Full of exuberance, Happy Buddha is often mistaken for Siddhārtha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. But the image of Happy Buddha is actually based on a wandering Chinese monk, Budai (Hotei, in Japanese), who lived centuries ago.
Happy Buddha is believed to be Maitreya, or the Buddha to come. His plump figure and benign countenance suggest magnanimity and plenitude. Also called Laughing Buddha, his signature smile is symbolic of pure joy. Happy Buddha is considered a symbol of good luck, and it is thought that rubbing his big head or belly brings fortune and wealth. At the same time, his walking stick and satchel remind us to pay attention to the journey before us, not just the destination.