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2017-05-19 Steve Gardiner Book Review: The Book of Joy

 In April 2015, Archbishop Desmond Tutu traveled to Dharamsala, India, to spend a week with his friend, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The two men, both of whom have suffered exile and oppression, shared stories with each other about how to find joy in life in spite of its difficulties. Both leaders have a strong sense of humor, so the meetings were filled with joking and teasing, but reveal many serious thoughts about the nature of human happiness. The result of those conversations is a book called The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World.

Author Douglas Adams had the wonderful experience of sitting in on those conversations and then transforming them into a very readable book, a guide to finding happiness throughout all stages of life. The first chapters detail the discussions and stories the two spiritual leaders shared, and the last section of the book outlines the Eight Pillars of Happiness.


Desmond Tutu told Adams, “We are fragile creatures, and it is from this weakness, not despite it, that we discover the possibility of true joy. Life is filled with challenges and adversity. Fear is inevitable, as is pain and eventually death.”


This delicate nature of human life is a challenge for everyone, spiritual advisers or not. Seeking to find more happiness in life is a goal of many human beings, and Tutu continued, “Discovering more joy does not, I'm sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet, as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.”


The Dalai Lama added that “One great question underlies our existence. What is the purpose of life? After much consideration, I believe that the purpose of life is to find happiness.”


The Dalai Lama believes that happiness comes from within, not from external sources. He has seen billionaires who are not happy. “Power and money fail to bring inner peace. Outward attainment will not bring real inner joyfulness. We must look inside.”

The conversations between Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama led them to what they call the Eight Pillars of Happiness. Each pillar is explained in a chapter, with both leaders giving commentary and examples to show how each pillar is important and can affect our daily lives. The first four pillars are pillars of the mind. The last four are pillars of the heart.


The first pillar is Perspective. It involves stepping back to see the issues of life in a broader vision. This gives us a chance to be more neutral in looking at a situation, to examine it in a less personal fashion and make more objective choices about it.


The second pillar is Humility. We sometimes think that too many bad things are happening to us, only to us. Tutu reminds us to reflect on the idea that we are one human being in the midst of seven billion. Others share the challenges and experiences. Pride and ego can keep us sad.


Humor is the third pillar. The week the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu spent together was filled with laughter. If we are too serious, we have less fun, enjoy life less. It can help one person deal with difficult situations, but, as Adams said, laughter is often the most direct line between two human beings. We often connect with another person through a good laugh.


The fourth pillar is Acceptance. Adams wrote, “Once we an see life in its wider perspective, once we are able to see our role in its drama with some degree of humility, and once we are able to laugh at ourselves, we then come to the fourth and final quality of mind, which is the ability to accept our life in all its pain, imperfection, and beauty.”


Forgiveness is the fifth pillar. For the Dalai Lama, who was forced into exile from his country over 50 years ago, forgiveness is a powerful tool. “Forgiveness does not mean we forget. You should remember the negative thing, but because there is a possibility to develop hatred, we mustn't allow ourselves to be led in that direction—we choose forgiveness.”


The sixth pillar is Gratitude. Both of the leaders emphasized the importance of acknowledging the value of each day, of not wasting a day on anger or unhappiness, but on finding the value and joy in what we are doing and experiencing. In fact, both agreed that we can even be grateful for our enemies and problems because they help us focus on solutions and answers.


Compassion is the seventh pillar. Adams explains that “One of the differences between empathy and compassion is that while empathy is simply experiencing another's emotion, compassion is a more empowered state where we want what is best for the other person.”


The final pillar of the heart is Generosity. This pillar includes giving of money, time, love, emotion, and many other human gifts. Desmond Tutu said, “I've sometimes joked and said God doesn't know very much math because when you give to others, it should be that you are subtracting from yourself. But in this incredible kind of way—I've certainly found that to be the case so many times—you gave and it then seems like in fact you are making space for more to be given to you.”


The Dalai Lama ended by saying, “In order to become a happy person, we need to live more from the compassionate part of our nature and to have a sense of responsibility toward others and the world we live in.” He continued. “All of us, spiritual brothers and sisters, have a special responsibility, have a special role to make clear that the ultimate source of a meaningful life is within ourselves. If you live in this way, until your last breath comes, you will be a happy, happy person. That's the goal of human life—to live with joy and purpose.”


The book ends with many pages of suggestions on how to fit these eight pillars into daily life. The book provides many powerful ideas for thought and action.

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