Book Reviews

Book review: The Book of Joy


The Book of Joy: Finding Happiness in a Changing World is the product of a week-long series of discussions between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, facilitated by author Douglas Abrams, who has frequently collaborated with Archbishop Tutu.  The meetings were held at the Dalai Lama’s residence-in-exile in Dharamsala, India.

Much of the book is presented as a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu.  Translation services for the Dalai Lama were provided by Thupten Jinpa, whose book A Fearless Heart I recently reviewed.  The dialogues were easy to follow, with a beautiful simplicity underpinned by profound wisdom.  The short chapters break the book into small tidbits that are manageable even if concentration is a challenge for the reader.

The photos included speak volumes.  On the front cover is a close-up of the two grinning at each other.  On the back cover is a shot of them busting a move.  In the small photo on the book’s spine, the two are hand in hand.  Abrams observed that “one of the most stunning aspects of the week was how much of it was spent laughing”

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu dancing

Despite practicing two different religions, there was much commonality between the two, which is a positive example in a world where too often religion is used as an excuse to divide people.  What really stands out is their capacity for compassion, forgiveness, and joy despite the hardships that both they and their people have endured.  In a modern world that seems plagued by intolerance and fanaticism, the Dalai Lama identifies education and wider contact as the key solutions, along with love, which “is really the practice at the core of all the world’s religions.”

Joy as described not as happiness but as something much deeper, a distinction that resonated with me (I recently blogged about my concerns regarding the idea of happiness as a choice).  Archbishop Tutu said “Joy is much bigger than happiness.  While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.”  He described joy as arising from natural human weakness rather than despite it.  The Dalai Lama finds joy in kindness and compassion, and remembering the interrelatedness and interdependence of all things.

The Dalai Lama likened mental health to immunity, an analogy that resonated with me: “If your mental health is sound, then when disturbances come, you will have some distress but quickly recover.  If your mental health is not good, then small problems will cause you much suffering.”  He suggested that stress and anxiety can arise from expectations of how life should be rather than acceptance that things are the way they are.

I was moved by Archbishop Tutu’s observation that “Resignation and cynicism are easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hope.  To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.”  Mental illness can make hope seem impossible sometimes, and it’s encouraging to see someone who demonstrates as much hope as Archbishop Tutu acknowledge how challenging it can be.

I’ve recently blogged about trying to find forgiveness, and it was interesting to read the words of two leaders who believe so strongly in the power of forgiveness.  The Dalai Lama emphasized the importance of differentiating between the actor and action, so it is the human being who committed the action that is being forgiven rather than the action itself.

Archbishop Tutu stated that “Without forgiveness we remain tethered to the person that harmed us.  Until we can forgive [them], that person will hold the keys to our happiness, that person will be our own jailor.  When we forgive, we take back control of our own fate and our feelings.  We become our own liberator.”  Archbishop Tutu has laid out a fourfold path of forgiveness, and has developed a Global Forgiveness Challenge at

Drawing together the elements of their discussions over the week, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu identified eight pillars of joy.  Four involved the mind: perspective, humility, humour, and acceptance.  The other four involved the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.  These pillars are all described as active rather than passive practices, and areas where people can grow and develop.  While Christian and Buddhist examples are drawn on, the concepts are those that bring all us together as human beings rather than divide us.  At the end of the book, there is a section devoted to meditative and other practices focused both inward and expanding outward in order to build joy.

This book is uplifting, with much attention given to our shared humanity.  Joy is immediately apparent in the relationship between the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop and as a reader one can learn not only from what they have to say but how they relate to one another.  The Book of Joy is well worth a read.

The Book of Joy is available on Amazon.

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