the death of your husband could leave you in fear of the impermanence of other relationships. To be more specific than I was in the original article, most of the events of my day are ones which will cease to matter within hours – my closest relationships, however, will matter far beyond that point. Should I lose one of these relationships, I will feel unhappy for a long time. This doesn’t mean I cannot ever be happy again but that this loss can make me unhappy for a longer time than most other events. The point I was really making was that only a tiny minority of the events in our day will actually matter a day or two later – so don’t treat them as though your happiness depends on it.

Your reference to impermanence is terribly important. When a relationship means an awful lot to me, I need to recognise that it is impermanent if only because one of us is likely to die first. In a way, choosing the happiness of the relationship means being willing to acknowledge the reality of impermanence by also choosing to accept the pain of future loss. That is a true act of love. Thank you for this and I am happy to continue exploring it with you.


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Thank you again for this article. My attention was re-directed to it today after I posted the following comment on Wildmind’s blog:

I am just realizing how many conditions my happiness depends on – things outside of me and outside of my control. The thoughts usually aren’t quite conscious. But as I was writing about attachments, I suddenly saw that there are so many things my happiness depends on. The underlying thoughts are like: I can’t be happy if people are unfriendly or disapproving, I can’t be happy until I feel well, I can’t be happy if……The list is so long! It’s really frightening to have my happiness depend on so many things. When I saw the extent of it, I truly felt like vomiting and crying. I feel shaken. No wonder I am often unhappy. No wonder I often doubted whether happiness is possible. How did I ever paint myself into such a corner? This is nuts!

Bodhipaksa suggested using “My happiness does not depend on this” as a mantra. I also appreciate your comment above about the difference between losing an important relationship versus some of the more trivial or passing difficulties that are not worth getting upset about.


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