Was reading the article linked to below about how happiness is merely the absence of dukkha in much the same way that darkness is the absence of light. That happiness is alway there. All we need to do is change our mind. We confuse gratification with happiness. We think that accomplishing, achieving, attaining will make us happier but we are misguided. I understand this, it makes perfect sense however say for example I feel lonely because I have no friends. I can sit there and experience what it feels like to be lonely and make peace with that or I can take action to make new friends so that I feel more connected and thus less lonely. If I do the latter then aren't I accomplishing, gratifying etc? Surely it's a good thing to make efforts to connect. Buddhism seems to be saying it's all in your own head but then if this is so why try to change anything? Why go out and try to make new friends when I feel lonely? Why go out and try to make money when I don't have enough? Etc etc. doing these things creates a better life, one of less struggle. Surely that is a good thing and leads to more happiness? http://www.raptitude.com/2010/07/good-news-happiness-doesn't-exist/
Both happiness and sadness are feelings. Both of them fall under the first noble truth or the noble truth of suffering. Sad feelings come under suffering for obvious reasons and happy feelings come under suffering for being impermanent, deficient, incompetent, unreliable etc.
There is something better than happy feelings. Something permanent and peaceful. That is what the Buddha experienced first hand while he lived. Guiding us to find that while we live is what Buddhism is all about. It's not about trying to experience happy feelings or going to a heaven after death and experiencing some more happy feelings for a while.
Feeling lonely is a form of suffering. That suffering cannot be eliminated by looking for company. Being with friends is just a temporary consolation. That does not mean you will not get bored in the future. Buddhism doesn't tell you not to make friends or not to experience the comforts of life, especially if you are a layman. Buddhism offers a permanent solution to your problems. Instead of simply relying on friends every time you feel lonely, what if you are able to uproot the cause of being lonely? Then you will never feel lonely in the first place.
There's a (non-Buddhist) "serenity prayer" that's famous now in North America:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
I think that Buddhist teaching is slightly different. It says:
Make an effort (right effort) -- strive on with diligence
Be careful/discerning about what you strive for -- for example if you strive for friends then strive for good friends; if you strive for money, don't be attached to it nor make money your master; or consider simply what you need to live (e.g. food and clothing), rather than money; etc.
Why go out and try to make money when I don't have enough?
This matter is physical. I think it is not a relevant example.
I can sit there and experience what it feels like to be lonely and make peace with that
Although it might get scary initially, there is a 3rd option, namely, sit there and experience what it feels like not to be lonely. In Buddhism, this is called 'solitude', 'seclusion' or 'aloneness' ('viveka').
While not explicitly Buddhist, Chapter 23 of the following link distinguishes between 'loneliness' & 'aloneness': Think on these Things by J.Krishnamurti
"I can sit there and experience what it feels like to be lonely and make peace with that or I can take action to make new friends so that I feel more connected and thus less lonely. If I do the latter then aren't I accomplishing, gratifying etc?"
Yes, it does seem so.
"Surely it's a good thing to make efforts to connect."
Yeah, if you put effort into connecting, and you end up having company, surely this is the gratification of that.
Instead of framing the conclusion here as "Buddhism seems to be saying it's all in your own head", I would only say at this point that this gratification is temporary.
So, from the buddhist perspective, I agree with you when you say that "We think that accomplishing, achieving, attaining will make us happier but we are misguided.", but only if the happiness you refer to is one not subject to vanishing -- Nirvana.
Otherwise, that's not quite true: accomplishing, achieving and attaining can makes us happy, it's just that it's a happiness that has an expiration date, a happiness that is subject to disappear -- often too soon -- and a happiness that is not really that satisfying in it's essence.
"but then if this is so why try to change anything? Why go out and try to make new friends when I feel lonely? Why go out and try to make money when I don't have enough? Etc etc. doing these things creates a better life, one of less struggle."
Indeed, these are efforts for creating a better life with less struggle. We may be able to lessen the struggle like this, but one might wonder if one can eliminate it, like Gotama wondered:
“I too, being myself subject to birth, sought what was also subject to birth; being myself subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, I sought what was also subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement. Then I considered thus: ‘Why, being myself subject to birth, do I seek what is also subject to birth? Why, being myself subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, do I seek what is also subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement? Suppose that, being myself subject to birth, having understood the danger in what is subject to birth, I seek the unborn supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna. Suppose that, being myself subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, having understood the danger in what is subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow, and defilement, I seek the unageing, unailing, deathless, sorrowless, and undefiled supreme security from bondage, Nibbāna.’
-- MN 26
His reflection was simply this: something permanent can't be found in things transient (additionally, things that also pose a danger for more suffering).
So here, we end up facing the reality that trying to permanently eliminate suffering, to attain a permanent shelter from suffering by obtaining temporary things (company, loneliness, marriage, money, etc), things subject to birth, to aging, to death, sorrow, lamentation and pain...isn't going to work.
Hence the gradual path of Buddhism, to substitute gross gratifications by other gratifications that, while still temporary, pose substantially less risk of creating misery and promote the encounter with that everlasting happiness.
If by renouncing a lesser happiness one may realize a greater happiness, let the wise man renounce the lesser, having regard for the greater.
-- Dhp 290
This is the second point I'd like to bring up: method. For example, mindlessly abandoning friends and, say, food, simply because they are impermanent is probably not a good strategy for people looking for that greater happiness. It's important to point out that the Buddha supported his disciples in eating, wearing clothes and so on -- for he sake of sustaining their lives, and protecting them from diseases, etc. which is necessary for them to keep studying and practicing.
More generally, we are taught to scrutinize and reflect over each of these things in terms of their dangers and benefits. For example, would look for friendship (or certain friends) be an obstacle to well being, to ease, to Nirvana? Or would it support those involved in making their lives easier and their understandings of suffering deeper? And so on...
OP: Buddhism seems to be saying it's all in your own head but then if this is so why try to change anything? Why go out and try to make new friends when I feel lonely? Why go out and try to make money when I don't have enough? Etc etc. doing these things creates a better life, one of less struggle. Surely that is a good thing and leads to more happiness?
You have misunderstood this.
The purpose of Buddhism is really the pursuit of happiness. We can find plenty of advice from the Buddha on this, in the Sigalovada Sutta, for lay people.
Do you feel lonely and want to make friends? Choose the right friends and be a right friend yourself:
"Young man, be aware of these four good-hearted friends: the helper, the friend who endures in good times and bad, the mentor, and the compassionate friend.
"The helper can be identified by four things: by protecting you when you are vulnerable, and likewise your wealth, being a refuge when you are afraid, and in various tasks providing double what is requested.
"The enduring friend can be identified by four things: by telling you secrets, guarding your own secrets closely, not abandoning you in misfortune, and even dying for you.
"The mentor can be identified by four things: by restraining you from wrongdoing, guiding you towards good actions, telling you what you ought to know, and showing you the path to heaven.
"The compassionate friend can be identified by four things: by not rejoicing in your misfortune, delighting in your good fortune, preventing others from speaking ill of you, and encouraging others who praise your good qualities."
You can spend up to a quarter of your income for good enjoyments, including with your good friends. Manage your wealth the right way.
By dividing wealth into four parts, True friendships are bound; One part should be enjoyed; Two parts invested in business; And the fourth set aside Against future misfortunes
You can also get married to the right spouse and be a right spouse yourself:
"In five ways should a wife as the western direction be respected by a husband: by honoring, not disrespecting, being faithful, sharing authority, and by giving gifts.
"And, the wife so respected reciprocates with compassion in five ways: by being well-organized, being kindly disposed to the in-laws and household workers, being faithful, looking after the household goods, and being skillful and diligent in all duties.
Similarly, have the right kind of relationship with your parents and children:
"In five ways should a mother and father as the eastern direction be respected by a child: 'I will support them who supported me; I will do my duty to them; I will maintain the family lineage and tradition; I will be worthy of my inheritance; and I will make donations on behalf of dead ancestors.'
"And, the mother and father so respected reciprocate with compassion in five ways: by restraining you from wrongdoing, guiding you towards good actions, training you in a profession, supporting the choice of a suitable spouse, and in due time, handing over the inheritance.
Sure, you can make money and enjoy from it and make yourself happy. There's more financial advice from the Dighajanu Sutta:
"And what does it mean to maintain one's livelihood in tune? There is the case where a lay person, knowing the income and outflow of his wealth, maintains a livelihood in tune, neither a spendthrift nor a penny-pincher, [thinking], 'Thus will my income exceed my outflow, and my outflow will not exceed my income.'
These are the four inlets to one's store of wealth: no debauchery in sex; no debauchery in drink; no debauchery in gambling; and admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.
The Adiya Sutta speaks of five benefits that can be obtained from wealth. the first two relates to family and friends.
He provides his mother & father with pleasure & satisfaction, and maintains that pleasure rightly. He provides his children, his wife, his slaves, servants, & assistants with pleasure & satisfaction, and maintains that pleasure rightly. This is the first benefit that can be obtained from wealth.
"... provides his friends & associates with pleasure & satisfaction, and maintains that pleasure rightly. This is the second benefit that can be obtained from wealth.
Doesn't all of this make you happy? Sure it does. But it will not last forever.
If due to that, you want to be an ascetic completely withdrawn from the world, that would fall into extreme asceticism. If you want to enjoy the worldly happiness like it will last forever, that's extreme indulgence. Both ways will not end suffering. Hence, the Buddha introduced the middle way between the two, through the Noble Eightfold Path.
As a lay person, you should enjoy the happiness of this world, like wealth, family and companionship, but at the same time undergo the Noble Eightfold Path training process towards permanent happiness (which is the end of suffering).
If you feel fit and inclined, you can also choose the monastic order, which is a more intensive training program. But that's not for everyone. On that note, even monks and nuns can have friends but they must choose the type of friends found in the Upaddha Sutta:
Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.
You can find in this answer the four levels of "training programs" - lay Dhamma follower, anagarika, novice monk (or nun) and fully ordained monk (or nun).
Do read the Dhaniya Sutta which provides an interesting insight into this topic, based on the life of the cattleman and family-man Dhaniya:
Dhaniya said: "How great our gain that we've gazed on the Blessed One! We go to him, the One with vision, for refuge. May you be our teacher, Great Sage. My wife & I are compliant. Let's follow the holy life under the One Well-gone. Gone to the far shore of aging & death, let's put an end to suffering & stress."
Our original condition is unconstrained easiness and contentment. Imagine how a little baby feels in comfort.
No worries and concerns. Everything is simple.
Gradually children lose that state of satisfaction, because we attach to "good" and run away from "bad".
"Good" and "bad" create worries and concerns.
We develop thirst to "feel better" and start to chase something out there.
We lose our original unconstrained natural condition.
Oppositions start to rule our life: chasing and escaping.
Thirst and suffering.
Having lost the original paradise, we wander in search of satisfaction, we feel lacking something. We feel lonely and insecure, in oppositions with this and that.
Rather than perceiving the reality as non-divided wholeness, we perceive "myself". We think how to make "myself" happy.
But the original happiness has no "myself". There is non-divided unity and harmony.
It's not possible to cut out a piece - "myself" - and make it feel to be whole.
That separated piece will always remain lonely. To regain wholeness, "myself" and all the oppositions should be realized as illusory. All identifications should be realized as illusory, and we should drop reliance on them. Then there will be nothing to attach to, nothing to be concerned and worried about.
In Buddhism that is called awakening, liberation from suffering.
In practice, how would we act?
Not being lonely, not separated from others.
In Mahayana Buddhism we say that there are basically two approaches of awakened beings: Arhat approach and Bodhisattva approach. Arhat can just sit in contentment. The world is so perfect that Arhat doesn't need anything. Bodhisattva feels the same, but because other beings wander in illusions, then why not help them? So Bodhisattva stands from his sitting meditation and goes to work for others.
all in your own head but then if this is so why try to change anything?
Wholeness is a question of harmony. If you just keep idly sitting, when someone needs help near you, then is that harmony?
So when we live in awakening, there's satisfaction "in our mind" - but also we aren't passive - we act, as that is the way to remain in harmony: naturally being with fluid current of events.
Why go out and try to make new friends when I feel lonely? Why go out and try to make money when I don't have enough? Etc etc. doing these things creates a better life, one of less struggle. Surely that is a good thing and leads to more happiness?
Doing something not from oppositions, not for "myself", but out of natural harmony is the way of real happiness.
That's the Buddhist practice, especially in Mahayana. Not only through meditation, but also through non-egoistic work we dissolve habits of being dependent on illusory oppositions. Thus we come to awakening.
So when we make friends, earn money etc., how is Buddhist way different from ordinary life of suffering?
Observe, what is the difference:
between pain and the suffering we add on top of pain?
between joy and the thirst we add on top of joy?
between living this moment completely and rushing somewhere else, not satisfied, not being in the moment, half-here half-there?
between caring about me, mine - and having dropped uneasy oppositions with them, theirs?..
In awakening, we can feel pain and joy, but we don't entangle ourselves in suffering and unhealthy desire. We may have intentions and aspirations, but we don't attach to goals and objects. We don't escape from balance and completeness of here and now. Not concerned about illusions like "me", things live freely in their nature.