2017 Reading List: The Book of Joy

I read this book at the perfect time.

I had put a hold on a digital copy of The Book of Joy, by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams, months and months ago. I had no idea that this was such a sought-after book. I almost forgot about it, until one day, just before I left for vacation to Greece, I got an email saying the book had been downloaded to my account. Finally.

So I started my vacation to a new country, new culture, and new cities, with the words of two of the holiest, most compassionate people on the planet echoing in my mind.

“What is the purpose of life? After much consideration, I believe the purpose of life is to find happiness.” – Dalai Lama

This book was an account of one of the most remarkable meetings between world leaders that many could ever remember. It was a meeting between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday, but more importantly, to discuss joy.

This book answers the question, “In the face of personal, economic, political, natural and religious turmoil, how can one find joy?”

These two old friends meet, talk, and discuss the eight pillars of joy: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity. They talk about their perspective on these pillars and how if one can embody these values, one will find joy.

I think this book brought up a lot of poignant questions that we can ask ourselves – that I found myself asking throughout. Like, how can we be joyful when so many others are suffering? How can we be joyful when things in our life are not going the way we expected?

How can I be filled with joy when what I really want to do is scream?

There are no clear answers. There are no perfect instructions. These pillars are excellent guidelines: Keep your life and your situation in perspective; take a step back and look at the bigger picture; accept the place you’re in and the situation as it is, not as you wish it to be; find compassion for those around you, because they all have struggles we know nothing about; forgive others and more importantly, forgive yourself; be generous and kind; and always be grateful for what you have and each day you’re given.

Simple to say, difficult to practice. But that’s what it is – practice. The Dalai Lama points out that people are not born knowing how to do these things. These things take time.

When we were in Greece, I found new perspectives around every corner. Every person we encountered opened up my eyes to the openness, kindness, and generosity of strangers in a different country. Every experience we had expanded my worldview so that I could find more compassion for people with different opinions and customs. I practiced tolerance, I pushed my judgments aside, I found gratitude for the fact that I was so lucky to be touring Greece.

It was easy to do, when I was reading the book on vacation. Each chapter was like a daily reminder, each page contained a new mantra. Each new city, restaurant or neighborhood gave me ample opportunity to reflect.

I felt so much joy. But was that because I was on vacation and I could leave my worries and stresses behind, or was that because I focused on what I was learning in the book, and practiced these pillars of joy?

It’s much more difficult to remember how to find joy in everyday life. Life is generally repetitive. It’s full of media telling us that we don’t have enough or we don’t do enough or we aren’t enough. It’s full of stress, busyness, missed opportunities, disappointment, and sadness. It’s filled with news of natural disasters, prejudice, racism, sexism, violence, war, terrorism, and death. Life is the monotonous drone of 40 hour work weeks, not getting enough sleep, endless laundry, and too many hours of Netflix.

In all of that, where is the joy? This is what this book is about.

This book is a reminder that when you are tired of waking up early to go to work, be grateful you have a job and remember that there are many who can’t find work. It’s a reminder that when that person in traffic cuts you off, maybe they are on their way to a hospital to visit a sick relative. It’s a reminder that when you stress about not getting a raise or being able to go on that fancy vacation this year, you still have money in the bank and you were able to buy groceries this week. It’s a reminder that when life pushes you flat on your face, you can stand back up, laugh about it, and remember that we are all human.

This was the book I needed, right when I needed it. I hope you find that it’s there for you when you need those reminders too.

 

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