My Learnings from The Book of Joy

This past summer a good friend of mine bought me a copy of “The Book of Joy.”  In the last year I’d been getting into meditation/spirituality, and his wife had loved it.

While the book isn’t very long, it did take me a long time to read it for the simple reason that there is SO MUCH wisdom sprinkled throughout.   For those that don’t know, this book is basically a summary of a week of conversation between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.  It outlines many of their core philosophies.

There are a ton of great tidbits in this book for anyone with an open mind, and I highly suggest you go buy it if you’re at all curious.

I knew it’d be a worthwhile exercise for my own self to codify some (I can’t stress ‘some’ enough – this book is full of interesting and useful wisdom) of the key lessons that I took away, and thought “why not write them up on that blog I never post to!”

So, here are a few of the lessons I took away:

  • “The purpose of life is to find happiness” – The Dalai Lama says this in the opening part of the week, and I completely agree.  Of course, finding and pursuing happiness are quite different and will lead to divergent outcomes.  As is mentioned later in the book, happiness is a byproduct of generosity, compassion, self love, and a host of other worthy pursuits.  Pursuing it directly usually ends in distraction and a focus on things like fast cars or big boats.
  • Compassion = Happiness – Do you ever have one of those days where you strike up a genuine conversation with a stranger, or get to help out someone in need?  As the book says “If you develop a strong sense of concern for the well-being of others, this will make you happy in the morning, even before coffee.”  This is very true, and you can lean test it by smiling and saying hello to each person you meet with today – I guarantee you’ll notice the change in yourself.  Of course, you can supercharge your effort through generosity.
  • A grateful mind breeds happiness – Having a bad day?  Think of something you’re truly grateful for and focus on it.  Maybe it’s as trivial as how warm your coffee is, or maybe it’s something as important as your health.  Focusing on things we’re grateful for is transformative, and a worthwhile daily practice.
  • We’re all people – This is very related to the compassion point, but I wanted to write down a key consideration made throughout the book around the negative side of personal interactions.  Ever have a boss that is horrible, or have a run in with a bully?  Realistically, these people are critical because they see the world as critical, or aggressive because they are fragile.  Forgiveness and empathy, even to people who “don’t deserve it” leads to happiness.  Side note: I’ll admit it, I can hold grudges…but letting them go feels so much better than ruminating (with the exception of when I’m trying to beat a 3 mile time and need some extra adrenaline for that final push).
  • Stress and hardship are just a part of life – According to the book, stress is actually key to our development in utero (disclaimer:  I’m no doctor).  We can all agree that it’d be crazy not to recognize the amazing role that hardship and failure play in the evolution of us as individuals.  So, try to see the bright side of your next challenge, and realize that every human on earth has to go through something similar in their lives (easier said that done!).  Apparently, the first noble truth of Buddhism is that life is full of suffering.  If you need some extra inspiration here, I highly recommend Viktor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
  • It ain’t all fluff  – A lot of the above sounds like something a non analytical thinker would believe in, or what you may simply learn at Kindergarten (and what’s wrong with that???).  However, nothing could be further from the truth.  Following the teachings laid out in this book will actually make you happier, allow you to think clearer, and live a more “productive” life.  Beyond my own experience,  you can see that these teachings align with how humans came to be through the evolution of our species.  For example, building meaningful relationships with others is a sure fire way to be happy, which makes sense as that’s how we used to (and still do) get stuff done in society.  In fact, the book is sprinkled with actual scientific studies that detail things like lowered hypertension in people who gave away money…just in case you’re a skeptic and need some data along with the wise words 🙂

One fun thought experiment is to think about the various things future generations will know as truth that we can’t see right now.  For example, we now look back at history and think “how could they not know smoking was bad for them?” or “how could anyone not see the CDO market was a house of cards that posed a major systemic risk to the economy?”  Meditation is a great way to think more clearly about the question of what we just aren’t understanding now…and, perhaps its future adoption will be another answer to this thought experiment.