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Positive Summer Reading: ‘The Book of Joy’

Archbishop Desmond Tutu talks to the Dalai Lama.

Summer reading, The Book of Joy by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama may represent very different faith traditions—Archbishop Tutu is the retired Anglican leader of South Africa, and the Dalai Lama is the exiled leader of the Tibetan Buddhism—but they have much in common. For one thing, they have both persevered through immense life challenges and emerged with their faith intact.

They also have profound, personal and abiding senses of joy, which they met to discuss in 2015. The fruits of their conversation are chronicled in The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (Avery, 2016), which is powerful summer reading for anyone who is looking for insight on this eternal question: How do we find joy in the face of suffering? 

The book is peppered with wisdom from scientific research on happiness and positive psychology, provided by writer Douglas Abrams. It is also rich with the inspiring insights of the faith leaders, For example, the pair both distinguish between “joy” and “happiness,” with the latter being an enduring state of mind, while the former is a temporary emotional state.

But what is so remarkable about the two religious leaders is the way they are able to experience joy not by avoiding the negative realities of the world, but by facing them with courage and, more importantly, compassion. This mindset worked for them in the contexts of living in exile or challenging apartheid, but it also applies to each of us in our daily struggles and challenges, big and small.

The key, reflected in story after story told by the two leaders, is to always hold personal pain and suffering inside the broader notion of universal pain and suffering. For example, when the Dalai Lama considers his people’s plight as refugees, he feels worried. But when he considers other refugee communities around the world, his anguish decreases. “When we look at the same event from a wider perspective, we will reduce the worrying and our own suffering,” he says.

This is a complex idea, and it challenges the premise of the highly individualized society in which we live. It asks us to let go of our personal pain by focusing on how our struggles unite us with the broader humanity.

Is this a challenge you can accept? Might it help you walk your positive path? I would love to hear from you if you have read The Book of Joy.

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