The Book of Joy—Lasting Happiness in a Changing World: His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams

Published by Hutchinson, 2016, 368 pages.

“No dark fate determines the future. We do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and re-create our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet. This is the power we wield. …

“We are sharing what two friends, from very different worlds, have witnessed and learned in our long lives. We hope you will discover whether what is included here is true by applying it in your own life.”    

How do we live in joy? Life is not always easy: much of the world continues to be in turmoil. Can we live through adversity and still find ways to see the good around us?

This is the question that forms the core of a week-long discussion between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In 2015, Archbishop Tutu travelled to Dharamshala for the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. With Douglas Abrams, who acts as moderator, the two men share what they have learned in their lives.

This is a book filled with hard-won wisdom. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu have seen human nature at its worst and have lived through some very difficult times. Yet they are both truly joyous, easily moved to laughter, and full of compassion for others. How do they do it?

What the two men talk about is not the fleeting emotion of happiness, which is dependent on external circumstances, or a belief that having the right partner or job, or a perfect house or new car, would lead to happiness. Joy goes beyond this. It is a way of being, of understanding that we are one with those with whom we share the planet, and of realizing that we have the power within us to make our small corner of the world a bit better, a little less negative.

Neither men wear rose-tinted glasses: they see the world as it is, with the good and the bad. Neither of them is a saint: they, too, have negative emotions. But it is how they deal with these emotions that sets them apart. And therein lies the real lesson.

Take forgiveness, for example. Forgiveness is important, more for us than for the person we forgive. You cannot control the other person, says Archbishop Tutu. Forgiveness may not necessarily heal your relationship. The important thing is that it will change you.

This sounds hard to do, but the book has many moving stories about those who have lived through the unimaginable, such as torture, and the murder of loved ones. But these people managed to move beyond their anger and grief, and through forgiveness, have found some peace. At the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held in South Africa after apartheid, people faced their torturers and those who had killed their loved ones—and forgave them. The Dalai Lama tells of his friend, a Tibetan monk, who was arrested by the Chinese when the Dalai Lama had to flee to India. The monk was sent to a camp where he was brutally tortured. Through all this, his biggest worry was that he would lose his compassion for his Chinese guards.

The practice of forgiveness and the other lessons in this book are not easy, and require determination. To help the reader, there are exercises at the end of the book.

The book has three layers: the Dalai Lama’s and Archbishop Tutu’s teachings on joy; the science on joy; and the interactions between the two men during their week together in Dharamshala.

This book was never meant to be about religion or even belief. It is meant for everyone.

The important thing to remember—and something both the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu emphasize—is that negative stories in the media are aberrations. The little kindnesses that can change someone’s day, or even their lives, are hardly ever written about. And yet, these deeds happen all the time.

I learned a lot from this book. I also enjoyed the easy relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop. They are old friends and share not just a sense of compassion and understanding but also a sense of humour and mischief, which sometimes made me chuckle.

I deeply admire these two men—they are among my heroes. It is their sense of hope, positivity and strength that I respect: the strength of those who have been through adversities and come through with their humanity intact. We all know what it is like to go through dark times, and just how hard it is to stay positive and hold on to your beliefs, whatever they may be.

“Adversity, illness, and death are real and inevitable. We choose whether to add to these   unavoidable facts of life with the suffering we create in our own minds and hearts… . The more we make a different choice, to heal our own suffering, the more we can turn to others and help to address their suffering… . And the more we turn away from our self-regard to wipe the tears from the eyes of another, the more—incredibly—we are able to bear, to heal, and to transcend our own suffering. This was their true secret to joy.”

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2 thoughts on “The Book of Joy—Lasting Happiness in a Changing World: His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams

    1. suroor alikhan

      Thanks, Sonia. A friend lent it to me and now I want my own copy so I can underline it! So much wisdom in it,

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