The 8 Pillars of Joy

I have written about The Book of Joy before, because I love it so much. Really, if you haven’t read it, I so strongly recommend it–for anyone, not just if you are religious. It is a book for people who love themselves, the world, and other people–and want to live more fully into a disposition of joy, for the sake of a more peaceful, harmonious world.

In this post, I just want to lift up briefly the last section of the book, which describes the “eight pillars of joy:” four of them relate to the head, and four of them relate to the heart. The four mental pillars are acceptance, humor, humility, and perspective. The four pillars of the heart are forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. Instead of me talking about each one of them, I want to offer just one quote from each of these eight chapters, which I hope might stimulate your curiosity. [And, if you really can’t read the book, then watch the documentary on Netflix: “Mission: Joy, Finding Happiness in Troubled Times”] Now to the eight pillars.

Perspective: “The Dalai Lama used the terms wider perspective and larger perspective. They involve stepping back, within our own mind, to look at the bigger picture, and to move beyond our limited self-awareness, and our limited self-interest” (196).

Auschwitz survivor Victor Frankel said that “our perspective toward life is our final and ultimate freedom” (195).

Humility: “Humility is the recognition that your gifts are from God, and this lets you sit relatively loosely to those gifts…Humility allows us to celebrate the gifts of others, but it does not mean you have to deny your own gifts or shrink from using them” (211).

God uses each of us in our own way, and even if you are not the best one, you may be the one who is needed or the one who is there (211).

Humor: “Humor does not belittle either of us, but uplifts us, allows us to recognize and laugh about our shared humanity, about our shared vulnerabilities, our shared frailties. Life is hard, you know, and laughter is how we come to terms with all the ironies and cruelties and uncertainties that we face” (221).

Acceptance: “Acceptance is the opposite of resignation and defeat…It allows us to engage with life on its own terms, rather than rail against the fact that life is not as we would wish” (225).

Forgiveness: “Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound to the chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped” (234).

Primatologist Frans de Waal believes that peace-making activities are extremely common in the animal kingdom. Chimps kiss and make up, and it seems that many other species do as well. Not only apes like us, but also sheep, goats, hyenas, and dolphins. Of all the species that have been studied, only domestic cats have failed to show behavior that reconciles relationships after conflict. (This finding will not surprise anyone who has cats) (236).

Gratitude: “Both Christian and Buddhist traditions, perhaps all spiritual traditions, recognize the importance of gratefulness. It allows us to shift our perspective, as the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop counseled, toward all we have been given and all that we have. It moves us away from the narrow-minded focus on fault and lack and to the wider perspective of benefit and abundance” (242).

Joy is the happiness that does not depend on what happens. It is the grateful response to the opportunity that life offers you at this moment. (245)

Compassion: “Compassion is a sense of concern that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering, and feel motivated to see that suffering and relieved. Compassion is what connects the feeling of empathy to acts of kindness, generosity, and other expressions of altruistic tendencies” (252).

Psychologist Kristin Neff has identified ways to express self-compassion: when we treat ourselves with compassion, we accept that there are parts of our personality that we may not be satisfied with, but we do not berate ourselves as we try to address them. When we go through a difficult time, we are caring and kind to ourselves, as we would be to a friend or relative. When we feel inadequate in some way, we remind ourselves that all people have these feelings or limitations. When things are hard, we recognize that all people go through similar challenges. And finally, when we are feeling down, we try to understand this feeling with curiosity and acceptance, rather than rejection, or self-judgment (260-261).

Generosity: “The quality [the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama] both have, perhaps more than any other, is this generosity of the spirit. They are big-hearted, magnanimous, tolerant, broad-minded, patient, forgiving, and kind…The Archbishop had used a beautiful phrase to describe this way of being in the world: ‘becoming an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that ripples out to all of those around us'” (274).

At the very end of the book, as Archbishop Tutu is leaving Dharamsala, he is invited to address the future readers of the book, and offer them a blessing. This is what he says–and it is a lovely blessing and invitation to all of us.

Dear Child of God, you are loved with a love that nothing can shake, a love that loved you long before you were created, a love that will be here long after everything has disappeared. You are precious, with a preciousness that is totally quite immeasurable….God, who is forever pouring out God’s whole being from all eternity, wants you to flourish. God wants you to be filled with joy and excitement and ever longing to be able to find what is so beautiful in God’s creation: the compassion of so many, the caring, the sharing. And God says, Please, my child, help me. Help me to spread love and laughter and joy and compassion. And you know what, my child? As you do this – hey, presto – you discover joy. Joy, which you had not sought, comes as a gift, as almost a reward for this non-self-regarding caring for others (298).

I hope this book will leave you with more hope, and a sense of greater responsibility rooted in genuine concern for others’ well-being [The Dalai Lama, 298].

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