When Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama met in Dharamsala for a week in 2015, they set out to accomplish two things. The first (and arguably more important) was to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday, and spend precious time together for what may be the two friends’ final meeting. The second was to write The Book of Joy.
Teamed up with editor Douglas Abrams, the two spiritual leaders spent the week talking about joy, discussing its true nature, its obstacles, and how to make joy a daily part of our lives. The two have come from wildly different backgrounds and religious disciplines, but despite this share very similar views of joy and suffering, and both believe that everyone not only can live a joyful life, they absolutely must.
Joy is Everywhere (If You Know Where to Look)
It’s hard to believe that two of the most joyful men on the planet are men that have come from backgrounds of exile and endless suffering. Both spiritual leaders were forced from their homes and must watch their people overcome the suffering thrust upon them. Both are human rights activists that have witnessed the worst of humanity. It can be hard to believe that either spiritual leader has anything to be happy about.
When asked why he isn’t more morose, the Dalai Lama offered an alternate perspective: Though he lost his home and became a refugee, he gained decades of experience traveling and meeting other people he wouldn’t have gotten to meet otherwise. In retrospect, he even preferred the refugee life for all the opportunities it granted him.
According to Archbishop Tutu and His Holiness, the easiest way to create happiness for yourself is to create it for others. When we become genuinely concerned with the joy and suffering of others, we begin to realize we aren’t alone in the world, which lessens our own pain. When we are proactively bringing joy to others, we can’t help but absorb some of that joy ourselves. Joy, they explain, is a by-product of compassionate living.
Eight Pillars of Joy
The Dalai Lama argues that, if humans create their own suffering, they must be able to create their own joy as well. He and Archbishop Tutu outline eight Pillars of Joy, or qualities a person can cultivate to experience more joy in their life. Four qualities are of the mind, and four are of the heart.
Pillars of the Mind
Perspective. Events that happen to us can be interpreted an infinite number of ways. Being able to shift our perspective away from ourselves and to the bigger picture can keep us from being overwhelmed by our own suffering.
Humility. Both Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama reject the high status put upon them. They believe that they are simply ordinary people interacting with other ordinary people. We are all just ordinary people who want to have a happy life.
Humor. Laughter is one of the most powerful, uniting forces on Earth. And both spiritual leaders share a penchant for humor that might seem unusual for holy men. Being able to laugh at yourself and the absurdity of life can bring people together on level ground. Plus, laughing just feels good!
Acceptance. It should be noted that Joy defines acceptance as the opposite of resignation and defeat. Archbishop Tutu explains that we cannot make the world a better place by denying the state it’s currently in. Before we can change our reality, we must first accept it for what it is, flaws and all.
Pillars of the Heart
Forgiveness. Contrary to the common adage of “forgive and forget,” the Dalai Lama explains that forgiveness isn’t about accepting the cruelty of others. Rather, it’s about remembering the humanity of others even when they are cruel. Anger and hatred only hurt those who feel it.
Gratitude. If acceptance is refusing to deny your reality, gratitude is actively embracing it. Shifting our thoughts away from what we lack to what we have in abundance can reframe our entire perspective on life. We all have things to be grateful for, and constant reminders of that are good for the body and soul.
Compassion. We are a social species, and according to the Dalai Lama, developing a serious concern for the well-being of others is the key to a happy life. Compassion toward others leads to our own betterment; when we are compassionate to other people, they will want to be compassionate in turn.
Generosity. While it may seem like an extension of compassion, the difference is that we do not need to wait for feelings of compassion to appear before being generous. Compassion is a state of being; generosity is an action, and one so paramount to the human experience that it’s mentioned in every major religion.