5 Lessons from The Book of Joy

This has become one of my most recommended books to coaching clients, leaders, friends, and family. The Book of Joy chronicled a week of conversations between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Dharamsala, India to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday. The two spiritual leaders discussed joy based on the similarities and differences in their spiritual traditions and lifetimes facing hardship, violent oppression, and genocide. Douglas Abrams participated in the conversations as a journalist, asking questions and providing the readers with background information on the two leaders and connections to scientific research and evidence related to joy, suffering, meaning, and perspective. Here are some key takeaways for mindful leadership.

1. Joy

These two spiritual leaders use the term joy over happiness. For them, happiness is superficial and fleeting, while joy includes meaning and connection. Other authors have defined these terms differently, but discussed the same concepts. In The Book of Joy they describe hedonic happiness as fleeting and only positive states as opposed to eudaimonic happiness is set in an understanding of meaning, growth, and acceptance – including negative emotions. What is important here is to be clear that what we are seeking is not superficial and fleeting but also deep and meaningful over time.

2. Anger

A topic that has interested me more and more, particularly its connection to fighting for injustice, is anger. In The Book of Joy we are reminded that anger is a secondary emotion, usually with fear, hurt, pain, and injustice underlying the anger. If you work at dissipating the anger but the underlying emotions remain, your efforts will be futile. I’ve resonated with Robert Thurman and Sharon Salzberg differentiating between anger of resentment and retaliation and the anger of fierce compassion. In The Book of Joy they describe righteous anger as anger that is chosen in support of others and a tool of justice and compassion as opposed to a reactive emotion that is about the self.

3. Acceptance

I’m talking with coaching clients and others more and more about the power of radical acceptance. Joy is our natural state, the challenge is to return to it. Our own sadness is critical to our own empathy and compassion. Loss can also foster growth and learning or it can result in despair and depression. Focusing on you and what you have lost can result in despair and depression. On the other hand focusing on the one you have lost can lead to growth and learning. Grief is a reminder of the depth of our love.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear but the triumph over it.

-Nelson Mandela

4. Suffering

Suffering comes from how we relate to each other. Envy, competitiveness, and contempt. We do need suffering to appreciate joy and grow and learn. Suffering can embitter or ennoble. The difference is if we can find meaning in our suffering. A great example of finding meaning in suffering is Nelson Mandela who found meaning and growth in prison. Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama are examples of this as they explore throughout their conversations.

5. 8 Pillars of Joy

The culmination of The Book of Joy is the outlining of 8 Pillars of Joy. I keep returning to these pillars in thinking about my challenges, suffering, and attempts to return to joy.

  1. Perspective – Taking a sacred pause and finding the widest perspective helps us solve problems with creativity and compassion rather than rigidity and reactivity.
  2. Humility – Discover how you depend on others – your parents, those who made your clothes, or where you live, or the medications you take. You are only one of 7 billion people.
  3. Humor – Find ways to laugh at your faults, limitations, and foibles. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at life.
  4. Acceptance – Don’t argue with what was or is. Don’t argue with reality. “Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied? What is the use of being unhappy if it cannot be remedied?”
  5. Forgiveness – Tell your story. Name the hurt. Grant forgiveness. Renew or release the relationship.
  6. Gratitude – Be thankful for what goes well and the learning and growth possible when things don’t go well.
  7. Compassion – Loving kindness: May you be free from suffering. May you be healthy. May you be happy. May you have peace and joy. Begin with yourself, then those you love, then those you know, then those you don’t know, and then those you fear or anger you.
  8. Generosity – Offer more and more and more to others (resources, compassion, forgiveness, understanding) and see what comes back to you.

Here is a mind map my friend and colleague Natalie Allen made based on her reading of The Book of Joy and some of my notes. I love how Natalie can take the key concepts and bring them to life visually so well.

positivity, attention, joy, negativity, happiness, appreciation, humor, acceptance, gratitude, compassion, generosity
The Book Of Joy
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