The Book of Joy

In 2015, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu spent a week together discussing the concept and the practice of joy. These conversations were recorded and in some ways guided by Douglas Abrams, who compiled and edited them together in The Book of Joy. It is an incredible book for many reasons, not the least of which is the surprising familiarity with which these two supposed holy men treat each other. They frequently laugh and tease each other about all kinds of things, even cracking jokes about the Dalai Lama’s inevitable destination in the afterlife (hint: it will be rather warm).

“Joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.”

–Archbishop Desmond Tutu

A friend of mine loaned me the book several months ago, and I have just now taken the time to read it. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough, especially for people who are recovering from abusive relationships or virtually any traumatic experience. One of the things I realized I had almost completely lost during my marriage was joy. Sure, we had fun together sometimes, and I really loved watching my kids grow and learn and play sports. However, in my efforts to dull the pain of living with someone who was so often disappointed, dissatisfied, or just downright angry, I inadvertently dulled all of my emotional registers. Maybe it was my attempt to remain at even keel; maybe it was the exhausting effort of constantly scanning the environment for threats to her personal happiness. Whatever it was, I lost the ability to experience the full spectrum of my emotional life, preferring the cool, gray plateau of okay. Though I succeeded in protecting myself from (most of) her attacks, I also robbed myself of the joy that so many other fathers and husbands know.

“I have tried to make people aware that the ultimate source of happiness is simply a healthy body and a warm heart.”

–The Dalai Lama

Back to the book: after discussing what joy is and how we can expect to find it even amidst all the despair and cruelty in this world, Abrams identifies 8 “pillars of joy” that were distilled from the conversation. The first four are qualities of the mind: perspective, humility, humor, and acceptance. The others are qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. Though the whole book is excellent, this section is absolutely worth reading again and again. Here, the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop identify a very reasonable and practical set of principles that we can and should follow in order to achieve joy.

Over the next 8 days, I am going to focus on exploring and practicing one principle each day. My goal is to report back each night and reflect on how my attention to that day’s pillar affected my experiences. If these men can find ways to enjoy life despite the pain and suffering they have witnessed (most notably in the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the atrocities of South African apartheid), surely anyone can.

Tomorrow, I will begin with perspective.

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