The Book of Joy: Quotes by Desmond Tutu & the Dalai Lama

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Book of Joy" by The Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you looking for the key to a joyful life? How will these The Book of Joy quotes help you find the answer?

The Book of Joy, written by Douglas Abrams, documents a week-long conversation between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama about the nature of joy. The conversation, facilitated by Abrams, took place in 2015, leading up to the celebration of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday.

Let’s look at some quotes from The Book of Joy to give you a better picture of Tutu and the Dalai Lama’s teachings.

The Book of Joy Quotes That Will Inspire You

In The Book of Joy, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama offer reassurance that joy is not as elusive as you might think. While many look for joy in a different relationship, a different city, or a different job, they argue that joy can be found exactly where you are no matter what your life looks like.

Written by Douglas Abrams, The Book of Joy documents a week-long conversation between Tutu and the Dalai Lama about the nature of joy—what it is, why it matters, and how you can find it. Here we’ll look at four The Book of Joy quotes that cover the most important ideas you should take away from their book.

“We are fragile creatures, and it is from this weakness, not despite it, that we discover the possibility of true joy.”

According to neuroscience research, joy is one of only four basic human emotions. The other three are fear, anger, and sadness—all emotions that can cause suffering—making joy the only emotion that explores what is good and satisfying about the human experience. Joy can cover a broad range of positive experiences, including pleasure, amusement, contentment, excitement, relief, wonder, bliss, pride, and gratitude.

While many of us may conflate joy and happiness, Tutu and the Dalai Lama make a clear distinction between the two. They explain that joy, unlike happiness, is not dependent on external circumstances. Instead, joy depends on the attitude we adopt in those circumstances. Joy is a state of being, or way of looking at the world, unaffected by the ups and downs of life. 

According to Tutu and the Dalai Lama, the purpose of life is to alleviate our own suffering through the discovery and practice of joy. While they agree that suffering is inevitable, they offer joy as a path through suffering. Throughout their conversation, Tutu and the Dalai Lama discuss how joy not only offers an antidote to personal suffering, but creates a virtuous cycle of well-being in which your pursuit of joy not only benefits you, but also your friends, family, and community. Their joy will inevitably increase your joy, and so the cycle continues.

“Something is lacking. As one of the seven billion human beings, I believe everyone has the responsibility to develop a happier world. We need, ultimately, to have a greater concern for others’ well-being. In other words, kindness or compassion, which is lacking now. We must pay more attention to our inner values. We must look inside.”

Compassion is the desire to alleviate another person’s suffering. When you’re grateful for what you have, your natural inclination is to turn your attention and concern to other people. 

Science suggests that we’re hardwired for compassion. While many argue that people are innately selfish and competitive, cooperation has been more fundamental to humanity’s survival. As Tutu and the Dalai Lama reiterate, people are interdependent. We depend on others for survival and happiness; therefore, being invested in other people’s well-being is in our own self-interest. 

Even small acts of compassion, like smiling as you pass someone, are powerful because compassion is contagious. Studies have shown that witnessing acts of compassion inspires others to act more compassionately. Treating your loved ones with compassion will cause them to act more compassionately to the people they know, who’ll then also act more compassionately within their network, causing a powerful ripple effect beyond your own immediate circle.

“Marriages, even the best ones—perhaps especially the best ones—are an ongoing process of spoken and unspoken forgiveness.”

Sometimes, the things that are hardest to accept are the actions of other people. When you accept reality, you’re more likely to practice forgiveness—the deliberate choice to let go of feelings of anger or vengeance toward a person or people who have harmed you. 

Forgiveness is a powerful practice because it breaks cycles of suffering. If you’re harmed and you choose anger or vengeance, then you’ve chosen to respond to harm by causing more harm; but if you choose forgiveness, you can prevent further harm from happening. For example, if someone says something cruel to you and you say something cruel in reply, then you both continue to suffer. But if you forgive them and offer compassion, you have the opportunity to transform the interaction and interrupt the ongoing suffering. 

Yet Tutu and the Dalai Lama emphasize that forgiveness is not the same as condoning harmful actions. Just because you choose not to exact revenge for harm done to you doesn’t mean you approve of the person’s actions. The Dalai Lama explains that forgiveness requires that you distinguish between the person and their action. You can condemn someone’s actions without condemning the person, maintaining compassion for the person who took the action.

“The more time you spend thinking about yourself, the more suffering you will experience.”

According to Tutu and the Dalai Lama, one truth to accept is that suffering is inevitable and universal. Every person experiences suffering, whether it’s the loss of a loved one or the trauma of war. In response to suffering, we often feel negative emotions like sadness or loneliness. However, recognizing the shared experience of suffering can be a balm against it because suffering is one of the things that connects us to other people. 

Sadness is often a source of suffering. However, Tutu and the Dalai Lama explain that while sadness and joy may seem like polar opposites, they’re actually inextricably linked. Sadness is often the direct route to empathy and compassion because grief and loss allow you to more clearly see your need and affection for other people. It’s often during periods of sadness or experiences of loss that we reach for one another for comfort or solidarity. Psychologists have found that mild sadness has a number of benefits, including better judgment, increased motivation, and greater generosity and well-being. 

Tutu and the Dalai Lama suggest finding meaning and purpose in your sadness. For example, when a loved one dies, use it as inspiration to be more intentional about living in ways that honor their memory. Grief can also act as a reminder of the richness of love. If you didn’t care deeply for someone, you’d feel nothing when they’re gone. Sadness reveals the depth of our capacity to love.

According to Tutu and the Dalai Lama, sadness and loneliness often go hand in hand. The world is facing an epidemic of loneliness, which is further fueled by a culture of materialism that values production over connection, love, friendship, or community.

Understanding that suffering is universal can empower you to approach people with compassion and openness. Every person experiences suffering; therefore, regardless of a person’s actions, you have the opportunity to feel closer to them by showing compassion for the ways in which they’re suffering.

The Book of Joy: Quotes by Desmond Tutu & the Dalai Lama

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Book of Joy summary:

  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama's guide to joy
  • What joy actually is and why it matters so much
  • How to find joy exactly where you are, no matter what your life looks like

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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