Ezra Bayda teaches at the Zen Center San Diego and is featured as a Living Spiritual Teacher at Spirituality & Practice. He is the author of four books including Zen Heart.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that the purpose of human life is to be happy. It's something we all aspire to. And it doesn't take us very long to discover that the quest to find happiness in externals such as money, possessions, therapy, or even spiritual practice is a dead-end street. It is better to begin with a look at what blocks happiness.

Bayda states that having a sense of entitlement (the belief that life will go our way) means that we will eventually feel like a victim. Along with grandiosity goes an "if-only" attitude which fuels our fears of discomfort and suffering. Bayda outlines other illusions about life that block happiness and move us away from contentment. The thinking mind with its judgments, fears, and limiting beliefs is an obstacle along with being captivated by our separating emotions. A final block to happiness is our survival-based control strategies (trying harder, seeking approval, and addictions).

In a section of the book titled "Surrendering to What Is," Bayda covers the roots of contentment: being present, generosity of spirit, gratitude, loving-kindness, and forgiveness. He shares the practice of three questions: "Am I truly happy right now? What blocks happiness? Can I surrender to what is?" Bayda then points out the value of using these queries in daily life — in a car, at work, in a relationship, or when you've got nothing to do.

We appreciated three things about this book. First, the revelations about Bayda's personal life such as his delight in playing conga drums or riding the ocean waves on his boogie board. We relished his insistence that humor be seen as essential to contentment. And thirdly, we marveled at the spiritual breadth and depth of his gratitude practices, his insights on giving through work (see the excerpt), and a meditation on forgiveness. Bayda concludes that the deepest purpose of life is not happiness but waking up. The practices at the end of the book are designed to help you do just that.