Douglas Carlton Abrams, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, 2016
Two special events were arranged in Dharamsala in the spring of 2015 to help the Dalai Lama celebrate his eightieth birthday. The 2000 children of the Tibetan Children’s Village, the school for Tibetan children in exile in India, prepared singing, storytelling, and their leaders got a large, multi-layered cake. At the same time arrangements were made for Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa to visit for several days so he and the Dalai Lama could discuss joy, for a book they planned to offer as their gift to the world.
It is the latter event which is the subject of this book. It’s significance is that two of the greatest spiritual leaders of our modern world, who have become fast friends, collaborated on this project. The arrangement was that each day they met for several hours to discuss questions presented to them by Douglas Abrams, the man who arranged all of this. Their responses and discussion were recorded and turned into The Book of Joy, the discussions were videotaped and some put online, and an audiobook was produced.
It is the audiobook that I read/listened to. What makes it special is that while they do not have the actual voices of these two men, they have their responses and comments narrated each by a narrator unique to and sounding somewhat like them, meaning the one has a British accent and the other speaks English sounding like the Dalai Lama, only more understandable. It makes for delightful listening.
They spent the first day discussing The Nature of True Joy, the second and third days on The Obstacles to Joy, and days four and five discussing what they call The Eight Pillars of Joy:
1. Perspective: There Are Many Different Angles
2. Humility: I Tried to Look Humble and Modest
3. Humor: Laughter, Joking Is Much Better
4. Acceptance: The Only Place Where Change Can Begin
5. Forgiveness: Freeing Ourselves from the Past
6. Gratitude: I Am Fortunate to Be Alive
7. Compassion: Something We Want to Become
8. Generosity: We Are Filled with Joy
In addition to their discussion and thoughts, Abrams brings in and cites the academic research which supports many of the points.
Among their observations are the following:
“I say to people that I’m not an optimist, because that, in a sense, is something that depends on feelings more than the actual reality. We feel optimistic, or we feel pessimistic. Now, hope is different in that it is based not on the ephemerality of feelings but on the firm ground of conviction. I believe with a steadfast faith that there can never be a situation that is utterly, totally hopeless. Hope is deeper and very, very close to unshakable. It’s in the pit of your tummy. It’s not in your head. It’s all here,” he said, pointing to his abdomen. “Despair”
― Dalai Lama
“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. When it comes to personal happiness there is a lot that we as individuals can do.”
― Dalai Lama
“Much depends on your attitude. If you are filled with negative judgment and anger, then you will feel separate from other people. You will feel lonely. But if you have an open heart and are filled with trust and friendship, even if you are physically alone, even living a hermit’s life, you will never feel lonely.”
― Desmond Tutu
“You know, when Nelson Mandela went to jail he was young and, you could almost say, bloodthirsty. He was head of the armed wing of the African National Congress, his party. He spent twenty-seven years in jail, and many would say, Twenty-seven years, oh, what a waste. And I think people are surprised when I say no, the twenty-seven years were necessary. They were necessary to remove the dross. The suffering in prison helped him to become more magnanimous, willing to listen to the other side. To discover that the people he regarded as his enemy, they too were human beings who had fears and expectations. And they had been molded by their society. And so without the twenty-seven years I don’t think we would have seen the Nelson Mandela with the compassion, the magnanimity, the capacity to put himself in the shoes of the other.
“From the moment of birth, every human being wants to discover happiness and avoid suffering. No differences in our culture or our education or our religion affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire joy and contentment. But so often these feelings are fleeting and hard to find, like a butterfly that lands on us and then flutters away.
― Dalai Lama
“We are fragile creatures, and it is from this weakness, not despite it, that we discover the possibility of true joy.”
― Desmond Tutu
Suffering is inevitable, they said, but how we respond to that suffering is our choice. Not even oppression or occupation can take away this freedom to choose our response.
You can get the book itself at Amazon, or a number of other sources.