Leadership Library Review: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

March 2018

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World featuring His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams (Avery, 2016)

What are the big take-aways?

On the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s 8oth birthday, two of the world’s most inclusive (and heroic) spiritual leaders met in Dharamsala, India for a 5-day discussion on the nature of joy, its obstacles and its pillars.  The Dalai Lama has lived in exile since his harrowing escape from Tibet in the uprising of 1959, and Archbishop Tutu survived South Africa’s violence and oppression before chairing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990’s.  As the book jacket describes these men, “[d]espite their hardships – or, as they would say, because of them – they are two of the most joyful people on the planet.”

Why do I like it?

I like the paradoxical depth, complexity and simplicity of the discussions in The Book of Joy.  In their conversations as recounted in the book, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu gladly share the “secret” to happiness, which is that it is already within us.  Happiness is accessible in our own minds and hearts when we are able to respond to things that occur in our lives with “mental immunity.”  The Dalai Lama explains (pp. 83-84):

“Mental immunity is just learning to avoid the destructive emotions and to develop the positive ones.  First, we must understand the mind – there are so many different states of mind – the diverse thoughts and emotions we experience on a daily basis.  Some of these thoughts and emotions are harmful, even toxic, while others are healthy and healing.  The former disturb our mind and cause much metal pain.  The latter bring us true joyfulness…When we understand this reality, it is much easier to deal with the mind and to take preventive measures.”

In other words, we get stressed out and suffer when we try to control impermanent things that are not subject to control.  Suffering is eased by acceptance of this reality.  Acceptance of reality takes a lot of practice.

This is also true of leadership in general, just as it has been in how these two men have led their lives and their communities, as well as how they have offered guidance by example beyond their own spiritual traditions.  In my view, the abilities to foresee rather than control change, and to take action as frequently as possible from an acceptance of – rather than a resistance to – reality, are the foundations of ethical and effective leadership.

In what situations would this be useful?

We are reading this book right now in my current Leadership Book Group, and we just discovered at our last meeting that most of us are recommending this book to many people.  I find myself mentioning it to folks who are experiencing personal or professional setbacks.  The Book of Joy is a balm; the sorrow and the joy of the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop are surprisingly relatable, and they describe their strategies for working through everyday struggles (e.g., fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, grief, despair, loneliness, and envy, and dealing with illness and death) in terms that are clear, accessible and actionable.

One of my favorite aspects of the book, which I loved in its entirety, is a 40-page guide to “Joy Practices” tucked into the back of it.  If you are interested in starting or expanding your toolbox of ways to grow your mental immunity, this section of The Book of Joy is full of varied, lovely and practical techniques.  Embedded within them are many wonderful coaching questions.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

What comes up for me first – for a variety of reasons – is Robert Greenleaf’s timeless essay, “The Servant as Leader” (previously reviewed here).  Also, because Douglas Abrams (and the Dalai Lama) bring so much illuminating neuroscience into The Book Joy, another pairing I would recommend is another favorite of mine, Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson (also previously reviewed in the Leadership Library.

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