I just finished a really great book that I would like to share with you, not only because it would be a great read at any time, but in the midst of this pandemic, I would almost define it as necessary. The title is The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, and it is a conversation between the his Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the topic of joy.
The basic premise of the book is elaborating on the distinction between happiness, which is what we experience in response to external events in the world; and joy, which is an internal disposition that we proactively live out of and bring to our interactions in the world. Both of these great men argue that joy can be cultivated, and is an essential quality for living a compassionate, meaningful life in community.
Their wisdom is all the more valuable because it is hard won; for both of them it comes out of experiences of violence and oppression that they and their communities experienced for decades, violence that cost them the lives of many loved ones. Their practices of joy were forged in fire. It makes their arguments very compelling, and their insights profound.
I also really appreciate that the book offers very practical suggestions for cultivating joy. The last section is titled “The Eight Pillars of Joy,” and there is a short chapter on each of them: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. I found it very illuminating to reflect on each one of these in my own life, and examine which of them I need to work on— where I experience the most obstacles in my relationship with others and in my own cultivation of joy. There is also an appendix that offers very practical practices for cultivating joy, including specific meditation practices.
Throughout, they emphasize the connection between compassionate sharing of another’s suffering, and the experience of joy. Those of us who cry easily also love easily, and that is a gift.
I want to close with a quote from the end of the book. The author argues that the more we choose to heal our own suffering, “the more we can turn to others and help to address their suffering with the laughter-filled, tear-stained eyes of the heart. And the more we turn away from our self regard to wipe the tears from the eyes of another, the more—incredibly—we are able to bear, to heal, and to transcend our own suffering. This was their true secret to joy.”
In this time of pandemic and social isolation, the practices of joy are more important than ever. If you find yourself with some time, I strongly recommend you read this book— I think you will really appreciate it.