I'm reading The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler. In it, they suggest that we should focus on pursuing happiness as our goal in life and the we should be careful to make a distinction between happiness and pleasure. Doing crack, drinking alcohol and even enjoying nice weather are mostly pleasures and not real happiness.
One of the core elements of happiness, according to the Dalai Lama, is compassion. Cutler describes how many psychologists will argue that man is inherently greedy and that the first thing that babies try to do is look for a nipple to suck milk - an inherently greedy desire. However, Cutler argues that babies also have a basic instinct to connect with people and illicit a smile or compassion. Babies will stare at you and smile and this makes you feel good and care about the baby. This basic social behavior is an important instinct for babies in addition to the sucking for milk. The argument is that compassion is also a basic human behavior and not something that you have to learn after you are older.
The Dalai Lama describes ways of increasing compassion. One exercise he suggests is to meditate or think deeply about someone or something (like an animal) and think of that person or animal suffering. You could imagine a lamb in fear before it is about to be slaughtered or a friend in some deep pain. As you imagine this, a feeling of compassion emerges. The Dalai Lama explains that one should be able to feel compassionate towards everyone and everything.
In general, I'm a fairly compassionate person, but I do have people and things that annoy me. Recently I've started to practice meditating on those things that annoy me and building compassion and understanding. I still find it difficult at times, but as I do it more and more, I'm finding that I'm becoming happier and happier.
We then realize that we need to develop patience to build compassion. Our patience grows by being challenged by annoying or hurtful people and events. It is these people and events that ultimately are our teachers. We should learn to cherish and be thankful for these annoying things, because without them we would not grow and become even happier. (So thank you all of you annoying people! ha!)
Compassion vs greed is something that we've been talking a lot about in the context of amateur vs professional. I think that compassion and the happiness one gains from giving and sharing is one of the fundamental driving forces of the sharing economy just as greed and the "economic man" are fundamental elements of capitalism and neo-classical economics. I think that in order to really understand how the sharing economy works, we need to understand how happiness works and what makes people choose compassion over greed.
We often make decisions which involved trying to decide which decision will make us happier. We often mistake pleasure for happiness and make the choice that may be more pleasurable instead of the choice that would provide more long-term happiness. The Dalai Lama says that just framing questions to yourself in terms of what will give you more happiness and making a distinction between happiness and pleasure will help us make the right decisions.
It often takes self-control or will to choose happiness over pleasure. As I become more conscious of my happiness, I realize that awareness of this distinction and awareness of your happiness helps to reinforce and provide feedback for your decisions. This feedback makes it easier and easier to make the "right" choice.
Update: Added "patience" in paragraph about teachers.