When was the last time you stopped to think about what truly makes you happy?
Many of us have been caught up in our day-to-day busy lives. And the unfortunate truth behind this never ending "hustle" is that most people today misunderstand what joy really means and how we should go about finding joy for ourselves. It is far deeper than just accumulating wealth, recognition, and material possessions.
"The Book of Joy - Lasting Happiness in a Changing World"
"The Book of Joy - Lasting Happiness in a Changing World" by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams takes us through the thoughts of the 2 spiritual leaders, Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, and their conversations through how they believe people can achieve lasting happiness in this ever-changing world. As recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their core contribution as spiritual and moral leaders, they share their accumulated wisdom and discuss one of life's most fundamental questions, "How do we find joy and light amidst so much darkness and suffering?"
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The series of conversations that occurs explores the nature of true joy, how negative emotions become obstacles to joy, and the eight pillars that strengthen our capacity to feel joy.
What is Joy?
In their week-long conversations, Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu both come to an agreement that joy is a state of being rather than a fleeing feeling. Compared to happiness, a more transient emotion, joy resides deep in the mind and heart, making it more encompassing than happiness.
The leaders found happiness to be largely dependent upon external circumstances, while joy does not. Finding joy leads to true satisfaction and finding meaning, because it's constant and cultivated from within.
How is Joy Different from Happiness?
The spiritual leaders explain happiness as a fleeting emotion, and joy as a lasting state of existence.
Joy is a state of mind of satisfaction, happiness and well-being and a long-lasting state that comes from within. So, it is not dependent on external circumstances or possessions. Therefore, we can choose to feel joyful even amid our sufferings.
On the other hand, happiness is the fleeing state of being happy or showing pleasure or contentment. Thus, happiness is not a permanent state and usually lasts for a short period. At the same time, pleasure can come and go in seconds.
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According to the Archbishop, "Every day we have the opportunity to create, and re-create our lives. This is the power we yield. No dark fate determines our future". He states that people would not be able to find lasting joy in any accomplishment, or in fame and fortune. They arrive at the agreement that joy itself, is not the goal either. Rather, we should strive to achieve joy as a by-product of living life in accordance with our values, and through reducing unnecessary suffering.
How we Choose To Process Suffering
Adversity, illness and death are real and inevitable. We chose whether to add to these unavoidable facts of life with the suffering that we create in our minds and hearts; the chosen suffering. The more we make a different choice from healing our suffering, the more we can turn to others, and choose to address their suffering as well. And the more we turn away from our self-regard to wipe the tears from others, the more we can hear, heal and transcend our own suffering. And this is the secret to joy.
One of the key things is to understand that fear and frustration are facets of the mind, and not of reality. You don't have to let these emotions control your life, and if you wish to, you can find joy in any situation. We cannot control many things that will cause suffering our lives, like losing loved ones, economic struggles, sickness. But the one thing we can control is how we choose to react to them. We can contribute to how much or how little it affects or adds to our happiness.
Suffering as a Tool
The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu also agree that all life involves suffering, and avoiding suffering is undesiring. The view suffering as a useful learning tool, and that joy cannot be truly understood and appreciated if you do not understand suffering.
Suffering allows you to understand the importance of empathy, and allows you to understand how others have suffered. They both agree that when we suffer, we must shift our focus away from ourselves and onto place it on others.
The Eight Pillars of Joy
“For every event in life, there are many different angles.” - Dalai Lama
Humans are social creatures in an interconnected world. Realizing and acknowledging that various perspectives exist, and understanding their validity turns “I” in to “we”. The frustration that comes with living a life of “I,” makes lasting joy almost impossible.
When you’re facing and experiencing emotions like stress or sadness, shifting your perspective and having the bigger picture in mind will help you realize how tiny what you’re dealing with actually is; a very powerful coping tool.
Broadening your worldview and looking at situations from a different perspective from yours will also open you up to the lives and perspectives of other people. When you're willing to understand and maybe even experience other peoples' suffering and hardships, it will remind us that we are not alone in our personal difficulties. It also teaches compassion towards others who may be going through a similar hardship to yours. A broader, more matured perspective will allow you to see the world in a larger way, and open up the door for joy to come into your life.
"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
Seeing yourself as superior, or greater than the people around you will ultimately rob you of true happiness. Feeling this way and looking down on others separates you, makes you feel as if you must act a certain way, and forces you to strive harder to maintain this air of superiority. This takes up a lot of energy. Instead, strive to truly appreciate the people around you as equals. Being humble in this manner, reminding yourself that you’re just one of many, also reminds you that we’re all in this together.
When we foster humility, we would have a much easier time being open to the opinions of others. Through this, we can realize our own limitations as well, and continue learning and growing. Joy and satisfaction can be derived this way.
“After working with a number of spiritual leaders, I am tempted to say that a sense of humor is a universal indicator of spiritual elevation.” - Douglas Abrams
Fostering the special ability to laugh, at life’s troubles as well as at ourselves themselves, and not taking ourselves too seriously can alleviate some dark emotions and feelings.
Humor, one that does not mock or belittle other people, has the ability to bring people together and diffuse tense situations. Humor shows us our shared ridiculousness, and like humility and perspective, it can help us coexist peacefully with others.
Not only this, but studies on humor are beginning to show that laughter boosts the immune system, relaxes the body, and protects the heart by lowering stress hormones which cause destructive inflammation.
Laughter is a respite from pain, and the ability to find humor in any situation helps us maintain the joy that so many of us need in our lives.
"When we accept what is happening now, we can be curious about what might happen next.” — Dalai Lama
Humor and jokes are unique to us as a species, and it seems to be a very instinctual thing to use humor as a means of gaining acceptance, as well as a means of accepting difficult realities.
Acceptance is also an indication of elevation in spiritual life. This state is about going with the flow of life instead of constantly being in opposition with reality. When you accept, you get to see clearly and react to life in more appropriate ways. In combination with the pillar of perspective, acceptation is also powerful to see the goodness in everything that happens.
When we accept what happens to us, you can be more curious, open and trustful of the future.
“Forgiveness is the only way to heal and release the past and free ourselves from it." - Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Forgiveness is the understanding that holding onto anger doesn’t solve anything, it doesn’t hurt anyone except for you. Importantly, forgiveness does not mean that you have to accept bad actions or toxic people in your life. It is crucial to condemn and stop the bad action, and to protect ourselves from certain peoples’ destructiveness. But at the same time, it is key that we do not feed or fuel hate for the person who committed it.
We can also develop forgiveness by looking at the situation or the context that promoted a "bad" action. More than individuals themselves, circumstances can feed anger and ignorance. Shifting our focus from the bad action to the history that led to it allows to look at our enemies with compassion.
Forgiveness also makes way for us to heal, move on and renew ourselves. Bearing grudges can have an impact on you. Learn to forgive those who have wronged you; not because what they did to you was acceptable, but because you don’t deserve to be emotionally shackled by your grudges.
“Gratitude is the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life that we have and the moment that we are experiencing.” - Douglas Abrams
Gratitude is fundamental to joy. It, quite literally, allows us to generate our own happiness. Being grateful allows us to shift our focus from what we lack to what we have. If acceptance is not fighting reality, gratitude means embracing it, counting blessings rather than burdens.
Gratitude also connects us to the people around us. When we are grateful, we remember all of those who help make our happiness possible and bring goodness into our lives. We, then, are able to recognize those people, and enjoy them despite their differences. In this way, we can be made joyful by the world and people around us, instead of finding ourselves filled with anger and despair.
Appreciate and celebrate every living moment with gratitude, and you can make way for lasting joy.
“When we think of alleviating other people’s suffering, our own suffering is reduced. This is the true secret to happiness.” - Dalai Lama
Compassion is what connects having empathy to the acts of kindness and generosity that we perform. Even when we are in a moment of distress, asking “how can I help you?” transforms our pain into peace and happiness.
Compassion is also contagious; witnessing a compassionate act also elevates us morally. Compassion should then be directed and expressed towards others.
But compassion should also be directed to ourselves; care for our own needs, and the acceptance of who we are with our qualities and weaknesses. Self-compassion does not mean we don’t have to expect highly of ourselves, but these times we fail to meet such expectations, to accept that we did our best and just learn the lesson. To treat ourselves as we would treat a good friend.
“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
In the book, the two leaders seem to agree wholeheartedly with each other that the true and most abundant source of lasting joy in life is to give to others. Research also shows that helping other people results in endorphin rushes in the brain, and leads to the understanding that we as humans find pleasure in being helpful and generous.
Give, and you will receive. This is how the flow of energy naturally goes. Generosity is the natural result of compassion, and neuroscience now demonstrates that generosity is one of the 4 fundamental neural circuits for long-term happiness. Generosity boosts both health and longevity.
How To Practice Joy
1. Understanding Your Perspective and Emotions
Our perspective on life largely determines our emotions and the state of our happiness. If we have a positive outlook on life, we are more likely to be happy.
Several things can influence our perspective, such as our family and friends playing a role in shaping our outlook. The Internet and social media also affect our mood. Being constantly bombarded with news stories and the highlight reels of the people around us can dampen our mood.
One of the best ways to change our view is to understand that we are not alone in our suffering- that we are part of the human narrative. We should avoid self-absorption and switch from “I” to “we”.
Also, a spirit of gratitude and spending time with positive people can help us change our gloomy outlook.
2. Helping Others
It feels great to help someone out in need or support a cause that has meaning for you. When performing an act of altruism, you get out of your head and into your heart. Acts of service remind you that life that is bigger than yourself and that there is more going on than what you see and experience on a daily basis.
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There are millions of ways to offer small acts of service that can bring joy to both others and ourselves. The key, again, is to be intentional about actually doing these things. Set a reminder on your phone. Add an event to your calendar. Find ways to remember to serve, so that over time doing these things becomes habitual.
In being able to share this gift, you build a greater sense of connection and belonging, something you can relate to as a basic need. Joy is often a side effect of what can happen when you are in the service of something greater than yourself.
3. Practicing Gratitude
Humans are thinking machines. But, consider that almost all your thoughts are the same thoughts you had yesterday! If you realize you need to make changes, you need to place some pattern interrupts in place. This is where practicing gratitude can be of great value.
Try writing or thinking about one to three things you are grateful for every day and make it something different each day. Take time each day to write down these things in a journal, from your morning cup of coffee to loved ones. Keeping a gratitude journal can help you gain perspective and identify the people, places, and things that bring you joy. This encourages you to start actively looking for things, people, and situations you are grateful for, which, in turn, starts to create desirous new thought patterns.
If you're looking for a place to do just this, explore Journey's Gratitude Journal template. List things you are grateful for in your day, take note of the positive things that happened, what you look forward to, and reflect on how your days can be better. With this template, intentional journaling and counting your blessings can be seamlessly integrated into your daily routine.
Unlike feelings of happiness or contentment, which can fluctuate depending on our circumstances, joy is something that we can experience all the time. Joy is a state of knowing that we are living fully and in community with others. It is a lightness that comes from having a sense of transcendent purpose and meaning to our lives.
Seek a more permanent sense of joy rather than fleeting happiness that is not always promised. Broaden your perspectives, act and speak with humility, laugh as much as you can, accept things and circumstances you can't change, forgive those you have erred you, be grateful, treat people with compassion, and give more than you can take. Cultivating these ways of being, knowing, and seeing will help you find true joy in life!