"The Book of Joy"
April 14, 2020
Wow. This is an awesome book. Recommended to me by a great friend, I have devoured it three times in the past year. There are so many pearls of wisdom contained in its pages - that is why this summary is so long. One of the most important books I have ever read.
Here's the Amazon pitch for the book:
Two spiritual giants. Five days. One timeless question.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have survived more than fifty years of exile and the soul-crushing violence of oppression. Despite their hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—they are two of the most joyful people on the planet.
In April 2015, Archbishop Tutu traveled to the Dalai Lama's home in Dharamsala, India, to celebrate His Holiness's eightieth birthday and to create what they hoped would be a gift for others. They looked back on their long lives to answer a single burning question: How do we find joy in the face of life's inevitable suffering?
They traded intimate stories, teased each other continually, and shared their spiritual practices. By the end of a week filled with laughter and punctuated with tears, these two global heroes had stared into the abyss and despair of our time and revealed how to live a life brimming with joy.
This book offers us a rare opportunity to experience their astonishing and unprecendented week together, from the first embrace to the final good-bye.
We get to listen as they explore the Nature of True Joy and confront each of the Obstacles of Joy—from fear, stress, and anger to grief, illness, and death. They then offer us the Eight Pillars of Joy, which provide the foundation for lasting happiness. Throughout, they include stories, wisdom, and science. Finally, they share their daily Joy Practices that anchor their own emotional and spiritual lives.
The Archbishop has never claimed sainthood, and the Dalai Lama considers himself a simple monk. In this unique collaboration, they offer us the reflection of real lives filled with pain and turmoil in the midst of which they have been able to discover a level of peace, of courage, and of joy to which we can all aspire in our own lives.
I hope you find my summary useful.
The Invitation to Joy
No dark fate determines the future. We do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and re-create our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet. This is the power we wield.
Lasting happiness cannot be found in pursuit of any goal or achievement. It does not reside in fortune or fame. It resides only in the human mind and heart, and it is here that we hope you will find it.
We are sharing what two friends, from very different worlds, have witnessed and learned in our long lives.
Every day is a new opportunity to begin again. Every day is your birthday.
During our quest to understand joy, we explored many of the most profound subjects in life. We were in search of true joy that was not dependent on the vicissitudes of circumstance.
The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop remind us that joy is in fact our birthright and even more fundamental than happiness.
Joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not. This state of mind — and heart — is much closer to both the Dalai Lama’s and the Archbishop’s understanding of what animates our lives and what ultimately leads to a life of satisfaction and meaning.
The Dalai Lama has called the very “purpose of life” — the goal of avoiding suffering and discovering happiness.
Together they (the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop) explored how we can transform joy from an ephemeral state into an enduring trait, from a fleeting feeling into a lasting way of being.
From the beginning this book was envisioned as a three-layer birthday cake. The first layer is the Dalai Lama’s and Archbishop Tutu’s teachings on joy. The second layer is made up of the latest science on joy and also on all the other qualities that they believe are essential for enduring happiness. The third layer of the birthday cake is the stories of being with the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop throughout the week. These up - close and personal chapters are meant to allow the reader to join the journey from the first embrace to the final goodbye.
So much of human suffering occurs within our own head and heart.
The week felt like an extraordinary and challenging peak in this lifelong journey to understand both joy and suffering.
These two men remind us that how we choose to act each day is what matters. Even holy men have to act like holy men. But how we think holy men act, serious and severe, pious and reserved, is hardly how these two greet the world, or each other.
Their desire for this book is not just to convey their wisdom but their humanity as well. Suffering is inevitable but how we respond to that suffering is our choice. Not even oppression or occupation can take away this freedom to choose our response.
Arrival: We Are Fragile Creatures
We are fragile creatures, and it is from this weakness, not despite it, that we discover the possibility of true joy,”
“Discovering more joy does not,” the Archbishop added “save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.”
One great question underlies our existence,” the Dalai Lama had said before the trip. “What is the purpose of life? After much consideration I believe that the purpose of life is to find happiness.
From the very core of our being, we simply desire joy and contentment.
The ultimate source of happiness is within us.
Not money, not power, not status.
“Many of the things that undermine our joy and happiness we create ourselves. Often it comes from the negative tendencies of the mind, emotional reactivity, or from our inability to appreciate and utilize the resources that exist within us. The suffering from a natural disaster we cannot control, but the suffering from our daily disasters we can. We create most of our suffering, so it should be logical that we also have the ability to create more joy. It simply depends on the attitudes, the perspectives, and the reactions we bring to situations and to our relationships with other people. When it comes to personal happiness there is a lot that we as individuals can do.”
It simply depends on the attitudes, the perspectives, and the reactions we bring to situations and to our relationships with other people. When it comes to personal happiness there is a lot that we as individuals can do.”
To tease someone is a sign of intimacy and friendship, to know that there is a reservoir of affection from which we all drink as funny and flawed humans.
We were here to discuss joy in the face of life’s challenges.
Day 1: The Nature of True Joy
Why Are You Not Morose?
The problem is that our world and our education remain focused exclusively on external, materialistic values. We are not concerned enough with our inner values. Those who grow up with this kind of education live a materialistic life and eventually the whole society becomes materialistic. But this culture is not sufficient to tackle our human problems. “The real problem is here,” the Dalai Lama said, pointing to his head.
Mind and heart. Materialistic values cannot give us peace of mind. We need to focus on our inner values, our true humanity. Only this way can we have peace of mind — and more peace in our world. A lot of the problems we are facing are our own creation, like war and violence. Unlike a natural disaster, these problems are created by humans ourselves.
Everyone has the responsibility to develop a happier world. We need to have a greater concern for others’ well-being.
“When people just look at your face,” the Dalai Lama said, “you are always laughing, always joyful. This is a very positive message.”
Sometimes when you see political leaders or spiritual leaders, they have a very serious face — it makes one hesitant.
Everyone seeks happiness, joyfulness, but from outside — from money, from power, from big car, from big house. Most people never pay attention to the ultimate source of a happy life, which is inside, not outside. Even the source of physical health is inside, not outside.
One need not depend on religious faith to educate our inner values.
When you are pursuing happiness, you are not going to find it. It’s very, very elusive. You don’t find it by saying, I’m going to forget about everything and just pursue happiness.
It’s wonderful to discover that what we want is not actually happiness. It is not actually what I would speak of. I would speak of joy. Joy subsumes happiness. Joy is the far greater thing.
Paul Ekman, famed emotions researcher and longtime friend of the Dalai Lama, has written that joy is associated with feelings as varied as:
- pleasure (of the five senses)
- amusement (from a chuckle to a belly laugh)
- contentment (a calmer kind of satisfaction)
- excitement (in response to novelty or challenge)
- relief (following upon another emotion, such as fear, anxiety, and even pleasure)
- wonder (before something astonishing and admirable)
- ecstasy or bliss (transporting us outside ourselves)
- exultation (at having accomplished a difficult or daring task)
- radiant pride (when our children earn a special honor)
- unhealthy jubilation or schadenfreude (relishing in someone else’s suffering)
- elevation (from having witnessed an act of kindness, generosity, or compassion)
- gratitude (the appreciation of a selfless act of which one is the beneficiary)
- rejoicing (in someone else’s happiness, what Buddhists call mudita)
- delight or enchantment (a shining kind of contentment)
- spiritual radiance (a serene joy born from deep well-being and benevolence)
Joy as a way of being — that one witnesses in the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama is probably closest to the “shining contentment” or the “spiritual radiance” born from deep well-being and benevolence.
There are really only four fundamental emotions, three of which are so-called negative emotions: fear, anger, and sadness. The only positive one is joy or happiness.
Is joy a feeling that comes and surprises us, or is it a more dependable way of being? For the two of you, joy seems to be something much more enduring. Your spiritual practice hasn’t made you somber and serious. It’s made you more joyful. So how can people cultivate that sense of joy as a way of being, and not just a temporary feeling?
Joy is something different from happiness. When I use the word happiness, in a sense I mean satisfaction.
If something can be done about the situation, what need is there for dejection? And if nothing can be done about it, what use is there for being dejected?
This was not a denial of pain and suffering, but a shift in perspective — from oneself and toward others, from anguish to compassion — seeing that others are suffering as well. The remarkable thing about what the Dalai Lama was describing is that as we recognize others’ suffering and realize that we are not alone, our pain is lessened.
This recognition that we are all connected — whether Tibetan Buddhists or Hui Muslims — is the birth of empathy and compassion.
Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.
Therefore, if you look from one angle, you feel, oh how bad, how sad. But if you look from another angle at that same tragedy, that same event, you see that it gives me new opportunities.
Wherever you have friends that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.
There are going to be frustrations in life. The question is not: How do I escape? It is: How can I use this as something positive?
“And then when you smile your face lights up. And it is because in a very large measure you have transmuted what would have been totally negative. You’ve transmuted it into goodness. Because, again, you have not said, ‘ Well how can I be happy? ’ You’ve not said that. You’ve said, ‘How can I help to spread compassion and love?’
Nothing Beautiful Comes Without Some Suffering
Many people, when they get ill, don’t feel very joyful. You’ve been able to maintain that joy in the face of suffering. How have you been able to do it?
“I have certainly been helped by many other people. One of the good things is realizing that you are not a solitary cell. You are part of a wonderful community. That’s helped very greatly. As we were saying, if you are setting out to be joyful you are not going to end up being joyful. You’re going to find yourself turned in on yourself. It’s like a flower. You open, you blossom, really because of other people. And I think some suffering, maybe even intense suffering, is a necessary ingredient for life, certainly for developing compassion.
“it is how we face all of the things that seem to be negative in our lives that determines the kind of person we become. If we regard all of this as frustrating, we’re going to come out squeezed and tight and just angry and wishing to smash everything .
Stress and opposition turn out to be exactly what initiate our development in utero. Our stem cells do not differentiate and become us if there is not enough biological stress to encourage them to do so. Without stress and opposition, complex life like ours would never have developed. We would never have come into being.
You’re saying you can choose to be joyful even in the face of that difficulty? How do you do that?” “I think we ought not to make people feel guilty when it is painful. It is painful, and you have to acknowledge that it is painful. But actually, even in the midst of that pain, you can recognize the gentleness of the nurse who is looking after you. You can see the skill of the surgeon who is going to be performing the operation on you. Yet sometimes the pain can be so intense that you do not have even the capacity to do that. “The thing is, don’t feel guilty. We have no control over our feelings. Emotions are spontaneous things that arise.”
This was a point that the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama would disagree on during the week: How much control do we have over our emotions? The Archbishop would say we have very little. The Dalai Lama would say we have more than we think.
Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well - being is the source of happiness.
By simply shifting my focus to another person, which is what compassion does, my own pain was much less intense. This is how compassion works even at the physical level.
Self - centered attitude is the source of the problem. We have to take care of ourselves without selfishly taking care of ourselves. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot survive. We need to do that. We should have wise selfishness rather than foolish selfishness. Foolish selfishness means you just think only of yourself, don’t care about others, bully others, exploit others. In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life. So that is what I call wise selfishness.
The Buddhist practice of mind training, called lojong in Tibetan, is an important part of the Dalai Lama’s tradition.
All dharma teachings agree on one point — lessening one’s self-absorption.
The text clarifies that when we focus on our ourselves we are destined to be unhappy: “Contemplate that, as long as you are too focused on your self - importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will experience suffering . Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want does not result in happiness.”
The text includes the admonition: “Always maintain only a joyful mind.”
What, then, is this joyful mind?
Joy is our essential nature, something everyone can realize. We could say that our desire for happiness is, in a way, an attempt to rediscover our original state of mind.
Buddhists believe that joy is the natural state but that the ability to experience joy can also be cultivated as a skill.
Much depends on where we put our attention: on our own suffering or that of others, on our own perceived separation or on our indivisible connection.
Some believe people have a “set point” that determines their happiness over the course of their life. In other words, we get accustomed to any new situation and inevitably return to our general state of happiness. However, more recent research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests that perhaps only 50 percent of our happiness is determined by immutable factors like our genes or temperament, our “set point.” The other half is determined by a combination of our circumstances, over which we may have limited control, and our attitudes and actions, over which we have a great deal of control. According to Lyubomirsky, 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. These were exactly the attitudes and actions that the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop had already mentioned and to which they would return as central pillars of joy.
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.
Have You Renounced Pleasure?
Most religions have a strong conviction that we cannot discover lasting happiness through our senses. While temporary enjoyment can come through our senses, it is inevitably fleeting and not the source of enduring satisfaction. There is a Buddhist saying that trying to seek happiness through sensory gratification is like trying to quench your thirst by drinking saltwater. But what exactly is the relationship between joy and pleasure and between what the Dalai Lama has called happiness at the physical level and happiness at the mental level?
But, you see, each meal we have to develop the ability to consume the meal without attachment.
“Not eating out of greed,” the Dalai Lama explained. “Eating only for the survival of the body. One must think about the deeper value of nourishing the body.”
“Viewing this meal as a medicine, I shall enjoy it without greed or anger, not out of gluttony nor out of pride, not to fatten myself, but only to nourish my body.”
When we speak of experiencing happiness, we need to know that there are actually two different kinds. The first is the enjoyment of pleasure through our senses. Here, sex, the example I cited, is one such experience. But we can also experience happiness at the deeper level through our mind, such as through love, compassion, and generosity. What characterizes happiness at this deeper level is the sense of fulfillment that you experience. While the joy of the senses is brief, the joy at this deeper level is much longer lasting. It is true joy.
A believer develops this deeper level of joy through faith in God, which brings inner strength, inner peace. For a nonbeliever or a nontheist like me, we must develop this deeper level of joy through training the mind. This kind of joy or happiness comes from within. Then the pleasures of the senses become less important.
Even in the time of the Buddha, people would fall into the trap of thinking that sensory experience would bring them happiness.
When joy arises at the level of your mind and not just your senses, you can maintain a deep sense of satisfaction for a much longer period of time — even for 24 hours.
You have to pay more attention to the mental level of joy and happiness. Not just physical pleasure, but satisfaction at the level of mind. This is true joyfulness.
When you are joyful and happy at the mental level, physical pain doesn’t matter very much. But if there is no joy or happiness at the mental level, too much worrying, too much fear, then even physical comforts and pleasure will not soothe your mental discomfort.
You develop a strong sense of concern for the well-being of all sentient beings and in particular all human beings, this will make you happy in the morning, even before coffee.
This is the value of compassion, of having compassionate feelings for others. Even, you see, ten minutes or thirty minutes of meditating on compassion, on kindness for others , and you will see its effects all day. That’s the way to maintain a calm and joyous mind.
Science has a term for the unsatisfactory nature of pursuing pleasure alone: the hedonic treadmill, named for the Greek school of thought that believed pleasure to be the ultimate good.
Scientists have found that the more we experience any pleasure, the more we become numb to its effects and take its pleasures for granted.
But there does seem to be one thing in the literature that powerfully and lastingly changes our sense of well-being. It is what the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop had
been advocating throughout our first day: our relationships, and specifically, our expression of love and generosity to others in our life.
There are four independent brain circuits that influence our lasting well-being, Davidson explained. The first is our ability to maintain positive states. It makes sense that the ability to maintain positive states or positive emotions would directly impact one’s ability to experience happiness. These two great spiritual leaders were saying that the fastest way to this state is to start with love and compassion. The second circuit is responsible for our ability to recover from negative states. These circuits are totally independent. The third circuit, also independent but essential to the others, is our ability to focus and avoid mind-wandering.” This of course was the circuit that so much of meditation exists to develop. Whether it was focusing on one’s breath, or a mantra, or the analytic meditation that the Dalai Lama did each morning, this ability to focus one’s attention was fundamental. The fourth and final circuit is our ability to be generous.
There was strong and compelling research that we come factory equipped for cooperation, compassion, and generosity.
Evolution hardwired us to cooperate with and be kind to those who look like our caregivers, who presumably kept us safe. We are more wary of others who look different: these are the unconscious roots of prejudice. Our empathy does not seem to extend to those who are outside our “group.”
Nonetheless, the ability and desire to cooperate and to be generous to others is there in our neural circuits, and it can be harnessed personally, socially, and globally.
Our Greatest Joy
“The joy that you are talking about is not just a feeling. It’s not something that just comes and goes. It’s something much more profound. And it sounds like what you’re saying is that joy is a way of approaching the world.”
Many people are waiting for happiness or joy. When they get a job, when they fall in love, when they get rich, then they will be happy, then they will have joy. You are talking about something that is available right now, without waiting for anything. ”
The Archbishop considered his response carefully. “I mean simply to say that ultimately our greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others.”
“It’s how we are made. We’re wired to be compassionate.”
Most people do not walk around thinking about how they can help others. Whether we like it or not, most people are waking up in the morning wondering how they are going to manage to do their job, make enough money to pay the bills, and take care of their families and other responsibilities. “Nice guys finish last” is a phrase that speaks to our deep ambivalence about kindness and compassion in the West. Success in our society is measured by money, power, fame, and influence.
People think about money or fame or power. From the point of view of one’s own personal happiness, these are shortsighted. The reality is that human beings are social animals. One individual, no matter how powerful, how clever, cannot survive without other human beings. So the best way to fulfill your wishes, to reach your goals, is to help others, to make more friends.
Trust. How do you develop trust? It’s simple: You show your genuine sense of concern for their well-being. Then trust will come.
When we become self-centered, turning in on ourselves, as sure as anything, we are going to find one day a deep, deep, deep frustration.”
We are left with a paradox. If one of the fundamental secrets of joy is going beyond our own self-centeredness, then is it foolish selfishness (as the Dalai Lama would say) and self-defeating to focus on our own joy and happiness? The Archbishop had already said that we could not pursue joy and happiness in their own right, so is it not a mistake to focus on them at all?
When we are able to move beyond our own pain and suffering, we are more available to others; pain causes us to be extremely self-focused. Whether the pain is physical or mental, it seems to consume all of our focus and leave very little attention for others.
Survey after survey has shown that it is unhappy people who tend to be most self-focused and are socially withdrawn, brooding, and even antagonistic. Happy people, in contrast, are generally found to be more sociable, flexible, and creative, and are able to tolerate life’s daily frustrations more easily than unhappy people. And, most important, they are found to be more loving and forgiving than unhappy people.
The more we heal our own pain, the more we can turn to the pain of others.
The way we heal our own pain is actually by turning to the pain of others. It is a virtuous cycle. The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others.
The goal is not just to create joy for ourselves but, as the Archbishop poetically phrased it, “to be a reservoir of joy, an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that can ripple out to all those around you.” As we will see, joy is in fact quite contagious. As is love, compassion, and generosity.
Being more joyful is not just about having more fun. We’re talking about a more empathic, more empowered, even more spiritual state of mind that is totally engaged with the world.We cannot bring peace if we do not have inner peace. Similarly, we cannot hope to make the world a better, happier place if we do not also aspire for this in our own lives.
As soon as I wake up, I remember Buddha’s teaching: the importance of kindness and compassion, wishing something good for others, or at least to reduce their suffering. Then I remember that everything is interrelated, the teaching of interdependence. Then I set my intention for the day: that this day should be meaningful. Meaningful means, if possible, serve and help others. If not possible, then at least not to harm others. That’s a meaningful day.
The Meeting of Two Mischievous People Is Wonderful
Compassion is a feature of strength, not weakness.
Perhaps that is what it means to be fully present, available for each moment and each person we encounter, untethered by the ruminating memories of the past and not lured by the anticipatory worry about the future.
“There’s no other choice but for followers of the world’s religions to accept the reality of other faiths. We have to live together. In order to live happily, we must respect each other’s traditions. I really admire other traditions.”
“There is nothing wrong with faiths. The problem is the faithful.”
This is really the practice at the core of all the world’s religions — love."
I have tried to make people aware that the ultimate source of happiness is simply a healthy body and a warm heart. ”
Everybody wants a happy life — and our individual happy life depends on a happy humanity. We have to think about humanity, discover a sense of oneness of all seven billion human beings.
Formality is just artificial. It just creates additional barriers. Irrespective of our beliefs, we are all the same human beings.
“Everybody may want to be happy,” I offered, “but the challenge is a lot of people don’t know how. You were talking about the importance of being warmhearted, but a lot of people are shy or have a hard time opening up to other people. They get scared. They’re afraid of rejection. You’ve spoken about when you approach people with trust, then it inspires trust in them as well.”
Genuine friendship is entirely based on trust.
If you really feel a sense of concern for the well-being of others, then trust will come. That’s the basis of friendship. We are social animals. We need friends. I think, from the time of our birth till our death, friends are very important.
We need love.
A self-centered attitude brings a sense of insecurity and fear. Distrust. Too much fear brings frustration. Too much frustration brings anger. So that’s the psychology, the system of mind, of emotion, which creates a chain reaction. With a self - centered attitude, you become distanced from others.
Often our parenting in the West is too focused on our children, and their needs alone, rather than helping them to learn to care for others. The Dalai Lama responded, “Yes , there is too much self-centeredness also among parents — ‘ my children, my children.’ That’s biased love. We need unbiased love toward entire humanity, entire sentient beings, irrespective of what their attitude is toward us. So your enemies are still human brothers and sisters, so they also deserve our love, our respect, our affection. That’s unbiased love. You might have to resist your enemies’ actions, but you can love them as brothers and sisters.
We would return to the elasticity of love and compassion later in the week, but tomorrow we would begin discussing the obstacles to joy, from stress and anxiety to adversity and illness, and how we might be able to experience joy even in the face of these inevitable challenges .
Days 2 and 3 The Obstacles to Joy
You Are a Masterpiece in the Making
“It is very simple,” the Dalai Lama began. “Everyone knows that physical pain is bad and tries to avoid it. We do this not only by curing diseases, but also by trying to prevent them and by trying to keep our physical immunity strong. Mental pain is equally bad, so we should try to alleviate it as well. The way to do this is to develop mental immunity.”
The subject of the dialogues was how to discover joy in the face of suffering.
As the Dalai Lama had said the day before, so much of our unhappiness originates within our own mind and heart — in how we react to events in our life.
“Mental immunity,” the Dalai Lama explained, “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 mental 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. This is how we develop mental immunity. And just as a healthy immune system and healthy constitution protects your body against potentially hazardous viruses and bacteria, mental immunity creates a healthy disposition of the mind so that it will be less susceptible to negative thoughts and feelings."
“Think about it this way. If your health is strong, when viruses come they will not make you sick. If your overall health is weak, even small viruses will be very dangerous for you. Similarly, if your mental health is sound, then when disturbances come, you will have some distress but quickly recover. If your mental health is not good, then small disturbances, small problems will cause you much pain and suffering. You will have much fear and worry, much sadness and despair, and much anger and aggravation.
One must develop the mind over time and cultivate mental immunity.
The best solution to our suffering is mental immunity, but it takes time to develop.
At the rational level, we accept that this is a serious problem that we have to deal with, but at the deeper, emotional level, we are able to keep calm. Like the ocean has many waves on the surface but deep down it is quite calm. This is possible if we know how to develop mental immunity.”
“I think we’ve got to accept ourselves as we are … getting to know what the things are that trigger us. These are things that you can train, you can change, but we ought not to be ashamed of ourselves. We are human, and sometimes it is a good thing that we recognize that we have human emotions. Now the thing is being able to say, when is it appropriate?”
The Archbishop said many times that we should not berate ourselves for our negative thoughts and emotions, that they are natural and unavoidable. They are only made more intense, he argued, by the glue of guilt and shame when we think we should not have them.
The Dalai Lama agreed that human emotions are natural, but he did argue about whether they are unavoidable. Mental immunity, he explained, is the way to avoid them.
For months, I wrestled with this seeming disagreement: Is it possible to truly prevent negative thoughts and emotions, to develop what the Dalai Lama was calling “mental immunity”? Or are these thoughts and emotions inevitable, and should we, as the Archbishop was suggesting, just accept them and forgive ourselves for having them?
It became clear that each position was valid and simply reflected a different stage in the cycle of emotional life. Through self-inquiry and meditation, we can discover the nature of our mind and learn to soothe our emotional reactivity. This will leave us less vulnerable to the destructive emotions and thought patterns that cause us so much suffering. This is the process of developing mental immunity.
The Archbishop was simply reminding us that even with this immunity, there will be times when we will have negative or destructive emotions, and when this does happen , the last thing we want to do is judge ourselves harshly.
There will be times when we will catch a cold, and we should not make it worse by beating up on ourselves.
So how do we deal with these obstacles to joy — the inevitable sources of suffering, both internal and external — that cause so much pain and anguish in our lives, when they do arise? These range from the everyday troubles of stress, frustration, and worry to the life - defining experiences of adversity, illness, and ultimately having to face death. We cannot control the inevitability of these occurrences, but both men agreed that we could influence their effect in our life by adjusting the attitude we take toward them.
The first step is to accept the reality of suffering. The first Noble Truth of Buddhism is that life is filled with suffering.
We try to control the moment, which results in our feeling that what is happening should not be happening. So much of what causes heartache is our wanting things to be different than they are. “I think, in many cases,” the Dalai Lama explained, “you develop some sort of unhappiness, some discontent, which leads to frustration and anger.” While stress and frustration may sound like superficial problems or complaints, the Buddha identified them as the core of so much of our unnecessary, or created, suffering. I was reminded of what the Dalai Lama had said on our first day: We cannot end natural disasters or the suffering they cause, but so much of the rest of our suffering we can.
Every life is rutted and no one can avoid some inevitable bumps, but so much is determined by our own perception of the ride. Our mind is the axle that often determines whether we experience the ride as bumpy or smooth.
“We have perceptions about our experience, and we judge them: ‘This is good.’ ‘This is bad.’ ‘This is neutral,’” the Dalai Lama explained. “Then we have responses: fear, frustration, anger. We realize that these are just different aspects of mind. They are not the actual reality. Similarly, fearlessness, kindness, love, and forgiveness are also aspects of mind. It is very useful to know the system of emotion and to understand how our mind works.
When a fear or frustration comes, we have to think, what is causing it? In most cases, fear is simply a mental projection.
“When a mad dog approaches, barking and gnashing its teeth, then you need fear. That’s not a mental projection. You have to analyze the causes of the fear. With frustration, often you see someone, and you have a mental projection even when his or her face is neutral. Similarly, when you see someone’s actions, you have a mental projection even when their behavior is neutral. You have to ask yourself if your frustration is based on something real. Even if someone criticizes you or attacks you, then you have to think: Why did this happen? This person is not your enemy from birth. Certain circumstances caused the person to be negative toward you. There may be many causes, but usually your own attitude is an important contributing factor that cannot be ignored. You realize that this happened because you have done something in the past that this person didn’t like. So then when you realize your own part in the other person’s criticizing or attacking you, the intensity of your frustration and anger automatically reduces. Then you also realize that basic human nature is good, is compassionate, and that the person does not want to harm you. So therefore you see their emotion is due to some misunderstanding or misinformation. You see that this person’s actions are due to their own destructive emotions. You can develop a sense of concern, compassion, even feel sorry for their pain and suffering: How sad that this person is out of control, or having such a negative feeling. Instead of frustration and anger you feel sorry for the other person and concern for them.”
“I used to feel very frustrated and angry,” the Archbishop said, “when we would be rushing to a very important meeting, and we would be stuck in traffic because there was an accident up ahead. You were grinding your teeth and looking for somebody to kick. But growing older I said, well, this is an opportunity for being quiet. it takes time to learn to be laid-back.”
No one ought to feel annoyed with themselves. It just adds to the frustration. I mean, we are human beings, fallible human beings.
Sometimes we get too angry with ourselves thinking that we ought to be perfect from the word go. But this being on earth is a time for us to learn to be good, to learn to be more loving, to learn to be more compassionate. And you learn, not theoretically.”
“We get very angry with ourselves. We think we ought to be supermen and superwomen from the start. The Dalai Lama’s serenity didn’t come fully formed. It was through the practice of prayer and meditation that the gentleness, the compassion grew, his being patient and accepting — within reasonable limits. Accepting circumstances as they are, because if there are circumstances that you cannot change, then it’s no use beating your head against a brick wall; that just gives you a headache. This is a vale of growth and development.”
“It’s similar to how we learn how to be a parent,” the Archbishop said as he concluded our discussion. “You learn how to react to a child who is really frustrating you. You are better with your third child than you were with your first child. And so I would say to everyone: You are made for perfection, but you are not yet perfect. You are a masterpiece in the making.”
Fear, Stress, and Anxiety: I Would Be Very Nervous
“We all have fears,” the Archbishop explained. “Fear and anxiety are mechanisms that have helped us to survive. You know, if you did not feel fear when you saw a lion over there and you just walked merrily by, in next to no time there would be no you. God has given us these things because God knew that we needed them. Otherwise, we would be fearless, but then we’d also be very stupid, and we would not be around very long. The problem is when the fear is exaggerated or when it is provoked by something that is really quite insignificant.”
Even if leadership requires a show of strength during moments of crisis, our humanity is defined equally, or perhaps even more, by our weakness and vulnerability, a fact that the Archbishop often says reminds us of our need for one another.
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.
The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act despite it.”
It is when this natural fear gets exaggerated that we experience stress, worry, and anxiety. Many of us suffer from this general state of unease, during which we have floating fears and worries that attach to any experience or relationship.
It is very hard to be joyful with stress and anxiety; we have a continual feeling of being overwhelmed and not being able to handle our work commitments, our family commitments, or the digital devices that are constantly reminding us of all the things that we are missing. Juggling so many things at the same time, we can feel like we are always one step behind.
Modern society has prioritized independence to such an extent that we are left on our own to try to manage lives that are increasingly out of control.
For much of human history, there were fears and worries, some of them major, like whether there would be enough food for the winter. But these concerns were made more manageable by having a close and connected life. While survival certainly is the greatest stressor of all — for which our stress response evolved — there is something different about the constant pressures and pulls of modern life.
But if stress and anxiety are inevitable parts of modern life, how can we begin to confront these ever-present irritants? How do we make the ride smoother? How do we minimize the worry we experience? “Stress and anxiety often come from too much expectation and too much ambition.”
“Then when we don’t fulfill that expectation or achieve that ambition, we experience frustration. Right from the beginning, it is a self-centered attitude. I want this. I want that. Often, we are not being realistic about our own ability or about objective reality. When we have a clear picture about our own capacity, we can be realistic about our effort. Then there is a much greater chance of achieving our goals. But unrealistic effort only brings disaster. In many cases our stress is caused by our expectations and our ambition.”
For someone raised in America, where ambition is a virtue in and of itself, the marriage of initiative and persistence. Could it be that all of the getting and grasping that we see as our major ambition in modern life might be misguided? And perhaps the belief that more is better might be a recipe for stress and frustration, and ultimately dissatisfaction? Perhaps it is a question of priorities. What is it that is really worth pursuing? What is it we truly need? According to the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama, when we see how little we really need — love and connection — then all the getting and grasping that we thought was so essential to our well-being takes its rightful place and no longer becomes the focus or the obsession of our lives.
The Dalai Lama was urging us to be more realistic so we can come to some sense of inner peace now, rather than always chasing after our expectations and ambition for the next. Symptoms of chronic stress are feelings of fragmentation and of chasing after time — of not being able to be present. What we are looking for is a settled, joyful state of being, and we need to give this state space. The Archbishop once told me that people often think he needs time to pray and reflect because he is a religious leader. He said those who must live in the marketplace — business - people, professionals, and workers — need it even more.
It turns out that our perspective has a surprising amount of influence over the body’s stress response. When we turn a threat into a challenge, our body responds very differently.
Our stress response evolved to save us from attack or danger.
This stress response evolved as a rare and temporary experience, but for many in our modern world, it is constantly activated. Epel and her colleague, Nobel Prize – winning molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, have found that constant stress actually wears down our telomeres, the caps on our DNA that protect our cells from illness and aging. It is not just stress but our thought patterns in general that impact our telomeres, which has led Epel and Blackburn to conclude that our cells are actually “listening to our thoughts.”
The problem is not the existence of stressors, which cannot be avoided; stress is simply the brain’s way of signaling that something is important. The problem — or perhaps the opportunity — is how we respond to this stress.
Epel and Blackburn explain that it is not the stress alone that damages our telomeres. It is our response to the stress that is most important. They encourage us to develop stress resilience.
This involves turning what is called “threat stress,” or the perception that a stressful event is a threat that will harm us, into what is called “challenge stress,” or the perception that a stressful event is a challenge that will help us grow. The remedy they offer is quite straightforward. One simply notices the fight-or-flight stress response in one’s body — the beating heart, the pulsing blood or tingling feeling in our hands and face, the rapid breathing — then remembers that these are natural responses to stress and that our body is just preparing to rise to the challenge.
The remedy they offer is quite straightforward. One simply notices the fight-or-flight stress response in one’s body — the beating heart, the pulsing blood or tingling feeling in our hands and face, the rapid breathing — then remembers that these are natural responses to stress and that our body is just preparing to rise to the challenge.
So much of our stress is dependent on seeing ourselves as separate from others, which perhaps returns to the loss of our sense of communal connection, of Ubuntu.
If we think we are something special or not special enough, then fear, nervousness, stress, and anxiety arise. We are the same.”
“What the Dalai Lama and I are offering,” the Archbishop added, “is a way of handling your worries: thinking about others.”
Once again, the path of joy was connection and the path of sorrow was separation. When we see others as separate, they become a threat . When we see others as part of us, as connected, as interdependent, then there is no challenge we cannot face — together.
Try to relate to a person on the basic human level. On that level, I know that, just like me, he or she wishes to find happiness, to have fewer problems and less difficulty in their life.
What do you need to fear or worry about when you have seven billion other people who are with you?
Frustration and Anger: I Would Shout
He reacted with the inevitable and uncontrollable surprise, which is one of our instinctual responses, but then instead of taking the low road of anger, he took the high road of humor, acceptance, and even compassion. And it was gone: no fuming, no lingering frustration, no raised blood pressure.
We often think of fear and anger as two quite separate emotions, so I was surprised to hear the Dalai Lama connect them. “Where there is fear, frustration will come. Frustration brings anger. So, you see, fear and anger are very close.” The Dalai Lama’s perspective is supported by our basic biology. Fear and anger are two poles of our natural response, as we prepare to flee (fear) or to fight (anger).
When anger develops, think, what is the cause? And then also think, what will be the result of my anger, my angry face, or my shouting? Then you will realize that anger is not helpful.”
The Dalai Lama then made the subtle and profound connection between fear and anger, explaining how fear underlies anger. Typically frustration and anger come from being hurt. In addition to physical pain, we can also experience emotional pain , which may be even more common . We want something that we did not get, like respect or kindness, or we get something that we did not want, like disrespect or criticism. Underlying this anger, the Dalai Lama was saying, is a fear that we will not get what we need, that we are not loved, that we are not respected, that we will not be included.
One way out of anger, then, is to ask, “What is the hurt that has caused our anger, what is the fear that we have?” Psychologists often call anger a secondary emotion, because it comes as a defense to feeling threatened. When we can acknowledge and express the fear — how we are feeling threatened — then we are often able to soothe the anger.
But we need to be willing to admit our vulnerability. We are often ashamed of these fears and hurts, thinking that if we were invulnerable, we would never experience pain, but this, as the Archbishop said, is not the nature of being human. If we can have compassion for ourselves, and acknowledge how we feel afraid, hurt, or threatened, we can have compassion for others—possibly even for those who have evoked our anger.
When you set yourself goals, and you encounter obstacles, you will naturally feel frustrated,” the Archbishop said. “Or when you are trying to do your best and those with whom you are working, or should be working, aren’t as cooperative as you had hoped, or at home with your family when something you do is misconstrued, this inevitably leads to frustration and anger. When people impugn your intentions, and you know that you have noble intentions. It’s really quite painful. You grind your teeth and you say, there they go again.
In a personal way, when you have to deal with physical ailments, and you wish maybe that you had a great deal more energy than you in fact have. One is reminded of one’s humanity and one’s fragility.
At the physical level one has to act accordingly, but at the mental level one can remain calm and relaxed. This is how you train the mind.
The Archbishop simply and succinctly explained the power and limits of this use of anger. “Righteous anger is usually not about oneself. It is about those whom one sees being harmed and whom one wants to help.” In short, righteous anger is a tool of justice, a scythe of compassion, more than a reactive emotion. Although it may have its roots deep in our fight-or-flight desire to protect those in our family or group who are threatened, it is a chosen response and not simply an uncontrollable reaction. And it is not about one’s own besieged self-image, or one’s feelings of separation, but of one’s collective responsibility, and one’s feeling of deep, empowering connection.
“Now medical scientists say,” the Dalai Lama continued, “that constant fear, constant anger, constant hatred harms our immune system. Everybody tries to take care of his or her health.
A healthy mind is a calm mind. Fear and anger are destroyers of a calm mind. Then you realize that anger is no use in solving problems. It will not help. It creates more problems. Then eventually through training of our mind—and using reasoning—we can transform our emotions.”
The Dalai Lama has asked Ekman to map the emotional landscape, to help others avoid the rocky terrain of negative emotions and find their way more easily to the promised land of compassion and contentment.
The Dalai Lama had said earlier that if we can discover our role in creating the situations that upset us, we are able to reduce our feelings of frustration and anger. Also, when we are able to recognize that the other person has their own fears and hurts, their own fragile and human perspective, then we have a chance of escaping from the normal reflex of anger.
Sadness and Grief: The Hard Times Knit Us More Closely Together
Some would say go ahead and even maybe shout out your sadness and pain. This can bring you back to normal. It’s locking them up and pretending that they are not there that causes them to fester and become a wound. I’ve not read this in a book. It’s just how I have handled them.”
Sadness is seemingly the most direct challenge to joy, but as the Archbishop argued strongly, it often leads us most directly to empathy and compassion and to recognizing our need for one another.
Sadness is a very powerful and enduring emotion.
While fear lasted on average thirty minutes, sadness often lasted up to a hundred and twenty hours, or almost five days. While the evolutionary value of our fight (anger) and flight (fear) responses are clear, the value of of sadness seems harder to understand.
While depression certainly collapses our circle of concern inward, the periodic feeling of sadness might widen it.
Sadness is in many ways the emotion that causes us to reach out to one another in support and solidarity.
We try so hard to separate joy and sorrow into their own boxes, but the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama tell us that they are inevitably fastened together. Neither advocate the kind of fleeting happiness, often called hedonic happiness, that requires only positive states and banishes feelings like sadness to emotional exile. The kind of happiness that they describe is often called eudemonic happiness and is characterized by self-understanding, meaning, growth, and acceptance, including life’s inevitable suffering, sadness, and grief.
The way through the sadness and grief that comes from great loss is to use it as motivation and to generate a deeper sense of purpose.
“Sadness and grief are, of course, natural human responses to loss, but if your focus remains on the loved one you have just lost, the experience is less likely to lead to despair. In contrast, if your focus while grieving remains mostly on yourself—‘What am I going to do now? How can I cope?’—then there is a greater danger of going down the path of despair and depression. So, again, so much depends on how we respond to our experience of loss and sadness.”
Seeing that her suffering was not unique, she was able to bury her child in the forest and release her grief.
Grief is the reminder of the depth of our love. Without love, there is no grief. So when we feel our grief, uncomfortable and aching as it may be, it is actually a reminder of the beauty of that love, now lost.
To linger in the longing, the loss, the yearning is a way of feeling the rich and embroidered texture of life, the torn cloth of our world that is endlessly being ripped and rewoven.
Despair: The World Is in Such Turmoil
How do I find joy in the midst of such large world problems?
“You show your humanity,” the Archbishop began, “by how you see yourself not as apart from others but from your connection to others. I have frequently wept about the things such as the ones you have mentioned."
It is good also to remember that we have a fantastic capacity for goodness.
When I asked him what he would say to those who were caught in such despair, he replied, “Yes, we do have setbacks, but you must keep everything in perspective. The world is getting better. Think about the rights of women or how slavery was considered morally justified a few hundred years ago. It takes time. We are growing and learning how to be compassionate, how to be caring, how to be human.”
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
It was a good opportunity to practice forgiveness and compassion. I think that every person has this same sort of opportunity, this same capacity.
I weep when something has happened where I may not be able to assist. I acknowledge that it is something I can do very little about.
And I could appeal to them not from a superior position but from a position of one who was with them and who had felt the same anguish and pain.
People are remarkably, remarkably, remarkably good, incredible in their generosity.
“We’ve always got to be recognizing that despite the aberrations, the fundamental thing about humanity, about humankind, about people, is that they are good, they were made good, and they really want to be good."
“When we look at the news, we must keep this more holistic view. Yes, this or that terrible thing has happened. No doubt, there are very negative things, but at the same time there are many more positive things happening in our world. We must have a sense of proportion and a wider perspective. Then we will not feel despair when we see these sad things.”
“Hope,” the Archbishop said, “is quite different from optimism, which is more superficial and liable to become pessimism when the circumstances change. Hope is something much deeper."
What made people want to go on going on—holding on by the skin of their teeth—was not optimism but hope—dogged, inextinguishable hope.
“I say to people that I’m not an optimist, because that, in a sense, is something that depends on feelings more than the actual reality. We feel optimistic, or we feel pessimistic. Now, hope is different in that it is based not on the ephemerality of feelings but on the firm ground of conviction. I believe with a steadfast faith that there can never be a situation that is utterly, totally hopeless. Hope is deeper and very, very close to unshakable. It’s in the pit of your tummy. It’s not in your head. It’s all here,” he said, pointing to his abdomen.
"To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.”
Hope is the antidote to despair. Yet hope requires faith, even if that faith is in nothing more than human nature or the very persistence of life to find a way. Hope is also nurtured by relationship, by community, whether that community is a literal one or one fashioned from the long memory of human striving whose membership includes Gandhi, King, Mandela, and countless others. Despair turns us inward. Hope sends us into the arms of others.
Loneliness: No Need for Introduction
So when something happens, people feel lonely because they have no one they can turn to for help or support.”
The shame of being physically close and emotionally distant.
“We are same human beings,”
“Our whole society has a materialistic culture,” the Dalai Lama said. “In the materialistic way of life, there’s no concept of friendship, no concept of love, just work, twenty-four hours a day, like a machine. So in modern society, we eventually also become part of that large moving machine.”
Ubuntu, how we are who we are through one another, how our humanity is bound up in one another.
The Dalai Lama had often emphasized that we are born and die totally dependent on others, and that the independence that we think we experience in between is a myth.
These differences between religions are personal matters.
When we relate to others from the place of compassion it goes to the first level, the human level, not the secondary level of difference. Then you can even have compassion for your enemy.
Scientists are discovering that our basic human nature is compassionate. The problem is that children go to schools where they are not taught to nurture these deeper human values, so their basic human potential becomes dormant.
“Much depends on your attitude. If you are filled with negative judgment and anger, then you will feel separate from other people. You will feel lonely. But if you have an open heart and are filled with trust and friendship, even if you are physically alone, even living a hermit’s life, you will never feel lonely.”
“The only thing that will bring happiness is affection and warmheartedness. This really brings inner strength and self-confidence, reduces fear, develops trust, and trust brings friendship.
When you have a more compassionate mind and cultivate warmheartedness, the whole atmosphere around you becomes more positive and friendlier. You see friends everywhere. If you feel fear and distrust, then other people will distance themselves. They will also feel cautious, suspicious, and distrustful. Then comes the feeling of loneliness.
“When someone is warmhearted, they are always completely relaxed. If you live with fear and consider yourself as something special, then automatically, emotionally, you are distanced from others.
When you focus too much on yourself, you become disconnected and alienated from others. In the end, you also become alienated from yourself, since the need for connection with others is such a fundamental part of who we are as human beings.
With too much self-focus your vision becomes narrow, and with this even a small problem appears out of proportion and unbearable.
Sometimes I say that too much self-centeredness closes our inner door, and it becomes hard to communicate with other people. When we are concerned with the well-being of other human beings, that inner door opens, and we are able to communicate very easily with other people.
The Dalai Lama was saying that when one is thinking about others with kindness and compassion, one is never lonely. Openheartedness—warmheartedness—is the antidote to loneliness.
It is almost as if my inner state of mind and heart changes the physical and social world around me completely.
“You want to make the person feel really as they are, special. And accepted as they are and help to open them. I can very well understand the incredible anguish and pain that someone must feel who is cooped up in a room because they are scared of going out and being rejected.
What I had learned from our dialogue was that we did not have to wait for others to open their hearts to us. By opening our heart to them, we could feel connected to them, whether on a mountaintop or in the middle of Manhattan.
Envy: That Guy Goes Past Yet Again in His Mercedes-Benz
It is not that you wake up in the morning and you say, Now, I’m going to be envious. It just rises spontaneously,”
Comparison is indeed human—even beyond human;
There is a Tibetan Buddhist teaching that says what causes suffering in life is a general pattern of how we relate to others: “Envy toward the above, competitiveness toward the equal, and contempt toward the lower.”
Fairness seems to be hardwired into our genes, and so we are very uncomfortable with inequality of any sort.
There will always be people who have more than we do, or who are more successful, or who are more talented or smarter or better-looking.
As the old saying goes, “If you want to be poor, find some rich friends. If you want to be rich, find some poor friends.” Keeping up with the Joneses happens within a peer group.
According to the happiness research, “upward comparisons” are particularly corrosive to our well-being. Envy doesn’t leave room for joy.
Buddhism sees envy as so corrosive that it compares it to a venomous snake that poisons us.
The Archbishop then went on to offer a powerful remedy for envy: gratitude.
And then he offered another remedy: motivation.
And then the Archbishop offered his final and most effective remedy: reframing. “The very best is being able to ask yourself, ‘Why do I want to have a house that has seven rooms when there are only two or three of us? Why do I want to have it?’
At the moment that envy or jealousy develops, you no longer can maintain your peace of mind. So jealousy actually destroys your peace of mind. Then that jealousy can become corrosive to the relationship. Even with your good friend, if you develop some sort of jealousy, it will be very harmful to your friendship.
“It is important to cultivate any emotion that brings joyfulness and peace of mind. Any sort of emotion that disturbs this happiness and peace of mind, we must learn to avoid right from the beginning.
“I think it is a mistake just to consider all of these negative emotions, like anger or jealousy, as normal parts of our mind, something we cannot do much about.
Too many negative emotions destroy our own peace of mind, our health, and create trouble in our family, with our friends, and in our community. “Often envy comes because we are too focused on material possessions and not on our true inner values.
The Dalai Lama was describing the Buddhist concept of mudita, which is often translated as “sympathetic joy” and described as the antidote to envy. Mudita is so important in Buddhism that it is considered one of the Four Immeasurables, qualities we can cultivate infinitely. The other three are loving-kindness, compassion, and equanimity.
How mudita works: If someone has something that we want, say, a bigger house, we can consciously take joy in their good fortune by telling ourselves: “Good for him. Just like me, he, too, wants to be happy. He, too, wants to be successful.
Mudita is also the opposite feeling to schadenfreude, the German word for the feeling of satisfaction or pleasure in hearing of others’ misfortune.
Mudita is based on the recognition of our interdependence, or Ubuntu.
“How,” I asked the Dalai Lama, “do people cultivate mudita?” “Firstly, we should recognize our shared humanity.
“If we have a strong sense of ‘I and they,’ it is hard to practice mudita. We must develop the sense of ‘we.’ Once you’re able to develop that sense of common humanity and the oneness of humanity, then naturally you will want all others to be free from suffering and enjoy happiness. The desire for happiness is a natural instinct shared by everyone. It is simply a sense of concern once again for others’ well-being.”
Once a person develops a strong negative emotion, like anger or jealousy, it is very difficult to counter it at that moment. So the best thing is to cultivate your mind through practice so that you can learn to prevent it from arising in the first place. For example, the major source of anger is frustration and dissatisfaction.
“Similarly, for our mental health also, the earlier we start practicing preventive measures, the easier and more effective they are. When we are already sick it is hard to remember our doctor’s advice. I think no doctor would say, If you have more anger, you will be healthier. Does your doctor say that?”
As for suffering I do not wish even the slightest; as for happiness I am never satisfied. In this, there is no difference between others and me. Bless me so I may take joy in others’ happiness.
Suffering and Adversity: Passing through Difficulties
There is a Tibetan saying that adversities can turn into good opportunities,”
we try so hard, with our natural parental instinct, to save our children from pain and suffering, but when we do, we rob them of their ability to grow and learn from adversity.
Edith Eva Eger said that the spoiled, pampered children were the first to die at Auschwitz. They kept waiting for others to come save them, and when no one came, they gave up. They had not learned how to save themselves.
“Many people think of suffering as a problem,” the Dalai Lama said. “Actually, it is an opportunity destiny has given to you. In spite of difficulties and suffering, you can remain firm and maintain your composure.”
“Often it is our day-to-day interaction with these three objects that give rise to the three poisons of attachment, anger, and delusion, which are at the heart of so much suffering. Through spiritual training we have the opportunity to transform our engagement with our family, teachers, and adversaries into the development of the three roots of virtue—nonattachment, compassion, and wisdom.”
Inner spirit, or warmheartedness, that had allowed some to endure the hardships of the gulags.
We had been clear from the beginning that this book was to be about joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering and not some abstract or aspirational theory of joy. We wanted readers to know how to maintain joy at the most trying moments of our life, not just when all was, to quote the Archbishop, “hunky-dory-ness.”
“He is asking, How do we help people who really want to be joyful, who really want to see the world become a better place?
We say that you will be surprised by the joy the minute you stop being too self-regarding. Of course, you have to be somewhat self-regarding,
“You see, in reality like our physical body, where growth takes time, our mental development also takes time—minute by minute, day by day, month by month, year by year, decade by decade. Perhaps I will share a story from my own life.
So a lot of difficulties, a lot of problems, but when you carry out the work, and the more difficulties you encounter, then when you see some results, the greater the joy.
If there are no difficulties and you are always relaxed, then you complain more,”
the irony that we could experience more joy in the face of great adversity than when life is seemingly easy and uneventful.
Joy, it seemed, was a strange alchemy of mind over matter. The path to joy, like with sadness, did not lead away from suffering and adversity but through it.
The Dalai Lama is saying that you actually feel more joy after you’ve succeeded in the face of opposition .
We would probably have said ‘in spite of’ the adversity, but it seems like he’s saying ‘because of’ the adversity that this has evolved for him.”
Where they thought it was going to break him, it helped him. It helped him to see the point of view of the other. Twenty-seven years later, he comes out kind, caring, ready to trust his erstwhile enemy.
Suffering can either embitter us or ennoble us and that the difference lies in whether we are able to find meaning in our suffering. Without meaning, when suffering seems senseless, we can easily become embittered. But when we can find a shred of meaning or redemption in our suffering, it can ennoble us, as it did for Nelson Mandela. “One has learned in very many instances,” he continued, “that for us to grow in generosity of spirit we have to undergo in some way or other a diminishing, a frustration. You may not always think of it as being so. There are very few lives that just move smoothly from beginning to end. They have to be refined.
“What is it that needs to be refined?”
“Our almost natural response is, When I’m hit, I hit back. When you have been refined, you want to find out what it is that impelled this other one to do what he did. And so you put yourself in the shoes of the other. So it is almost an axiom that generosity of spirit seems to require that one will have had setbacks to remove the dross.
Your natural longing is to want to sit still. But if you do that and become a sofa cabbage or a couch potato, it’s going to show. So what is true physically is, in a wonderful way, true spiritually as well. Deep down we grow in kindness when our kindness is tested.”
The greatest danger for this man had been the risk of losing his compassion, losing his heart, losing his humanity.
It’s normal to experience great difficulties. But these experiences can, with the right way of thinking, lead you to have great inner strength. So I think that this is something very useful, particularly when we’re passing through difficulties.
We often feel that suffering will engulf us, or that the suffering will never end, but if we can realize that it, too, will pass, or as the Buddhists say, that it is impermanent, we can survive them more easily, and perhaps appreciate what we have to learn from them, find the meaning in them, so that we come out the other side, not embittered but ennobled. The depth of our suffering can also result in the height of our joy.
The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop were emphasizing that some degree of tolerance and acceptance is essential, as is realizing that these sorrows happen to all people, not just to us, and not because we have done anything wrong.
Illness and Fear of Death: I Prefer to Go to Hell
It’s almost a cliché that people with serious or life-threatening illnesses start to savor each moment and to be more fully alive.
Many psychologists say that the fear of death lies behind all other fears, and many historians of religion argue that religion arose to try to solve the mystery of death. Modern life keeps that fear at bay, as we don’t interact with the very old or the very sick, and illness, frailty, and death get tucked away behind institutional walls from our everyday lives.
Usually I tell them that you should accept that death is part of our life. There’s a beginning and there’s an end, as you mentioned. So once we accept that it is normal and that sooner or later it will come, our attitude changes.
“If a person is sick,” the Dalai Lama said, “it is much better to accept that you have some kind of illness and get medical treatment, rather than saying nothing is wrong and deceiving yourself.”
“As a Buddhist practitioner,” the Dalai Lama said, “I take seriously the contemplation of the Buddha’s first teaching, about the inevitability of suffering and the transient nature of our existence. Also, the Buddha’s last teaching at the time of his death ends with the truth of impermanence, reminding us how it is the nature of all things that come into existence to have an end. The Buddha said nothing lasts.
There are two levels of impermanence. At the grosser level, life keeps changing and things cease to exist, including us. At the more subtle level, in every single moment everything is changing, something science is able to show us happening, even at the atomic and subatomic level. Our body is constantly changing, as is our mind. Everything is in a constant state of change—nothing remains static, and nothing remains permanent. In fact, as the Buddha reminds us, the very causes that have given rise to something, such as our life, have created the mechanism, or the seed, for that thing’s eventual end. Recognizing this truth is an important part of the contemplation on impermanence.
There is a profound teaching by an ancient Tibetan master: The true measure of spiritual development is how one confronts one’s own mortality. The best way is when one is able to approach death with joy; next best way is without fear; third best way is at least not to have regrets.
“Yet as a Buddhist practitioner, I thought of Shantideva’s somewhat stern advice: If there is a way to overcome the situation, then instead of feeling too much sadness, too much fear, or too much anger, make an effort to change the situation. If there’s nothing you can do to overcome the situation, then there is no need for fear or sadness or anger. So I told myself, at that moment, that even if something were to happen to me, it would still be okay.
You face the facts, the reality. And making an attempt to escape was the best response in the face of that reality. Actually, fear is part of human nature; it’s a natural response that arises in the face of a danger. But with courage, when in fact real dangers come, you can be more fearless, more realistic. On the other hand, if you let your imagination run wild, then you exacerbate the situation further and then bring more fear.
Meditation: Now I’ll Tell You a Secret Thing
“Oh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.”
“So, in Buddhist thought,” the Dalai Lama explained, “we speak of death, intermediate state, and rebirth.
Mirror neurons allow us to imitate others and experience their internal states, and therefore may play an important role in empathy.
Daniel Siegel had explained to me that the neural integration created by this crucial area of the brain links many disparate areas and is the locus of everything from emotional regulation to morality. Meditation, he and other scientists have proposed, helps with these processes. He explained that the integrative fibers of the discerning middle prefrontal cortex seem to reach out and soothe the more reactive emotional structures of the brain. We inherited the reactivity of this part of our brain, and particularly the sensitive amygdala, from our skittish fight-or-flight ancestors. Yet so much of the inner journey means freeing ourselves from this evolutionary response so that we do not flip our lid or loose our higher reasoning when facing stressful situations. The real secret of freedom may simply be extending this brief space between stimulus and response. Meditation seems to elongate this pause and help expand our ability to choose our response.
It was one of the most profound examples of what a prayerful and meditative life can give us—that pause, the freedom to respond instead of react.
Marriages, even the best ones—perhaps especially the best ones—are an ongoing process of spoken and unspoken forgiveness.
The latest brain scan research suggests that we have a rather binary understanding of self and other and that our empathy circuits do not activate unless we see the other person as part of our own group.
Days 4 and 5 The Eight Pillars of Joy
Pillar #1 - Perspective: There Are Many Different Angles
If you set out and say, I want to be happy, clenching your teeth with determination, this is the quickest way of missing the bus. So if joy and happiness are by-products, what exactly are they by-products of? It was time to delve deeper into the qualities of mind and heart that we needed to cultivate to catch that bus.
We are ready to move on to the positive qualities that allow us to experience more joy.”
Mental immunity in reducing fear and anger and other obstacles to joy, but the Dalai Lama had explained that mental immunity was also about filling our mind and heart with positive
thoughts and feelings. As our dialogue progressed, we converged on eight pillars of joy.
Four were qualities of the mind: perspective, humility, humor, and acceptance. Four were qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.
Compassion and generosity, and indeed both men would insist that these two qualities were perhaps most pivotal to any lasting happiness.
We create most of our suffering, so we should be able to create more joy. The key, he had explained, was our perspective and the thoughts, feelings, and actions that come as a result.
The first concerned our perspective toward life, or, as Lyubomirsky described it, our ability to reframe our situation more positively. Our capacity to experience gratitude and our choice to be kind and generous were the others. A healthy perspective really is the foundation of joy and happiness, because the way we see the world is the way we experience the world. Changing the way we see the world in turn changes the way we feel and the way we act, which changes the world itself. Or, as the Buddha says in the Dhammapada, “With our mind we create our own world.”
For every event in life,” the Dalai Lama said, “there are many different angles. When you look at the same event from a wider perspective, your sense of worry and anxiety reduces, and you have greater joy.”
Reframe more positively
So therefore, if you look from one angle, you feel, Oh, how bad, how sad. But if you look from another angle at that same tragedy, that same event, you see that it gives me new opportunities.
Eger often quotes fellow Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl, who said that our perspective toward life is our final and ultimate freedom. She explains that our perspective literally has the power to keep us alive or to cause our death.
She explains that our perspective literally has the power to keep us alive or to cause our death.
While changing our emotions is quite hard, changing our perspective is actually relatively easy. It is a part of our mind, over which we have influence. The way you see the world, the meaning you give to what you witness, changes the way you feel.
Perspective is nothing less than the skull key that opens all of the locks that imprison our happiness.
The Dalai Lama used the terms wider perspective and larger perspective. They involve stepping back, within our own mind, to look at the bigger picture and to move beyond our limited self-awareness and our limited self-interest.
The Dalai Lama had explained, “We must look at any given situation or problem from the front and from the back, from the sides, and from the top and the bottom, so from at least six different angles. This allows us to take a more complete and holistic view of reality, and if we do, our response will be more constructive.”
We suffer from a perspectival myopia.
As a result, we are left nearsighted, unable to see our experience in a larger way. When we confront a challenge, we often react to the situation with fear and anger. The stress can make it hard for us to step back and see other perspectives and other solutions. This is natural, the Archbishop emphasized throughout the week. But if we try, we can become less fixated, or attached, to use the Buddhist term, to one outcome and can use more skillful means to handle the situation. We see that in the most seemingly limiting circumstance we have choice and freedom, even if that freedom is ultimately the attitude we will take.
A thought experiment to take us out of our limited perspective: Take something bad that happened in the past and then consider all the good that came out of it.
What they are reminding us is that often what we think is reality is only part of the picture. We look at one of the calamities in our world, as the Archbishop suggested, and then we look again, and we see all those who are helping to heal those who have been harmed. This is the ability to reframe life more positively based on a broader, richer, more nuanced perspective.
With a wider perspective, we can see our situation and all those involved in a larger context and from a more neutral position. By seeing the many conditions and circumstances that have led to this event, we can recognize that our limited perspective is not the truth. As the
Dalai Lama said, we can even see our own role in any conflict or misunderstanding.
By stepping back we can also see the long view, and have a clearer understanding of our actions and our problems in the larger frame of our life.
This wider perspective also leads us beyond our own self-regard. Self-centeredness is most
of our default perspective.
We also have the ability to take on the perspectives of others.
The very fact of not thinking about your own frustration and pain does something. I don’t know why. But it will make you feel much better. And I think it has therapeutic consequences for your own health, physical and spiritual. But what does frustration help? I mean, you feel it in the pit of your tummy, the anger.
Fundamentally, the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop were trying to shift our perspective from focusing on I and me and mine to we and us and ours.
This was interesting evidence that being too self-regarding really does make us unhappy.
being too self-regarding really does make us unhappy.
When we have a wider perspective, we are also less likely to spend our time lost in self-referential thoughts, ruminating.
Think about where you are suffering in your life and then think about all the other people who are going through a similar situation. This perhaps is quite literally the birth of compassion, which means “suffering with.”
As the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop explained, the wider perspective leads to serenity and equanimity. It does not mean we don’t have the strength to confront a problem, but we can confront it with creativity and compassion rather than rigidity and reactivity. When we take the perspective of others, we can empathize with them.
We also are able to recognize that we do not control all aspects of any situation. This leads
to a greater sense of humility, humor, and acceptance.
Pillar #2 - Humility: I Tried to Look Humble and Modest
So, I am just one human being talking to other human beings. “Similarly, they should consider me as the same human being, with the same potential for constructive emotions and destructive emotions. When we meet anyone, first and foremost we must remember that they, too, have the same desire to have a happy day, a happy month, a happy life. And all have the right to achieve it.
“As I mentioned earlier I used to get nervous,” the Dalai Lama continued. “When I was young and had to give some formal teachings, because I was not thinking that we are all same, I would experience anxiety. I would forget that I’m just talking as a human being to fellow humans beings. I would think of myself as something special, and that kind of thinking would make me feel isolated. It is this sense of separateness that isolates us from other people. In fact, this kind of arrogant way of thinking creates a sense of loneliness, and then anxiety."
When I was young and had to give some formal teachings, because I was not thinking that we are all same, I would experience anxiety. I would forget that I’m just talking as a human being to fellow humans beings. I would think of myself as something special, and that kind of thinking would make me feel isolated.
When things go smoothly, then we can pretend we are something very special. But something happens, something unexpected, then we are forced to act like normal human beings.
Sometimes, especially in formal occasions, people act as if they are different and special. But we all know that we are all the same, ordinary human beings.
Humility is not something that one can claim to have.
Nonetheless he and the Dalai Lama were saying that humility is essential to a life of joy. And it’s exactly this humility that allows these two men to be so approachable, so connected to others, and so effective in their work in the world.
But if you think you are just a normal person—one human being out of seven billion—you see there’s no reason to be surprised or to feel like I should be something special.
Humility is essential to any possibility of joy.
When we have a wider perspective, we have a natural understanding of our place in the great sweep of all that was, is, and will be. This naturally leads to humility and the recognition that as human beings we can’t solve everything or control all aspects of life. We need others.
Our vulnerabilities, our frailties, and our limitations are a reminder that we need one another: We are not created for independence or self-sufficiency, but for interdependence
Dalai Lama’s attitude toward life: “The Dalai Lama seems amused by everything that is going on around him, taking pleasure in whatever is going on, but not taking anything too personally, and not worrying or taking offense at anything that is happening.”
Arrogance is the confusion between our temporary roles and our fundamental identity.
The word humility actually comes from the Latin word for earth or soil, humus—which sounds a lot like but should not be confused with the simple but delicious Middle Eastern chickpea dip, hummus. Humility literally brings us back down to earth, sometimes with a thud.
None of us are immune to the all-too-human traits of pride or ego, but true arrogance really comes from insecurity.
Sometimes we confuse humility with timidity. They are not the same.
Humility is the recognition that your gifts are from God, and this lets you sit relatively loosely to those gifts. Humility allows us to celebrate the gifts of others, but it does not mean you have to deny your own gifts or shrink from using them. God uses each of us in our own way, and even if you are not the best one, you may be the one who is needed or the one who is there.
I was attempting to do something I had never done before, and whenever we challenge ourselves, fear and doubt are inevitable. I am not sure we ever vanquish these voices.
Whenever we are at the edge of our ability and experience, they always whisper in our ears, their worried words. I have come to see that these voices are actually trying to keep us safe as they warn us away from the unfamiliar and the unknown, but this does not make their daggers of self-doubt any less painful. I finally was able to fall asleep when I realized that this was not about me, or my limitations. I was simply the ambassador asking questions on behalf of all those who wanted to benefit from the wisdom of the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama—and I would not be alone during the interviews or in the writing of this book. As the Archbishop had said, whether I was the best one or not, I was the one who was there.
What is the best way to keep a positive attitude when things aren’t going your way? How can we deal with the self-critical voices that we all have?” “So many people,” the Dalai Lama said, “seem to struggle with being kind to themselves. This is really sad. You see, if you don’t have genuine love and kindness toward yourself, how can you extend these to others? We must remind people, as the Archbishop has said, that basic human nature is good, is positive, so this can give us some courage and self-confidence. As we said, too much focus on yourself leads to fear, insecurity, and anxiety. Remember, you are not alone. You are part of a whole generation that is the future of humanity. Then you will get a sense of courage and purpose in life."
When we have humility, we can laugh at ourselves. It was surprising to hear the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama describe the importance of a proper sense of humor, and especially the ability to laugh at our own foibles, as essential to the cultivation of joy.
Pillar #3 - Humor: Laughter, Joking Is Much Better
I’m tempted to see laughter and a sense of humor as a universal index of spiritual development.
“Can you tell us about the role of laughter and humor in the cultivation of joy?”
“It is much better when there is not too much seriousness,” the Dalai Lama responded. “Laughter, joking is much better. Then we can be completely relaxed.
“I think that the scientists are right,” the Dalai Lama concluded. “People who are always laughing have a sense of abandon and ease. They are less likely to have a heart attack than those people who are really serious and who have difficulty connecting with other people.
Those serious people are in real danger. [Neither man is much for seriousness or formality.]
Humor helped to defuse a very, very tense situation, telling stories that made people laugh and especially to laugh at themselves.
We tend to want to blow ourselves up, inflate ourselves because most of us have tended to have a poor self-image.
Humor is a very powerful weapon.
“When we learn to take ourselves slightly less seriously,” the Archbishop continued, “then it is a very great help. We can see the ridiculous in us. I was helped by the fact that I came out of a family who did like to take the mickey out of others, and who were quite fond of pointing out the ridiculous, especially when someone was being a bit hoity-toity. And they had a way of puncturing your sense of self-importance."
Can you two tell us a little bit about the ways in which humor can bring us together and show us our shared ridiculousness?” “Well, yes, if you are longing to bring people together, you’re not going to do so by being acerbic. You know, it’s so good to see the ridiculous in us all, really. I think we then get to see our common humanity in many ways. “Ultimately, I think it’s about being able to laugh at yourself and being able not to take yourself so seriously. It’s not about the belittling humor that puts others down and yourself up. It’s about bringing people onto common ground."
“I’m just thinking that we’re so very apt to belittle because we are also so unsure of ourselves and we think that the best way of asserting who we are is by putting you down, whereas this kind of humor says, ‘Come stand next to me and let’s laugh at me together, then we can laugh at you together.’
Life is hard, you know, and laughter is how we come to terms with all the ironies and cruelties and uncertainties that we face.”
I believe very fervently that one of the ways of getting into the hearts of people is the capacity of making them laugh.
Laugh at yourself and don’t be so pompous and serious. If you start looking for the humor in life, you will find it. You will stop asking, Why me? and start recognizing that life happens to all of us. It makes everything easier, including your ability to accept others and accept all that life will bring.”
Pillar #4 - Acceptance: The Only Place Where Change Can Begin
“Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied? And what is the use of being unhappy if it cannot be remedied?” In this short teaching is the profound essence of the Dalai Lama’s approach to life. It was at the root of his stunning ability to accept the reality of his exile without, as the Archbishop put it, being morose. Once we can see life in its wider perspective, once we are able to see our role in its drama with some degree of humility, and once we are able to laugh at ourselves, we then come to the fourth and final quality of mind, which is the ability to accept our life in all its pain, imperfection, and beauty. Acceptance, it must be pointed out, is the opposite of resignation and defeat.
“We are meant to live in joy.”
“This does not mean that life will be easy or painless. It means that we can turn our faces to the wind and accept that this is the storm we must pass through. We cannot succeed by denying what exists. The acceptance of reality is the only place from which change can begin.” The Archbishop had said that when one grows in the spiritual life, “You are able to accept anything that happens to you.” You accept the inevitable frustrations and hardships as part of the warp and woof of life. The question, he had said, is not: How do we escape it? The question is: How can we use this as something positive?
Acceptance—whether we believe in God or not—allows us to move into the fullness of joy. It allows us to engage with life on its own terms rather than rail against the fact that life is not as we would wish. It allows us not to struggle against the day-to-day current.
When we are able to accept that life is how it is, not as we think it should be, we are able to ease the ride, to go from that bumpy axle (dukkha), with all its suffering, stress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction, to the smooth axle (sukha), with its greater ease, comfort, and happiness.
So many of the causes of suffering come from our reacting to the people, places, things, and circumstances in our lives, rather than accepting them. When we react, we stay locked in judgment and criticism, anxiety and despair, even denial and addiction. It is impossible to experience joy when we are stuck this way. Acceptance is the sword that cuts through all of this resistance, allowing us to relax, to see clearly, and to respond appropriately.
Meditative practice allows us to quiet the distracting thoughts and feelings so that we can perceive reality, and respond to it more skillfully. The ability to be present in each moment is nothing more and nothing less than the ability to accept the vulnerability, discomfort, and anxiety of everyday life.
You cannot control your neighbor, but you do have some control over your thoughts and feelings. Instead of anger, instead of hatred, instead of fear, you can cultivate compassion for them, you can cultivate kindness toward them, you can cultivate warmheartedness toward them.
In time, maybe they will become less difficult. Maybe not. This you cannot control, but you will have your peace of mind. You will be able to be joyful and happy whether your neighbor becomes less difficult or not.
One of the key paradoxes in Buddhism is that we need goals to be inspired, to grow, and to develop, even to become enlightened, but at the same time we must not get overly fixated or attached to these aspirations. If the goal is noble, your commitment to the goal should not be contingent on your ability to attain it, and in pursuit of our goal, we must release our rigid assumptions about how we must achieve it. Peace and equanimity come from letting go of our attachment to the goal and the method. That is the essence of acceptance.
Sometimes we get too angry with ourselves, thinking that we ought to be perfect from the word go. But this being on Earth is a time for us to learn to be good, to learn to be more loving, to learn to be more compassionate. And you learn, not theoretically. You learn when something happens that tests you.
When we accept what is happening now, we can be curious about what might happen next.
Pillar #5 - Forgiveness: Freeing Ourselves from the Past
When you have a sense of concern for their well-being, then there is no place for anger and hatred to grow.
“Forgiveness,” the Dalai Lama continued, “does not mean we forget. You should remember the negative thing, but because there is a possibility to develop hatred, we mustn’t allow ourselves to be led in that direction—we choose forgiveness.”
Forgiveness does not mean that you do not seek justice or that the perpetrator is not punished.
Sometimes people misunderstand and think forgiveness means you accept or approve of wrongdoing. No, this is not the case. We must make an important distinction.” The Dalai Lama was speaking emphatically, striking one hand against the other. “The actor and action, or the person and what he has done. Where the wrong action is concerned, it may be necessary to take appropriate counteraction to stop it. Toward the actor, or the person, however, you can choose not to develop anger and hatred. This is where the power of forgiveness lies—not losing sight of the humanity of the person while responding to the wrong with clarity and firmness.
“Forgiveness,” the Archbishop added, “is the only way to heal ourselves and to be free from the past.”
When we forgive, we take back control of our own fate and our feelings. We become our own liberator.”
Forgiveness is a sign of strength.
But in the end you discover that an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind. We have an instinct for revenge but also for forgiveness.”
Unforgiveness leads to ongoing feelings of resentment, anger, hostility, and hatred that can be extremely destructive. Even short bursts of it can have significant physical effects.
Unforgiveness seems to compromise the immune system in a number of ways, including disrupting the production of important hormones and the way that our cells fight off infections.
Pillar #6 - Gratitude: I Am Fortunate to Be Alive
Every day, think as you wake up, ‘I am fortunate to be alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it.’”
It is indeed that ability to see wonder, surprise, possibility in each experience and each encounter that is a core aspect of joy.
Neither the Archbishop nor the Dalai Lama spent a great deal of time talking about enjoyment, perhaps because both of their traditions are skeptical of finding lasting happiness through sensual indulgence,
Gratitude is the elevation of enjoyment, the ennobling of enjoyment. Gratitude is one of the key dimensions that Ekman lists in his definition of joy.
Gratitude is the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life that we have and the moment that we are experiencing.
Thanksgiving is a natural response to life and may be the only way to savor it.
It allows us to shift our perspective, as the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop counseled, toward all we have been given and all that we have. It moves us away from the narrow-minded focus on fault and lack and to the wider perspective of benefit and abundance.
“It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.
Acceptance means not fighting reality. Gratitude means embracing reality. It means moving from counting your burdens to counting your blessings, as the Archbishop had recommended, both as an antidote to envy and a recipe for appreciating our own lives.
If I’m angry and unforgiving, they will have taken the rest of my life.
Unforgiveness robs us of our ability to enjoy and appreciate our life, because we are trapped in a past filled with anger and bitterness. Forgiveness allows us to move beyond the past and appreciate the present, including the drops of rain falling on our face.
Whatever life gives to you, you can respond with joy. Joy is the happiness that does not depend on what happens. It is the grateful response to the opportunity that life offers you at this moment.
“The world didn’t give you your joy, and the world can’t take it away. You can let people come into your life and destroy it, but I refused to let anyone take my joy. I get up in the morning, and I don’t need anyone to make me laugh. I am going to laugh on my own, because I have been blessed to see another day, and when you are blessed to see another day that should automatically give you joy.
My mom told us about true happiness. She told us that when you are happy, then when folks hang around you they become happy.
But I can tell you that I’m happy because I choose to be happy.
When you are grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not out of a sense of scarcity, and you are willing to share. If you are grateful, you are enjoying the differences between people and respectful to all people. A grateful world is a world of joyful people. Grateful people are joyful people. A grateful world is a happy world.”
Scientists have long known that our brains have evolved with a negative bias. It was no doubt advantageous for our survival to focus on what was wrong or dangerous. Gratitude cuts across this default mode of the mind. It allows us to see what is good and right and not just what is bad and wrong.
grateful people do not seem to ignore or deny the negative aspects of life; they simply choose to appreciate what is positive as well: “People with a strong disposition toward gratitude have the capacity to be empathic and to take the perspective of others. They are rated as more generous and more helpful by people in their social networks.”
Grateful people report more positive emotions, more vitality and optimism, and greater life satisfaction as well as lower levels of stress and depression. Gratitude may stimulate the hypothalamus,
Smiling stimulates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress and unleashes a feel-good cocktail of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. Serotonin acts as a natural antidepressant, dopamine stimulates the reward
centers of the brain, and endorphins are natural painkillers.
Smiling is contagious, stimulating unconscious smiling in others, which in turn spreads the positive effects.
Impermanence, the Dalai Lama reminds us, is the nature of life. All things are slipping away, and there is a real danger of wasting our precious human life. Gratitude helps us catalog, celebrate, and rejoice in each day and each moment before they slip through the vanishing hourglass of experience.
Perhaps it was no surprise to Sonja Lyubomirsky that gratitude is a factor that seems to influence happiness along with our ability to reframe negative events into positive ones. The final factor she found was our ability to be kind and generous toward others, which the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop saw as two separate but related pillars: compassion and generosity. When we recognize all that we have been given, it is our natural response to want to care for and give to others.
Pillar #7 - Compassion: Something We Want to Become
Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness,” the Dalai Lama had said earlier in the week.
Both he and the Archbishop had emphasized that this compassionate concern for others is instinctual and that we are hardwired to connect and to care.
Buddha supposedly said, “What is that one thing, which when you possess, you have all other virtues? It is compassion.”
“Compassion is a sense of concern that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to see that suffering relieved.” He adds, “Compassion is what connects the feeling of empathy to acts of kindness, generosity, and other expressions of altruistic tendencies.”
Compassion is actually a skill that can be cultivated. It is something that we can learn to develop and then use to extend our circle of concern beyond our immediate family to others. It helps when one recognizes our shared humanity.
If you want a happy life and fewer problems, you have to develop a serious concern for the well-being of others.
We humans have a special brain, but this brain causes a lot of suffering because it is always thinking me, me, me, me. The more time you spend thinking about yourself, the more suffering you will experience. The incredible thing is that when we think of alleviating other people’s suffering, our own suffering is reduced. This is the true secret to happiness. So this is a very practical thing. In fact, it is common sense.”
We really are wired to be caring of the other. And when we go against that fundamental law of our being, whether we like it or not, it is going to have deleterious consequences for
when you say, ‘How can I help?’ even in the midst of your deep anguish, it’s got an alchemy that transforms your pain. It may not take it away. But it becomes in a way bearable, more than it was at the time when you were just saying ‘poor me,’ thinking only about yourself.
Thinking me, me, me automatically brings fear, a sense of insecurity, and distrust. That kind of person will never be happy person.
I knew they were suggesting that it was a pillar of joy (compassion) for the rest of us, and I wanted to understand why it has been so hard for our modern culture to embrace.
We’re wired to be other-regarding.
The modern world is suspicious of compassion because we have accepted the belief that nature is “red in tooth and claw” and that we are fundamentally competing against everyone and everything. According to this perspective, in our lives of getting and spending, compassion is at best a luxury, or at worst a self-defeating folly of the weak. Yet evolutionary science has come to see cooperation, and its core emotions of empathy, compassion, and generosity, as fundamental to our species’ survival. What the Dalai Lama was describing—explaining that compassion is in our self-interest—evolutionary biologists have called “reciprocal altruism.” I scratch your back today, and you scratch my back tomorrow.
We fear compassion because we’re afraid of experiencing the suffering, the vulnerability, and the helplessness that can come with having an open heart.
One of the differences between empathy and compassion is that while empathy is simply experiencing another’s emotion, compassion is a more empowered state where we want what is best for the other person. As the Dalai Lama has described it, if we see a person who is being crushed by a rock, the goal is not to get under the rock and feel what they are feeling; it is to help to remove the rock.
Compassion can flow naturally when we understand and work to remove our fears, our blocks, and our resistances to it. Compassion is one of the most difficult and courageous of all our motivations, but is also the most healing and elevating.
Self-compassion is closely connected to self-acceptance, but it is even more than the acceptance of ourselves. It is actually having compassion for our human frailties and recognizing that we are vulnerable and limited like all people. As a result, it is a fundamental basis for developing compassion for others. It's hard to love others as you love yourself, as both men pointed out, if you don’t love yourself.
Modern culture makes it hard for us to have compassion for ourselves. We spend so much of our lives climbing a pyramid of achievement where we are constantly being evaluated and judged, and often found to be not making the grade. We internalize these other voices of parents, teachers, and society at large. As a result, sometimes people are not very compassionate with themselves. People don’t rest when they are tired, and neglect their basic needs for sleep, food, and exercise as they drive themselves harder and harder. As the Dalai Lama said, they treat themselves as if they are part of the machine. People tend to feel anxious and depressed because waiting to fall off the merry-go-round. Jinpa explains, “Lack of self-compassion manifests in a harsh and judgmental relationship with ourselves. Many people believe that unless they are critical and demanding, they will be failures, unworthy of recognition and undeserving of love.” Psychologist Kristin Neff has identified ways to express self-compassion: When we treat ourselves with compassion, we accept that there are parts of our personality that we may not be satisfied with, but we do not berate ourselves as we try to address them. When we go through a difficult time, we are caring and kind to ourselves, as we would be to a friend or relative. When we feel inadequate in some way, we remind ourselves that all people have these feelings or limitations. When things are hard, we recognize that all people go through similar challenges. And finally when we are feeling down, we try to understand this feeling with curiosity and acceptance rather than rejection or self-judgment.
The Archbishop and the Dalai Lama had revealed throughout the week one of the core paradoxes of happiness: We are most joyful when we focus on others, not on ourselves. In short, bringing joy to others is the fastest way to experience joy oneself.
Pillar #8 - Generosity: We Are Filled with Joy
It is when we grow in a self-forgetfulness—in a remarkable way I mean we discover that we are filled with joy.
In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more, and more joyful.
Generosity is often a natural outgrowth of compassion, though the line between the two can be hard to distinguish. We don’t need to wait until the feelings of compassion arise before we choose to be generous. Generosity is often something that we learn to enjoy by doing.
Generosity is so important in all of the world’s religions because it no doubt expresses a fundamental aspect of our interdependence and our need for one another. Generosity was so important for our survival that the reward centers of our brain light up as strongly when we give as when we receive, sometimes even more
Richard Davidson and his colleagues have identified that generosity is one of the four fundamental brain circuits.
That one of the strongest predictors of well-being worldwide is the quality of our relationships.
So it seems that money can buy happiness, if we spend it on other people.
“One of the persistent myths in our society,” Jim explained, “is that money will make you happy. Growing up poor, I thought that money would give me everything I did not have: control, power, love. When I finally had all the money I had ever dreamed of, I discovered that it had not made me happy. And when I lost it all, all of my false friends disappeared.”
In the happiness literature there is a great deal of research on the importance of having a sense of purpose. Purpose, fundamentally, is about how we are able to contribute and be generous to others, how we feel needed by and of value to others.
Compassion and generosity are not just lofty virtues—they are at the center of our humanity, what makes our lives joyful and meaningful.
It’s not the wealth and the status. These are neutral. It’s our attitude. It’s what we do with them that is so important. We said it on the very first day: When you become so inward looking, so self-regarding, you are going to end up a shriveled human being.”
In Buddhist teachings there are three kinds of generosity: material giving, giving freedom from fear (which can involve protection, counseling, or solace), and spiritual giving, which can involve giving your wisdom, moral and ethical teachings, and helping people to be more self-sufficient and happier.
The employees have the feeling that ‘this is my company.’ So they work wholeheartedly.
We work hard not only to supply our needs and the needs of our families, but we are trying to outdo the other. We have downplayed the fact that actually our created nature is that we are made for a complementarity. We have become dehumanized and debased. As Martin Luther King Jr., said, ‘We must learn to live together as sisters and brothers, or we will perish together as fools.’
The only way out of this drunken stupor is to educate children about the value of compassion and the value of applying our mind.
This person wants to know how she can find joy in her life while there are so many who are suffering.
Start where you are, and realize that you are not meant on your own to resolve all of these massive problems. Do what you can. It seems so obvious. And you will be surprised, actually, at how it can get to be catching.
It helps no one if you sacrifice your joy because others are suffering.
The Archbishop had used a beautiful phrase to describe this way of being in the world: “becoming an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that ripples out to all of those around us.” When we have a generous spirit, we are easy to be with and fun to be with. We radiate happiness, and our very company can bring joy to others. This no doubt goes hand in hand with the ability, as the Archbishop had pointed out repeatedly, to be less self-centered, less self-regarding, and more self-forgetful. Then we are less burdened by our self-agenda: We do not have anything to prove. We do not need to be seen in a particular way. We can have less pretension and more openness, more honesty. This naturally brings ease to those around us, too; as we have accepted ourselves, our vulnerabilities, and our humanity, we can accept the humanity of others. We can have compassion for our faults and have compassion for those of others. We can be generous and give our joy to others. In many ways, it is like the Buddhist practice of tonglen, which the Dalai Lama had used on the day he found out about the uprising and brutal crackdown in Tibet. We can take in the suffering of others and give them back our joy.
When we practice a generosity of spirit, we are in many ways practicing all the other pillars of joy. In generosity, there is a wider perspective, in which we see our connection to all others. There is a humility that recognizes our place in the world and acknowledges that at another time we could be the one in need, whether that need is material, emotional, or spiritual. There is a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at ourselves so that we do not take ourselves too seriously. There is an acceptance of life, in which we do not force life to be other than what it is. There is a forgiveness of others and a release of what might otherwise have been. There is a gratitude for all that we have been given. Finally, we see others with a deep compassion and a desire to help those who are in need. And from this comes a generosity that is “wise selfish,” a generosity that recognizes helping others as helping ourselves. As the Dalai Lama put it, “In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life.”
True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done.
Departure: A Final Goodbye
"It is clear that the only way to truly change our world is through teaching compassion. Our society is lacking an adequate sense of compassion, sense of kindness, and genuine regard for others’ well-being. So now many, many people who seriously think about humanity all have the same view.” He was pointing both his index fingers at his temple to emphasize the logic of their conclusion. “We must promote basic human values, the inner values that lie at the heart of who we are as humans."
We have to find another way to promote these values.
Education is universal. We must teach people, especially our youth, the source of happiness and satisfaction. We must teach them that the ultimate source of happiness is within themselves. Not machine. Not technology. Not money. Not power.
Our book is part of this important process to help spread the message that love, kindness, and affection are the source of joy and happiness.
In order to become a happy person, we need to live more from the compassionate part of our nature and to have a sense of responsibility toward others and the world we live in. In this century if we make an attempt with realistic effort and clear vision, perhaps in the later part of the century, we can really have a happier world. A more peaceful world. A kinder and more compassionate world. My hope is that this book can be a contribution toward bringing about this happier humanity.
The two leaders had told us over the course of the week that there is no joy without sorrow, that in fact it is the pain, the suffering that allows us to experience and appreciate the joy. Indeed, the more we turn toward the suffering, our own and others, the more we can turn toward the joy. We accept them both, turning the volume of life up, or we turn our backs on life itself, becoming deaf to its music. They had also told us and demonstrated that true joy is a way of being, not a fleeting emotion. What they had cultivated in their long lives was that enduring trait of joyfulness. They had warned us that we cannot pursue joy as an end in itself, or we will miss the bus. Joy comes, rather, from daily thoughts, feelings, and actions. And they had told us repeatedly the action that gets us on the bus: bringing joy to others.
Adversity, illness, and death are real and inevitable. We choose whether to add to these unavoidable facts of life with the suffering we create in our own minds and hearts, the chosen suffering. The more we make a different choice, to heal our own suffering, the more we can turn to others and help to address their suffering with the laughter-filled, tear-stained eyes of the heart. And the more we turn away from our self-regard to wipe the tears from the eyes of another, the more—incredibly—we are able to bear, to heal, and to transcend our own suffering. This was their true secret to joy.