Oprah: Though many Americans have read your book about happiness, some still don't understand how to achieve it. How can someone attain true happiness in a culture that emphasizes materialism?
Dalai Lama: Even when a person has all of life's comforts—good food, good shelter, a companion—he or she can still become unhappy when encountering a tragic situation. Physical comforts cannot subdue mental suffering, and if we look closely we can see that those who have many possessions are not necessarily happy. In fact, being wealthy often brings even more anxiety. On the other hand, those who don't have a life filled with luxury may have a home filled with compassion, based on their choice to be content and to practice self-discipline. Even when we have physical hardships, we can be very happy.
Oprah: So happiness begins in our minds?
Dalai Lama: Yes. That's why mental happiness is more important than physical comfort. Physical comfort comes from the material. But material facilities cannot provide you with peace of mind.
Oprah: That's right.
Dalai Lama: When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, "Oh yes—I already have everything that I really need."
Oprah: What I took away from The Art of Happiness is that compassion is the key to tranquility and peace of mind. But how can you be compassionate toward others when you yourself are suffering?
Dalai Lama: When a person is in a miserable situation, then, yes, it is difficult to develop genuine compassion toward others. That's why I find it difficult to say to poor people, "Please have compassion toward millionaires." That's not easy. And yet even the rich have their own kind of suffering, anxiety, doubt, and fear. So in many cases, wealthy people aren't happy! And once those with material wealth encounter small difficulties, their amount of mental suffering is sometimes bigger than it is for those who have faced such difficulties every day.