The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

By His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams. Avery, 2016. 368 pages. $26/hardcover; $13.99/eBook.

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I know I am not alone among f/Friends in my desire to cultivate more joy in my own life and in the lives of those around me. In The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, two spiritual leaders who exude joy, share their understanding of the qualities of joy and how to sustain it. Joy, they describe, is “much bigger than happiness”; joy is “a way of approaching the world.” The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu spent a week together reflecting on joy; their wisdom, along with highlights of the academic study of joy, is synthesized by their coauthor Douglas Abrams. The two leaders delight in each other’s presence, and throughout the book readers are invited into their joyful world.

After initially defining joy, the leaders discuss the obstacles to lasting happiness. They share that there is no joy without suffering and that we must embrace the shadows of life to fully appreciate the beautiful moments. They address the power of prayer and reflection to help ease fear, anxiety, and stress, and the power of empathy to help us move beyond our anger and frustration toward others. They also offer advice about how to overcome sadness, grief, despair, loneliness, envy, adversity, and illness. They discuss the importance of developing a “sense of we,” particularly in our communities of faith. They remind readers that the more we celebrate our shared humanity, the stronger we are in building our resilience to all the challenges that we will inevitably face. One of the most inspirational quotes from this section came from the archbishop: “You are made for perfection, but you are not yet perfect. You are a masterpiece in the making.”

After discussing the obstacles to our enduring happiness, the Archbishop and Dalai Lama delve into the eight pillars of joy as they understand them. The four pillars of the mind are perspective, humility, humor, and acceptance. Abrams reminds readers that although some of these values can be viewed as passive, they are meaningful tools when we are in command of them. They also point to four pillars of the heart that we benefit from developing: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. They often return to a theme of the significance of our choosing how we respond to the pain of the world. They invite us to become “an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that ripples out to all of those around us.”

Thankfully, these spiritual guides do not leave the readers with only theories. The final section of the book offers techniques for practicing the “mental immunity” they preach. They include suggestions on intention setting, silent retreats, gratitude journaling, fasting, prayer, and generosity practices. They share a variety of meditations, including breathing, walking, analyzing, and visioning, that empower us to develop the space between a stimulus and our response, allowing us to choose our best selves. This section functions as a toolkit from which readers are encouraged to “find what works best” for each of us. Ultimately, they advise that relationships and communities are the greatest joy of all, and they direct readers to “seek out [our] own communities of love.”

The Book of Joy is both beautiful and practical. As interesting and useful as the information would be on its own, it is all the more meaningful because of the book’s collaborative approach. The Dalai Lama often advocates for proactive mental training so that we don’t feel suffering as intensely in the first place, whereas much of Archbishop Tutu’s advice is about what to do once we experience hurt. They both stress that love is at the core of all religions, but that we must do more than “rely on religious faith”; we must put our faith into action. They speak consistently about how recognizing the humanity in all others around the world is at the foundation of our enjoying the fullness of our own humanity, a message that will resonate with Friends and those who appreciate Quaker values. Indeed, I ended up sharing quotes from this book with friends, colleagues, and students throughout the period in which I was reading it. Once I finished I sent pictures of the cover to people in my life with a simple caption: “highly recommend.” The Book of Joy truly lives up to its title.

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