Several weeks ago I briefly reviewed a book by Douglas Abrams entitled The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. It chronicles a series of conversations between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. Seldom have I had such feedback from a column so I decided that I would delve a little deeper into the final section of the book hoping that it might further whet the appetites awakened by my first column.
According to these two distinguished scholars there are eight principles that are essential to joyful living. Few would disagree that we can use all the help available in times that seem so troubled. Each section can be read as a standalone although the there is a continuity that is compelling.
In order of their presentation here they are. Perspective: There Are Many Different Angles; Humility: I Tried to Look Humble and Modest; Humor: Laughter, Joking is Much Better; Acceptance: The Only Place Where Change Can Begin; Forgiveness: Freeing Ourselves from the Past; Gratitude: I Am Fortunate to be Alive; Compassion: Something We Want to Become; and Generosity: We Are Filled with Joy.
Just to read those chapter headings should cause one to catch one’s breath. At the end of any day who could fail to be struck with how the day just ended was shot through with missed opportunities to exercise just one or two of those characteristics. Can you imagine applying them all every day? No wonder the Dali Lama and Archbishop Tutu seem to glow in the dark with their personal luminosity!
Just to illuminate only one of them, consider the first: Perspective. When little more than a child the Dali Lama was forced to flee Tibet to save his life and set up a nation in exile. The natural perspective was one of terror but once his escape to India was assured be began to realize that there were many ways to look at the misfortune to which he and the country he was to lead.
Had he remained in Tibet, even if he had survived, it is likely that he would never have become known beyond that mountain fastness in which he was born. Instead, he attracted world-wide attention as a man of peace, one who held fast to the principle of the goodness of humanity – even the Chinese who had treated his nation so murderously. His change in perspective in his circumstance made possible the Nobel Peace Prize and allowed him to carry his message round the globe.
Archbishop Tutu had life threatening health challenges as a child, some of which have followed him into his elderly years. Despite that his perspective was changed from understandable self-concern to be at the forefront from of the abolition of apartheid freeing millions in South Africa from virtual slavery. He, too, received the Nobel Peace Prize and became an international symbol for justice and tolerance.
The examples of how these two men changed the perspective of their early misfortunes and instead fashioned their lives as instruments of light in spite of horrors we can scarcely imagine. No matter how dark the present may seem there are always opportunities to overcome obstacles: it begins with a change in perspective. That can give each of us a guidepost of hope in the midst of real darkness. Each of us can and should take the challenge offered by these men who have led lives of uninhibited joy in spite of the circumstances that have surrounded them.