I’m starting a new monthly series here on LifeOhm where I can share some of my favorite books with you. This one, The Book of Joy, I actually read in January, but I loved it so much that I knew it had to be the first book I featured. I got this book as a Christmas gift (thanks Mom!) and am planning to gift this book to others.
The Book of Joy is the story about Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s trip to visit the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India to celebrate His Holiness’s eightieth birthday and to create what they hoped would be a gift for others, and it truly is a gift.
Writer Douglas Abrams helped facilitate the dialogue and brought in some of his own research to support the concepts presented. The reader gets the benefit of the wisdom of these spiritual leaders, groundbreaking research on joy, and to witness the playful interaction between these sweet souls.
“Joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.” ~Desmond Tutu
Prior to writing this book, The Dalai Lama heard from Western psychologists that many of their patients deal with self hatred. This was a surprise to him but is not a surprise to many of us living in the United States. Our modern culture often makes self compassion very difficult. This was one of the prompts for The Dalai Lama to write this book. He wanted to share that, “the ultimate source of happiness is within us. Not money, not power, not status. Outward attainment will not bring real inner joyfulness. We must look inside.”
The kind of happiness described in this book is Eudemonic happiness, which is characterized by self-understanding, meaning, growth, and acceptance, including life’s inevitable suffering, sadness, and grief. The twelfth century Buddhist lojong texts about mind training state that, “Joy is our essential nature, something everyone can realize. We could say that our desire for happiness is in a way, an attempt to rediscover our original state of mind.”
“Joy is our essential nature, something everyone can realize. We could say that our desire for happiness is in a way, an attempt to rediscover our original state of mind.” ~ lojong texts
So if joy is our essential nature, why are so many people unhappy? We create many of the things that undermine our own joy, including negative thought patterns, not appreciating what we have, and emotional reactivity.
According to The Dalai Lama, “The suffering from a natural disaster we cannot control, but the suffering from our daily disasters we can. We create most of our suffering, so it should be logical that we also have the ability to create more joy. It simply depends on the attitudes, the perspectives, and the reactions we bring to situations and to our relationships with other people.” He also reminds us of the adage, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”
Here Adams presented research by by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky that shows only 50% of our happiness is determine by set factors like our genes or temperament. The other half is determined by our attitudes and actions, which we can control.
According to Lyubomirsky,the three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on our happiness are:
- Our ability to reframe the situation more positively,
- Our ability to experience gratitude, and
- Our choice to be kind and generous.
Reframing the Negative News
So how do you reframe a situation when things can often appear negative and bleak, especially when you watch the evening news?
According to The Dalai Lama, it’s important to keep a more holistic view. The news presents the aberrations in our society, not the things that are fantastic about the world. For example, there are millions of children who are loved by their parents everyday, school teachers who are kind and caring, people in hospitals who receive immense caring, and many other kind gestures that go unnoticed by our media. When we remember all the good things happening around the world, it helps keep us from getting discouraged.
The Cause of Suffering
As a culture, we have been focused on self improvement as the key happiness. There are millions of self-help books that promise to make our lives better, happier, and of course, make us thinner. We read and work on fixing everything that is wrong with us.
However, the exact opposite happens. When we have too much focus on ourselves, we become disconnected and alienated from others, and ultimately ourselves. The need for connecting with others is fundamental to who we are as humans.
According to The Dalai Lama, “Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassion concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness. By simply shifting my focus to another person, which is what compassion does, my own pain was much less intense. This is how compassion works even at the physical level.”
This excessive self-focus is also bad for your health. Too much fear and distrust, too much focus on yourself, leads to stress and high blood pressure. One study by Johannes Zimmerman found that people who more often use first-person singular words – I and me – are more likely to be depressed than people who more often use first-person plural – we and us. Self-Involvement has even been found to be a better predictor of death than smoking, high cholesterol levels, or high blood pressure
Moving from Suffering to Joy
So what is the solution? It’s having and showing kindness and compassion for others. The Dalai Lama says, “When one is thinking about others with kindness and compassion, one is never lonely. Openheartedness, warmheartedness, is the antidote to loneliness.
The more we heal our own pain, the more we can turn to the pain of others. We heal our own pain by turning to the pain of others. Is is a virtuous cycle. The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others.”
“The goal is not just to create joy for ourselves, but ‘to be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity, that can ripple out to those around you.’ Joy is in fact quite contagious. As is love, compassion, and generosity.” ~ The Dalai Lama
The back of this book is also packed full of joy practices to help you on your journey including processes for setting morning intentions, meditation, forgiveness, Tonglen – a Buddhist process that allows us to be present for others who are suffering, and the eight pillars of joy.
The quotes from The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy remind you of the beauty in humanity. The book also reminded me not to be so self-focused, the importance of connecting with others, and in giving to others.
I know it sounds cheesy, but this book made me a better person. It is dog-eared and highlighted for my favorite quotes and passages and is something that I will use as an ongoing reference for life. I hope you enjoy it too. Please tell me your favorite point or quote from the book in the comments below.
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