Resources in Resilience: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams NY: 2016
Reviewed by Steve Hardy, One Summit Contributor
“Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” So goes an old adage quoted in this book. In many ways, it is central to our understanding of resilience and to One Summit’s mission. All of us must bear the stings of life, including disease, serious injuries, and the deaths of loved ones. Some endure more than others. We will naturally grieve our losses, but we need not stay fixed in despair. As disabled Army veteran D.J. Skelton put it (quoted in our blog on Upside: The New Science of Post-Traumatic Growth): “I can either dwell on what happened and be miserable and pissy and complain…Or I can look at what I do have left ... and figure out how to make the most of my new life .... how to make what I have work while always looking for creative ways to make up the difference."
The Dalai Lama and Reverend Desmond Tutu have notably chosen the second path. While escaping serious personal injury, both had to watch great pain and suffering among their people in Tibet and South Africa. Both have spent their adult lives spreading a gospel of resilience and joy. For their efforts, both men have won the Nobel Peace Prize.
This book builds from discussions they had in 2015, when Tutu flew to the Dalai Lama’s residence-in-exile in India, to help his friend celebrate an eightieth birthday. Co-author Douglas Abrams skillfully weaves a compelling narrative with their dialogue, bits of Buddhist and Christian wisdom, and results from research in psychology and neuroscience. Abrams organizes their five days of discussion into three main sections of chapters. These are: the nature of joy, obstacles to joy, and the eight pillars of joy.
The first section includes a key chapter titled “Nothing beautiful comes without some suffering.” As many religions suggest, suffering can be a caldron or a “vale” for personal growth and happiness. As one psychologist notes “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.” Much of the book focuses on these factors.
Being fixed in suffering is one of the “obstacles to joy” that include fear, frustration, sadness, despair, loneliness, and envy. Tutu and Dalai Lama have overcome many obstacles, but despite their international stature, both men put humility as a first condition to living a fulfilling life. Their needling of each other, and their self-deprecation, is an endearing feature of the book. And as it turns out, humility is one of the eight Pillars of Joy, the bulk of the book’s chapters. Four are qualities of the mind: perspective, humility, humor, and acceptance. Four are qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. Each gets separate treatment.
The book ends with a 40-page appendix filled with clearly written instructions for a range of meditations, prayers, and practices designed to help any reader develop “mental immunity” from negative thoughts and build a foundation for a more joyful life. These include: morning intention setting, journaling for gratitude, compassion meditation, Tibetan practices in Logon and Tonglen. I have shared some of these at grief support meetings—with very positive responses.
The more I read about grief and resilience, the more I see overlaps in concepts. For instance, in section one, the Dalai Lama says “when you experience some tragic situation, think about it. If there’s no way to overcome the tragedy, then there is no use worrying too much. So, I practice that… if something can be done about the situation, what need is therefore dejection? And if nothing can be done about it, what use is there for being dejected?” That reads to me like Upside’s notion of deliberate rumination, so well expressed by D.J. Skelton: actively processing the traumatic event with an eye on “going forward.” Likewise, the pillars of perspective and generosity overlap with Upside’s “tools” of relying on others, both to give and receive help. The more we engage with others working through grief, the more perspective we gain and the more we help ourselves. These overlaps between social science and faith traditions are cause for optimism and belief that all of us, no matter how much life throws our way, can be resilient. It just takes educated practice. One Summit strives to be part of this practice.