An excerpt from

the Dalai Lama seems to be the happiest monk of all.

His lecture at Cornell University last week started with a big laugh and was all about happiness.

What’s with these guys? Why are they so happy?

The answer is, of course, that the monks have worked very hard to become happy, peaceful people. They spend hours a day meditating and quieting the mind, and they also work hard to maintain a philosophy of compassion for all human beings.

Question is, why does it take so much work to become a compassionate, peaceful, happy person? Why aren’t we all wearing saffron robes and laughing?

His Holiness maintains that we are also naturally armed with compassion for others, and this is true. Humans express both sympathy and empathy, emotions that often move us to help those in need, even strangers.

But it’s also human nature to forget very quickly some disaster, grief or bad experience felt by someone else, and that’s why we need to be reminded by someone who is a master at compassion.

Finding mental peace is also so difficult for humans because our minds evolved to be ever on alert, ready to puzzle-solve, always thinking. It goes against human nature to turn that mental machine off, although we’d all like to sometimes.

And that’s why people are drawn to the Dalai Lama and why it is such a gift that monks roam my town. They are reminders that even if we have certain natural tendencies, it doesn’t mean we have to respond only to those tendencies.

We could, in fact, have a better human nature if we just worked at it.