Nothing causes more misery than pre-occupation with self. So in a largely secular age, we desperately need a movement to promote positive, ethical living. We have inspirational teachers like the Dalai Lama, but frail humans need regular meetings with like-minded people to uplift and inspire their daily lives. That is how the churches have operated and it is not easy to lead a good life in isolation. Nearly all of us need to meet regularly with others to discuss and affirm our commitment.
That is why in 2011 we founded Action for Happiness, with the Dalai Lama as our patron. This may seem a strange name for an ethical movement. But ethics is not about the hair-shirt. It is about principles for living together which lead to happy and fulfilling lives all round. For this, people need to understand what makes themselves happy but above all they need a passionate desire to make others happy - a spirit of unconditional benevolence. The necessary virtues appear in most religions and in many secular systems - virtues like gratitude, resilience, acceptance, courage, forgiveness and above all compassion. What is new is that we now have scientific psychological evidence about what produces lives which people find satisfying and rewarding. On the basis of this we have selected Ten Keys to Happier Living, which our members can use in thinking about how they should lead their lives. This after all is what ethics is about - how we should live all the time with at least as much care about what we should do as about what we should not do.
So each of our members on joining pledges to living so to "try to create more happiness and less unhappiness in the world around me". We now have 60,000 members and 350,000 online followers. But so far our movement has been largely web-based. We now plan a radical new departure which the Dalai Lama launches this Monday (21 September) in London. The aim is to form thousands of face-to-face groups worldwide. Normally a group will begin by working through a course called Exploring What Matters. This takes 8 sessions, using a rich agenda of materials and videos available online. Each session will begin with the evidence about what makes people happy - taking one aspect after another including personal relationships, work, community, mindfulness, and above all a passionate commitment to the welfare of others. Each time every member will decide how in the coming weeks they will apply this evidence in action in their daily lives - bringing back their experience to the following sessions. The structure of the course can be found on the Action for Happiness website. It has been trialled with hugely positive responses but, more important, significant effects on mood and pro-social attitudes.
Once established, the groups continue meeting regularly for an hour (like, for example, the Quakers or Alcoholics Anonymous) - with their own set pattern for the meeting, including a brief talk, a period of mindfulness, and a period of discussion and commitment.
The success of these groups will depend on leaders coming forward to organise these groups. Our aim is to make it as easy for them as possible. Though we will organise some courses for leaders, anyone can propose being a leader and self-certify their suitability and commitment to creating a happier world.
Today, as in every previous age, people are seeking. They are looking for a philosophy of life and an organisation that represents it. They certainly need a spiritual practice and many now find that in mindfulness or the like. But that is usually a private matter. People also need a wider ethical framework which they discuss with others. We hope that Action for Happiness can cater to that need, and help to provide the thousands of little gatherings that can make the world a better place.