illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
I previously commented that « Buddhists say that life sucks — we just don’t realize it » is a serious misunderstanding of what wise people say (gplus.wallez.name/FmJ3YsTLrSo). So is nibbāna merely about equanimity and (cessation of) suffering, but not happiness?
Nibbāna is the highest bliss (Dh 203)!
There is a good reason why Buddhism doesn't visibly promote 'building' happiness, and it is that this would mean listing steps, and levels of happiness, and gradations… and this sort of dichotomies and mental fabrications is a root of suffering!
For if you attain a level, you may easily be jealous of people higher up, and may also easily become arrogant in relation to people lower down. Habitual tendencies easily creates seeds of jealousy, resentment, envy, retaliation (gplus.wallez.name/jHNH7gybmks). This is to say: if you attain a level by 'construction', it is almost impossible to 'simply' enjoy it (out of ignorance).
As a matter of facts, the 31 abodes of Theravāda mention the "abode of the jealous gods": gods having an existence 'better' than humans thanks to their good karma, but nonetheless jealous of even higher gods! This possibly is a case of "good karma" envy (gplus.wallez.name/H9zVuuof3sU).
As soon as you start measuring happiness, you will quickly compare it to a previous point in your life, or to a scale in a textbook, or to the other people's… and from such a comparison, dissatisfaction will likely arise (in relation to unmet expectations, etc.).
So to reach the cessation of suffering, and bliss, you need to step out of the comparative mind ("not knowing", which is quite different from being dumb or stupid, but is very much about not comparing your experience to expectations and 'references': cf. gplus.wallez.name/JBmChcrHQod ).
When you step out of the comparative mind, you embody happiness but there's no "construction process" to be seen (which funnily enough is how nibbāna is characterised: 'un-conditioned'… Pure coincidence?). As soon as you appropriate such a process, you re-introduce measures, comparisons, and you spoil the attainment… until next time when you step out of the comparative mind!
Not only talking of bliss might prove counter-productive, but also speaking of bliss meets a difficulty with 'conventional' terms: on attaining nibbāna, one basically realises anattā (self-less-ness)… it becomes difficulty to talk about bliss, because such a bliss exists without an appropriation of vedanā ('feelings': like/dislike/neutral) by a self-based ignorant person! Bliss exists without a deluded mind labelling it 'my' bliss!
photo: "a happy chap" by © James Scott, 2009