Why Everyone Should Read 'The Book of Joy'

Throughout their week-long conservation, the two moral leaders continually reminded each other to "act like holy men," as they giggled and relentlessly teased one another. . (Photo: Human Journey/Vimeo)

Two of the world's spiritual heavyweights, the Dalai Lama and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, recently got together for a week-long collaboration to share with the world their secret to a happy life. Their discussions touched on many of the issues facing the world today — war, poverty, social injustice, natural disasters, etc. — but their conversation didn't focus on them entirely. Rather, the message these two men wanted to share with the world was that of joy, specifically finding joy in ourselves and spreading joy to others.

"The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World," coauthored by Douglas Abrams, allows us to listen in on the conversation between these two Nobel Peace Prize laureates as they discuss what they consider the most important message for humanity today: that we all need to find joy in order to "find lasting happiness in an ever-changing, often aching, world."

One a Buddhist and the other a retired anglican archbishop, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu approach their morality from two seemingly different yet remarkably similar places. Because they both know that it doesn't matter if you're Christian, or Buddhist, or Jewish, or Hindu or atheist, if you're human then you yearn for happiness. And most of the obstacles to that happiness are those that we place upon ourselves.

"Sadly, many of the things that undermine our joy and happiness we create ourselves. Often it comes from the negative tendencies of the mind, emotional reactivity, or from our inability to appreciate and utilize the resources that exist within us," said the Dalai Lama. "The suffering from a natural disaster we cannot control, but the suffering from our daily disasters we can."

At its core, the message of "The Book of Joy" is one we have heard time and time again — that money cannot buy happiness. And that in order to truly find happiness, we need to cultivate joy within ourselves and find ways to spread that joy to the other 7 billion or so people with whom we share the planet.

That these two men can find joy when they have witnessed first-hand the pain and suffering of the world is itself a testament to their approach. "What the Dalai Lama and I are offering," said Archbishop Tutu, "is a way of handling your worries: Thinking about others."

It's as simple as that. When you are joyful, spread that joy. When you are sad, frustrated, or angry, think about others who are in a similar situation or maybe even those who you feel are the cause of your situation. Think of them as fellow humans and how you might be able to help them achieve happiness.

"When we see others as separate, they become a threat. When we see others as part of us, as connected, as interdependent, then there is no challenge we cannot face — together," said the archbishop.

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu stress the importance of compassion and generosity in our efforts to find joy but they also remind us of the need to seek justice even while we attempt to forgive our enemies and use our anger as a tool to help others who are being harmed.

"What can you do to help change the situation? You might not be able to do a great deal, but start where you are and do what you can where you are. And yes, be appalled. It would be awful if we looked on all of that horrendousness and we said, 'Ah it doesn't really matter,'" noted Archbishop Tutu.

Perhaps the most surprising revelation in "The Book of Joy" is the inside look we get at these two holy men, who at times must remind each other to act like holy men, as you can see in the video at top. Both are mischievous and silly, and their banter back and forth with one another is clearly indicative of a long-lasting and loving friendship. "When a Dalai Lama and an archbishop walk into a bar, you don't expect them to the the ones cracking the jokes," Abrams notes.

It's not possible to include every nugget of wisdom that the Dalai Lama and archbishop have shared in "The Book of Joy" in this one meager post. But if I can leave you with one thought on why we should embrace joy in an age entrenched in so much sadness, it's this quote from Archbishop Tutu:

"To choose hope is to step firmly into the howling wind, baring one's chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass."