The Book of Joy: Summary & Review

the book of joy

The Book Of Joy shares some of the conversations and insights on joy and suffering as emerged from a 7-day meeting between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, two of the world’s most influential spiritual leaders.

Bullet Summary

  • Suffering is inevitable and that’s OK
  • We can always choose what things mean to us and how we react to our circumstances
  • There are many ways in which we can help cultivate joy in our lives

Full Summary

About the Authors:

Lhamo Thondup is the 14th and current Dalai Lama. Dalai Lamas are Tibetan Buddhist monks and are considered among the most important and prominent leaders of the Buddhist religion.

Desmond Tutu is a South African Anglican cleric, formerly Archbishop of Cape Town. He is also known for his work as an anti-apartheid and human rights activist.

Suffering Is Part of Life

Suffering is an integral part of life.

And sometimes that suffering is inherently connected to joy.
Think of birth-giving. Or even think of Nelson Mandela who tempered his spirit in his long years in prison.

Your Mental State Determines What You Do With Suffering

How you deal with suffering, fear, and frustration depends heavily on your state of mind.

And you can train your state of mind to better respond to life’s most difficult circumstances.

If your mental state is weak, suffering will be drawn out for much longer.
But if you enjoy a healthy mental state, you will be much better poised to recover sooner.

And in some situations, you can find joy in spite of the issues that you are facing.

Frustration and fear particularly are not reality but facets of the mind. And you don’t have to let them control your life.

Practice Patience When You Can’t Act

Some situations you can resolve with action.

But there are some situations you have little control over.

A canceled flight, or a traffic jam can be very frustrating because they seem to leave you with little option but raging.

However, you can control reself to remain calm.

And better yet, those are perfect situations to meditate, pray, enjoy time alone or practice a virtue like patience.

Sadness Can Motivate Us

The authors say that sadness is not necessarily “bad”.

Saddness can help people connect better.
Sad people are more willing to share, for example.

And sadness can be turned into motivation for change, to plan your life, make new goals, and start achieving new and ambitious dreams.

Avoid Loneliness With Trust, Connection, And An Open Heart

Focusing too heavily on ourselves leads to poor health.

Indeed people who used most often pronouns such as “I”, “me” and “mine” were much more likely to be victims of heart attacks.

The authors say that the antidote to loneliness is to trust others and open yourself up.

Accept Death to Experience Joy

The authors say that the acceptance of death is central to experiencing joy.

Also read:

The Eight Pillars of Joy

The authors list eight pillars to experience joy:

  1. Perspective: realize that no moment will last forever and learn to savor the now
  2. Humility: if you feel you’re better than others you can’t experience joy
  3. Humor: being able to smile in difficult times can provide you with that break that you need to change direction
  4. Acceptance: accept life has difficult moments
  5. Forgiveness: you need to be able to forgive to move on and enjoy life
  6. Gratitude: you will see gratitude in almost all work on happiness and mental healthy
  7. Compassionate concern: giving and helping others makes us joyful
the book of joy


Don’t Like the Idea of Being Grateful for What Others Don’t Have

I was surprised to read that.

It seems neither a great insight, nor a very charitable thought.

To begin with, it feels like using others as a “social peg” to step on them.
For example, when someone tells me I should be grateful for running water because not everyone has it… I don’t feel too good about it.
So what, I should feel good thanks to other people’s misfortune?

I know the proponents of this approach don’t necessarily mean it that way, but that’s how it feels like to me.

Also, it’s not a universal mindset.

What if you’re dirt poor, or if you’re dead last in something?
Then you don’t have anyone to compare yourself favorably against.
Hence, this is not an antifragile mindset.


Powerful Message of Love and Acceptance

The deep message of love that emanates from this encounter is a beacon of hope and acceptance to the world.


The Book of Joy contains some interesting reflections and some very good mindsets on happiness against life’s misfortune.

But I must be frank: The Book of Joy hasn’t resonated with me as deeply as I hoped.

If you consider it a Positive Psychology text, then in all honesty there is better.

If you’re the type of person who’s looking for research, facts, and applicable wisdom, you can also find better.
That’s not to say there is none in this book, there are, but not as much as in some other available books on happiness.

However, The Book of Joy isn’t bad.

Maybe most of all and even more than the content, we can appreciate the message of the meeting in itself, and even more than the message coming out of this meeting.

A Buddhist leader meets a Christian leader. And they have a wonderful time together discussing how to empower people.

Now that’s a good message.

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