I came across an excerpt of Thích Nhất Hạnh from his book No Mud, No Lotus, in which he says that happiness must be nurtured in order to sustain (full text is here, the excerpt can also be found here):

Happiness is impermanent, like everything else. In order for happiness to be extended and renewed, you have to learn how to feed your happiness. Nothing can survive without food, including happiness; your happiness can die if you don’t know how to nourish it. If you cut a flower but you don’t put it in some water, the flower will wilt in a few hours. Even if happiness is already manifesting, we have to continue to nourish it.

Earlier in the book (here), he relates this idea to the Buddha:

The Buddha said that nothing can survive without food. This is true, not just for the physical existence of living beings, but also for states of mind.

This surprised me a bit, as I was under the impression that happiness emerges when one frees himself (even momentarily, e.g. during meditation) from suffering - and not that it should be pursued as a goal.

I read (in Wikipedia) that Thích Nhất Hạnh's teaching combines various sources, and I'd like to know if this idea - that happiness must be nurtured - can be traced to a certain Sutra, or just scattered texts, in the canon?

4 Answers 4


I think he might be speaking about worldly happiness, as in making sure you're comfortable, that all your basic needs are fulfilled. So yes, this kind of happiness is helpful and should be nurtured. This is known as sammuti in Buddhist parlance. It's the conditioned world.

There is another kind of happiness, but it doesn't define itself by the absence of sadness. One could say it is all-inclusive of both happiness and sadness, in that it isn't affected by the changing circumstances that happiness and sadness occur within, nor is it affected by the feelings themselves.

This is known as equipoise, or sometimes referred to as phenomena passing through the immovable. I believe Thích Nhất Hạnh calls it the 'safe island of mindfulness'. That's a happiness that surpasses all form. This is known as vimutti in Buddhist parlance. It is complete awareness release from the neurosis of the mind.


You both are right. As you pointed out, ultimate happiness is the freedom - but let me assure you there's no jumping there in one step 😊. Instead, as Thich Nhat Hanh explained, there's an incremental way to freedom that requires nurturing positive mind states. The beginning practitioners often overlook this practical point, hence the master felt it had to be emphasized.

The Buddha alludes to the concept of nurturing in many places in the Canon, usually in context of the mind taking shape of what it habitually dwells on, as well as in a more abstract context of habitual tendencies (samskaras) and clinging/sustenance (upadana) shaping life at large.

In context of Buddhist practice, nurturing the mind comes up in form of The Four Right Efforts, as well as the teaching of Guarding the Gates of Senses and the concept of Wise Attention.

In a more direct way, the Buddha prescribes nurturing of happiness in his teaching on jhanas. Indeed, jhanas can be seen as a progression of nurturing one's happiness with crude food of autosuggestions in the first jhana to incrementally more and more fine subtle food of the second, third, and fourth jhana - and beyond.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu gave a couple of nice lectures on this very topic, one I can find right now is here: https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/uncollected/FirstThingsFirst.html - although I think it's not the one I remembered. Still, here's a relevant quote from it:

This is why being constantly mindful of the truth of impermanence isn’t enough to solve the problem of suffering. To really solve it, we need to change our feeding habits—radically—so that we can strengthen the mind to the point where it no longer needs to feed. This requires a two-pronged strategy: (a) seeing the drawbacks of our ordinary ways of feeding, and (b) providing the mind with better food in the meantime until it has outgrown the need to feed on anything at all.

Ah, look what I just found, something to chew on. At the bottom of this article there's a collection of links to mp3 lectures of Thanissaro, all on the topic of feeding!, and one of them must be the one I remember. If you have a long commute you may enjoy listening to all them, would be a good food for thought: http://psychreviews.org/emotional-feeding/

  • 1
    Nice read from Thanissaro - Even enjoying the breath when dealing with difficult people is possible.
    – user17652
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 18:34
  • 1
    I love him, he is the most Mahayana of all Theravada teachers :)
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Apr 13, 2023 at 20:59
  • Yes - I was always drawn to his sutta translations, because he wrote so clearly and concisely.
    – user17652
    Commented Apr 14, 2023 at 2:24
  • i'm not going to be attached to positive mind states b/c attachment is bad..wait, that makes me attached to good/evil...hmm...dwelling in xyz?
    – blue_ego
    Commented Apr 17, 2023 at 20:26
  • That's why there's a progression of positive mind states, from crude to more and more refined, so you don't keep going in circles.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Apr 17, 2023 at 21:29

The Buddha discusses two kinds of happiness in AN2.64-76. For example, we have:

AN2.66:1.1: “There are, mendicants, these two kinds of happiness.
AN2.66:1.2: What two?
AN2.66:1.3: The happiness of attachments, and the happiness of no attachments.
AN2.66:1.4: These are the two kinds of happiness.
AN2.66:1.5: The better of these two kinds of happiness is the happiness of no attachments.”

In other words, to nurture true happiness (i.e., the second happiness), we must nurture non-attachment. That is a long journey taken step by step. It is a journey into gratitude, acceptance and an open heart.

  • 1
    It doesn't have to be long. Taking on that notion, it becomes long and arduous. There was a moment where everything flipped over, and I understood the meaning of Birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more of this to come..
    – user17652
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 17:36
  • Some of us have more dust in our eyes.
    – OyaMist
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 14:25
  • Possibly... :-)
    – user17652
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 15:37

yes it is true, happiness emerges from free, but only b/c desire . have a huge backlog of desire, and you are bound for unhappy, but satisfy the gamut and you have claimed the big prize. like now, i'm answering this question b/c i want to? my long-run happiness? not to have an over-abundance of desires, and hopefully you get all you wanted. you surely are receiving hints along the way.

there really is no winning with happiness. it is just your ego-mind at its best. instead you should cultivate desire. but desire is like a bonzai

one is happy. how else can one live? angry? depressed? one must remain happy. yes, i guess cultivate that. nurture that. but how can I nurture what I don't know? what, be mindful of happiness? shrug. then i will be desireful for sure. take away x,y,z and now what? i guess there is a baseline. avoid desire and remain happy. of course, if you are lucky, skillful, then enjoy the fulfillment of desire. remain skillful i suppose. only the good die young. anyway buddha might nurture as such...

happiness is not true enlightenment. why does buddha continue his way, long after enlightenment? is buddha both enlightenment and not enlightenment and in between? this is nurturing happiness? the profound is meant to be experienced, not clinging to happiness (faux pas).

from MN 36:

“I recall having taught the Dhamma to an assembly of many hundreds, and yet each one of them assumes of me, ‘Gotama the contemplative is teaching the Dhamma attacking just me,’ but it shouldn’t be seen in that way. The Tathāgata rightly teaches them the Dhamma simply for the purpose of giving knowledge. At the end of that very talk I steady the mind inwardly, settle it, concentrate it, and unify it in the same theme of concentration as before, in which I almost constantly dwell.

  • i think this is what Max said not to do...aka other
    – blue_ego
    Commented Apr 17, 2023 at 20:46

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