Many years ago, two good friends sat down and decided to have a week-long conversation about the nature of joy. This unlikely pairing endured a great amount of suffering, but were known throughout the world for their cheerfulness and love of life in spite of what they’ve endured.

These two good friends happened to be the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and their conversations have been compiled into a famous book known as the Book of Joy.

Today, I will be sharing about what I’ve learned from this book.

2020 has been a rollercoaster for all of us. You could be a young adult that has recently graduated, scrabbling to find a job in the midst of this socioeconomic chaos.

You could be a full-fledged working adult, living in constant fear over your career, trying to stay calm in the midst of one of the largest recessions in history.

You could be a business owner, agonising over the state of your company and making your ends meet, while paying your workers.

In times of such chaos, uncertainty and vulnerability, the need to re-examine ourselves and focus on our well-being grows stronger than ever.

In other words, it's time to re-think what it means for us to be happy. It is also time for us to rethink our means of attaining happiness.

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As we look forward to the beginning of 2021, what should we do to find joy and contentment, regardless of our circumstances? What kind of mindset do we need to adopt so that we can weather the storm and simultaneously smile?

"From the moment of birth, every human being wants to discover happiness and avoid suffering. No differences in our culture or our education or our religion affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire joy and contentment. But so often these feelings are fleeting and hard to find, like a butterfly that lands on us and then flutters away.” — Dalai Lama XIV

What is Happiness, Really?

In the book, there are important distinctions to be made between joy and happiness. Happiness is thought to be a transient emotion. It is also externally derived. Happiness is something you experience while eating your favourite ice cream. Perhaps it is that small leap in your heart when you see your pay check coming in at the beginning of every month.

Happiness is very pleasant, and it is something we all would like to have.

However, we cannot only rely on such temporary feelings. Especially since they are so dependent on external factors.

Instead, what we want to have is joyfulness. Joyfulness is a state that is not dependent on external circumstances.

Joy can be defined as a state of tranquility and contentment. It is the byproduct of a life well lived.

It’s something you experience when you learn to step outside of yourself and see things from a larger perspective.

“The three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.” – Dalai Lama XIV

The 8 Pillars of Joy

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How then, can we strive to attain joy? Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama have deduced that there are 8 pillars that build the foundation for joy. They are as follows:

1. Perspective

Learn to see things in different perspectives, not just your own. In changing the way you view the world, we change the way we behave. In changing the way we behave, we change the situation we are in. We alter our circumstances.

For instance, if you’re constantly pessimistic and anxious about not holding on to your job, you’re going to find yourself less motivated and enthusiastic about finding other jobs, which will in turn negatively affect your career prospects. If you’re wallowing in heartbreak, you’re pushing away the people you could have otherwise had meaningful connections with.

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2. Humility

"If you live with fear and consider yourself as something special then automatically, emotionally, you are distanced from others. You then create the basis for feelings of alienation from others and loneliness.” — Dalai Lama XIV

Don’t see yourself as somebody that is above others. In doing so , you are isolating yourself and making yourself miserable. We are, biologically speaking,  social creatures. Celebrate your connection to others, and the world round you. Learn to celebrate the gifts of others, not just your own. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings with the ultimate desire of being happy.

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3. Humor

"Laugh at yourself and don’t be so pompous and serious. If you start looking for the humor in life, you will find it. You will stop asking, Why me? and start recognizing that life happens to all of us. It makes everything easier, including your ability to accept others and accept all that life will bring.” — Dalai lama XIV

Being able to laugh and see the humour in situations is important. Life is absurd, and there’s always something to laugh about if you allow yourself to do so. Laughter not only makes you feel good, it also helps bring people together.

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4. Acceptance

"When we accept what is happening now, we can be curious about what might happen next.” — Dalai Lama XIV

In order to do something about our circumstances, we first need to accept them. We can’t make any meaningful changes to the world if we're in denial of what state the world is in. Accepting your circumstances doesn’t mean resignation or defeat. On the contrary, it means that we should do what we can to the best of the ability. The point is to do so without being extremely fixated on what you think the end result will be.

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5. Forgiveness

“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 Desmond Tutu

Bearing grudges can take a toll on you. Learn to forgive those who have harmed you. Do so not because what they did to you was acceptable; but for your own sake, because you don’t deserve to be emotionally shackled by your grudges. Forgiveness allows us to heal, move on and renew ourselves.

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6. Gratitude

"The most important quality to have toward your day is gratitude for what you have experienced, even for what was hard and what allowed you to learn and grow.”  — Dalai Lama XIV

Gratitude helps us appreciate and celebrate every living moment. Capitalism has resulted in the endless pursuit of materialism. This is problematic because we’re never truly satisfied with anything. The second we attain something we’ve been coveting, we’re already moving on and pursuing the next best thing on our list! It’s a never-ending cycle.

Rather than focusing on what we don’t have, we can choose instead to embrace and be thankful of what we already do have.

Be thankful of even the experiences that tried you, because they’ve made you who you are today and helped you grow.

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7. Compassion

“In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life. So that is what I call wise selfishness.”  — Dalai Lama XIV

Having empathy and contributing to the happiness of others has been scientifically proven to make you feel good. In helping others in need, you are inadvertently helping yourself.

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8. Generosity

“We are wired to be caring for the other and generous to one another. We shrivel when we are not able to interact. I mean that is part of the reason why solitary confinement is such a horrendous punishment.” — Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Compassion is a state of being, while generosity is compassion in action. In thinking beyond our own wants and needs and extending that same care to others, we learn to step outside of ourselves and see the bigger picture. In a way, it helps us to distance ourselves from our own concerns and worries.

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That concludes a summary of the 8 Pillars of Joy, as defined by Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Personally, I found myself moved by their content. The idea of joyfulness they endorse is one that is sustainable and intrinsically-derived. Moreover, sustainable notions of happiness is what we need right now, more than anything.