Gavin’s Friday Reads: The Book of Joy by The Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams

This book is set in the framework of these two great friends The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu getting together, possibly for the last time.  Douglas Abrams knits the narrative together as these two old friends share their wisdom with their characteristic humility and humor.  

They draw a distinction between the superficial happiness of external things and deep Joy.  If happiness is reliant on external circumstances, it is not true joy.  Joy is the happiness that comes from inside us, from our choice of perspective, and from intrinsic rewards.

Desmond Tutu describes his belief in what he calls “self corroborating truth” when many different fields of knowledge point to the same conclusion.  Indeed when Positive Psychology research and Evolutionary Psychology point to the same truth as millennia-old spiritual traditions both Buddhist and Christian, and timeless philosophies we are most likely on the right track.

Self Corroborating Truth gets me excited.  I see these same connections between this book and many others that I have read.  Which should be no surprise.  These books are all about us humans.

“The meaning of life is Happiness (Joy) that’s the easy question.  The hard question is what makes Happiness?  A big car?  A fancy house?  Or a kind and compassionate heart?”

Dalai Lama

There are 8 pillars of Joy described in the book.  Perspective, Humility, Humor, Acceptance, Compassion, Generosity, and Gratitude.  They are very similar to the things that Sonja Lyubomirsky (a researcher in the field of positive psychology) describes in her book “The How of Happiness”, as the essential things that if practiced on a regular basis lead to true lasting happiness.

From an Evolutionary Psychology perspective, we are descended from ancestors who lived in highly collaborative groups.  (The non-collaborative were less successful evolutionarily and died out)  Can you imagine a group of people working effectively together without Humility, Humor, Forgiveness, Compassion, Generosity, or Gratitude?  Think about it for a minute and try to imagine it.  Leave out just one of these pillars of Joy and a human group would be in serious trouble.

Turn the question around and imagine a group abundantly full of these things.  How much would you want to be part of that group?

Evolution has baked these Pillars of Joy into us.  When we do generous things or we express gratitude to someone, our brains reward us with the feeling of Joy as an intrinsic reward. We feel Joy when we are compassionate or when we see someone else in the act of being compassionate or even when we just hear about an act of compassion because it was and still is essential for our group survival.  It is our true human nature, These 8 pillars of Joy bring us together.  When our group lacks these we feel uncomfortable and may leave that group.

The first Pillar is Perspective.  This is about how we choose to view ourselves in our world.  It is related to our awareness of our Purpose. In addition to the 8 pillars of Joy there are of course other things that are intrinsically rewarding, like learning and teaching, for example.  

This year has highlighted the issue.  When we have a perspective that pits not wearing a mask as an individual rights and freedom issue that is more important than human compassion and generosity, compassion for exhausted health care workers and people who are not in good health it leads to catastrophic human loss.  Our ancestors were successful because they put the larger group’s needs ahead of their personal and family’s desires.

If we continue down the path of material goals, extrinsic rewards, and selfishness not only will we be following a path of destruction, we will not find the Joy in life that is waiting there for us.

If we humans are going to make it for the next thousand years or so it will be due to these 8 Pillars of Joy and the other intrinsically rewarding things that make us truly human.  It will be because we put compassion and generosity before selfishness.  If our descendants are here 1000 years from now It will be because we learned to put the needs of all humanity and our planet ahead of our own desires, and our tribe’s, and even our nation’s desires.

We will need to believe in a perspective and a higher purpose that includes not only our families and those close to us but all of humanity and all living things.  We will need to recognize these intrinsic rewards as our path to Joy and to saving our planet and ourselves.

Cheers for Friday,

Gavin Watson, Chair, Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chapter

Gavin Watson & Associates

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