Five Lessons + One Soul Shaker from The Book of Joy

My June Blissburg Book Club pick, The Book of Joy leaves a deep and lasting impression. As it now resides in an honored space as the most influential and important book I have ever read, I will carry its vital teachings forward in my life and work in innumerable ways. While every word of this relevant, resonant read is valuable and applicable in our daily lives, I’m sharing here the five biggest lessons the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu taught me, as well as one soul shaking takeaway.

The Lessons

  1. Mudita. As a life coach building my body of work, profile, and brand, I can testify: Comparison is the thief of joy. The envy we may feel as we peruse our favorite influencers’ Insta galleries is harming our well-being, mentally and emotionally, not to mention holding us back from playing full out and fearlessly in the spaces we co-habitate. The Dalai Lama has an antidote – Mudita. He explains mudita as “sympathetic joy,” recognizing that joy is not a zero-sum game. We can want the same things that someone else already has and be happy for their success at the same time. It’s like having an abundance mindset and realizing there’s enough to go around.

  2. Perspectival Myopia. Each one of us generates our worldview from our own awareness and interest. Depending upon the breadth of our life experiences, curiosity, and openness, our worldviews can be wide or narrow. This narrowness is perspectival myopia, or a nearsightedness in our perspective. By stepping outside of ourselves and seeing different angles to issues and problems, we can overcome limiting tendencies and embrace a more holistic view of the world and our interconnectedness and common humanity.

  3. Ubuntu. I love learning new words and concepts and The Book of Joy delivers plenty. The concept of Ubuntu is the deepest, yet simplest, of them all. An African term, Ubuntu means that we are who we are through others; we are all connected by our humanity. Ubuntu calls upon our better angels to remind us that we suffer and experience joy as a human family; we are interdependent and wise to share of ourselves and our resources.

  4. Compassion + Generosity = Joy. The overarching theme of The Book of Joy is that joy is cultivated most enduringly through our own selflessness. We learn that self-centeredness leads to fear and suffering, and that “reciprocal altruism” is necessary not only for our well-being, but for our very survival. Neuroscientists and psychologists alike credit generosity with lighting up happiness centers in our brain, while the book outlines three key ways we can give: materially, spiritually, and through freedom from fear.

  5. Educating the heart is the only thing that can save us. The irony isn’t lost that, in a book co-authored by a Buddhist and a Christian, two of the world’s most iconic and influential spiritual leaders, they agree we must think beyond religion to promote the values they outline within. Religion, they concur, is insufficient – and can be divisive, contributing to the “otherness” worldviews that so damage our collective well-being. The answer they suggest is education, specifically secular education, that teaches our children how to be good humans. They also agree that there is presently a dearth of this remedy in our world today. The call to action here is that we all have a part to play, a responsibility even, to our world to cultivate genuine concern for one another. By coming back once again to our shared humanity, we can more effectively solve systemic problems – and more easily solve the smaller ones.

The Soul Shaker

Go to hell. What kind of holy man declares that, if given the choice between heaven and hell, he would choose hell? The authentic kind. The deeply rooted in humility and forgiveness and compassion and generosity kind. This is precisely what that Dalai Lama reveals as part of a discussion about the fear of death. “I can solve more problems in hell,” he explains. “I can help more people there.” It shook my soul to read his words, and I suddenly recognize what unflinching selflessness and serving other really looks like in a genuine person of faith.

For those interested in exploring what the lesson of “educating the heart” can look like for families and teachers, the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education offers an extensive library of free online resources at HeartMindOnline.org.

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