The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

By Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams

39,732 ratings - 4.36* vote

Two great spiritual masters share their own hard-won wisdom about living with joy even in the face of adversity.  The occasion was a big birthday. And it inspired two close friends to get together in Dharamsala for a talk about something very important to them. The friends were His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The subject was joy. Both winners of th Two great spiritual masters share their own hard-won wisdom about living with joy even in the face of adversity.  The

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Book details

Hardcover, 354 pages
October 18th 2016 by Avery

(first published September 20th 2016)

Original Title
The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
0399185046 (ISBN13: 9780399185045)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


I simply loved this book. The Book of Joy is a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu about finding joy and happiness in the face of suffering and grief. The two old friends met in India for the Dalai Lama's 80th birthday, and they had long discussions over several days.

Writer Douglas Abrams helped facilitate the dialogue, asking questions and taking detailed notes. The reader gets the benefit of both the wisdom of the spiritual leaders and an outside perspective on how the two friends interacted and behaved. It was joyous to read about how the men would tease each other, and then drop some fantastic bit of knowledge. Abrams commented that it's a sign of how much the two love each other that they can be mischievous together. Because the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop are getting older and have more difficulty traveling, this was likely their last meeting, and their goodbye was a tearful moment for this reader.

I am not a practicing Buddhist or Christian, but I found great comfort and inspiration in this book. There are several helpful meditation practices included at the end. I would highly recommend The Book of Joy to anyone seeking more happiness and peace in a troubled world.

Favorite Quotes
"People would like to be able to take a pill that makes their fear and anxiety go away and makes them immediately feel peaceful. This is impossible. One must develop the mind over time and cultivate mental immunity. Often people ask me for the quickest and best solution to a problem. Again, this is impossible. You can have quickest or you can have best solution, but not both. The best solution to our suffering is mental immunity, but it takes time to develop." -- Dalai Lama

"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 solutions ... 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 can see that in the most seemingly limiting circumstance we have choice and freedom."

"We are social animals. Even for kings or queens or spiritual leaders, their survival depends on the rest of the community. So therefore, if you want a happy life and fewer problems, you have to develop a serious concern for the well-being of others. So then when someone is passing through a difficult period or difficult circumstances, then automatically will become a sense of concern for their well-being. And if there is the possibility to help, then you can help. If there is no possibility to help, you can just pray or wish them well ... This concern for others is something very precious. We humans have a very 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." -- Dalai Lama


Oh, they are rascals! Impish spirits, the both of them, who giggle and joust and tease their way through this late-in-life meeting; evincing in almost every moment the very joy they've gathered to discuss.

The friendship of these illustrious men, who've met a mere half dozen times and then only briefly, calls to mind that deep and instantaneous bond so frequently formed by children - back when our hearts were filled with trust and our world with potential companions in adventure. Clearly kindred spirits, the Dalai Lama has been known to swipe the Archbishop's signature sailing cap right off his head, and Desmond Tutu, in turn, to demand recompense for every compliment he tenders. Pay me, he says, extending his arm and rubbing his fingers together. The best way to measure a love is to gauge its flexibility to antics of this nature, and you can tell this is, indeed, a magnificent affection. It's a pleasure to witness. Even on the page it has power enough to produce a string of smiles...and resurrect a dream or two.

Which is not to say their wisdom is in any way overshadowed, or their keenness underplayed.

The occasion is the Dalai Lama's eightieth birthday. Archbishop Tutu has flown to India for a visit of several days during which these scamps will settle in as best they can and address, between them, how to introduce joy into life. You might imagine this would be a lofty enterprise but it is very much like the friendship; sincere and down-to-earth. Though they agree on a lot, their approaches have individual distinctions. In the arena of emotion, for example, the Dalai Lama promotes learning how to objectively examine our feelings while the Archbishop is more concerned with putting an end to the shame we have over what we feel. (One is a course of mindfulness, the other of self-compassion.) Their interlocutor, Douglas Abrams, has some difficulty with this development as he places the positions in opposition. I did not have that difficulty, finding them complimentary strategies.

But I'm doing the material a disservice to elevate it in this manner. It's not an esoteric exchange. These are solid conclusions about grief, compassion, humility, loneliness and despair, extended simply as the product of a lifetime's careful and conscientious thought. In fact, one of the principal benefits I drew from my first reading had to do with the news media. I've been having a tough time with the news lately. It's not so much the content as it is the way it's presented to me. Everything seems tailored to make me anxious; to scare me enough to keep me tuning in. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu spent a moment discussing this.

The Archbishop introduces the subject:

"Yes, there are many, many things that can depress us. But there also are very many things that are fantastic about our world. Unfortunately, the media do not report on these because they are not seen as news."

"I think you are right," the Dalai Lama said. "When bad things happen they become news, and it is easy to feel like our basic human nature is to kill or to rape or to be corrupt. Then we can feel that there is not much hope for our future.

"All these things happen, but they are unusual, which is why they become news. There are millions and millions of children who are loved by their parents every day. Then in school their teachers care for them. Okay, maybe there are some bad teachers, but most of them really are kind and caring. Then in the hospital, every day millions of people receive immense caring. But this is so common that none of it becomes news. We take it for granted."

And they're right. The kind acts and fruitful accomplishments that happen every day? They're not news because they are the common experience. Goodness and productivity are the norm. Cruelty and catastrophe are what is deemed exceptional enough to merit airtime. This broadened my perspective, and helped me out.

The work is filled with insight and numerous, moving personal experiences culled from the lives of both men. Rascals they may be, it is still quite easy to see how they've become two of the most esteemed spiritual figures of our generation.

For me, this was less a book than a privilege. Highly recommended.


“Wherever you have friends that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.”
― Dalai Lama XIV, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

When two people, both Nobel Peace Laureates, are as world-renowned as His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu it takes an event for them to travel. In this case, the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday offered them a chance to gather together and discuss their lives, their beliefs and to enjoy each other’s company in Dharamsala, India for a week. For these two longtime friends, this was an occasion of joy, brought together to discuss the topic of joy.

I’ve seen them for brief moments of time, seen photographs, heard snippets of speeches before, but I had never spent so much time “in the company of” these two spiritual leaders, so I was expecting a more quiet representation of joy, more ‘inner’ joy. I wasn’t expecting the gentle teasing, their playfulness, the boisterous laughter, and while I expected a high level of respect, I wasn’t expecting the overwhelming sense of gratitude and love they had for one another. It was very enlightening and moving.

This was narrated by the author, Douglas Carlton Abrams, and the narrator for Dalai Lama was Francois Chau, with Desmond Tutu’s words were narrated by Peter Francis James. Chau and James both seemed to me to do an excellent job of narrating and capturing the voices of both Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.

I really enjoyed listening to this, although there was a bit of repetition that seemed to be noticeable, but I’d notice it, and then quickly return to paying attention to each spoken word.

To hear them talk about the years in the past, the trials they’ve faced, and their views on these was something that reminded me a lot of a woman who lived two houses away from me when I was growing up. In the years before I moved away, I saw her go from a vibrant healthy young mother of four to being wheelchair bound from polio. Then her second oldest began having seizures that took too long to diagnose properly and find the right treatment for. Not long after that, her husband, a pilot like my father, was cleaning out the yard at their new home they’d just moved to, inhaled whatever weed killer / toxic chemical and came running into the kitchen. Rushed to the hospital, he survived, although he was in the hospital for a while. He was cleared to fly again, and died upon reaching altitude on his first flight out. The next year, it was only that her oldest, attending Kent State, had been involved in the riots. The thing is, I never saw her lose a sense of joy, even in those moments where the world was falling apart, she had this aura - yes, this moment in my life really sucks, but it is a moment, only. She was always so full of joy. Hearing the Dalai Lama speak about his exile, reminded me of her ability to see the things she’d gained through her losses, and not just the losses themselves.

“So, personally, I prefer the last five decades of refugee life. It’s more useful, more opportunity to learn, to experience life. 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."
― Dalai Lama XIV, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

There really are people out there who have endured incredible hardships and cling to joy, and they have a lesson to share with the rest of us. If these two men, after all they’ve suffered, all they’ve endured, are so filled with joy, can they show us the way to find our own joy, to appreciate and increase the joy in our lives?

“We are fragile creatures, and it is from this weakness, not despite it, that we discover the possibility of true joy.”
—Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

Maybe lesson sounds too much like school, they have wisdom to share with us, and what a wonderful way to receive it. I listened to the audio, so I don’t own the book – yet – but I intend to buy a copy, so I can refer to the meditation practices at the end of the book, and the pictures!

One of my favourite quotes from this book that covered a multiple of topics from joy, fear, despair, suffering, adversity, loneliness, as well as the Eight Pillars of Joy, surprisingly wasn’t from either the Dalai Lama or Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but from Douglas Abrams, the author, himself. I think every parent will relate to his thought:

“It probably takes many years of monastic practice to equal the spiritual growth generated by one sleepless night with a sick child.”
—Douglas Abrams, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

The ‘preface’ – “The Invitation to Joy” speaks of the beginnings of this book, how they wished to give all a “birthday” gift to all – an “invitation to more joy and more happiness” , and ends with the following.

“Every day is a new opportunity to begin again. Every day is your birthday.

“May this book be a blessing for all sentient beings, and for all of God’s children—including you.”

Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of South Africa

Happy Birthday!

Zoe's Human

The Book of Joy started out in an ordinary enough manner. It was well-written, interesting, at times humorous, and full of truth. But then . . . right book, right time, it guided me to closure on something I'd been struggling with for a decade. This is literally a life changing book for me.

Even if you don't experience an epiphany like me, this book still has the potential to make your life better. You can already be happy and take something from this. You don't have to be Christian or Buddhist for it to be effective either. The guidance within applies perfectly well to the secular life.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via a Goodreads giveaway. Many thanks to all involved in providing me with this opportunity.

Gerri Leen

I expected to like this more than I did. There is an old writing rule of "Show, don't tell" and this book, with it's third person narrator describing everything and very much inserted into the thing, is pretty much all tell. And there's a lot of repetition. The overall message is good but frankly a bit light on content.


The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World provides countless insight from Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, two spiritual masters and moral leaders, as the book synopsis appropriately characterizes them. These two well-known and highly respected men are friends, and their interaction throughout the book had a playful tone while still showing great admiration and respect for one another.

I enjoyed the book overall as a whole, yet found the greatest enjoyment and takeaways in the chapters focused on each of the 8 Pillars of Joy: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.

There were so many interesting points, perspectives, and stories shared throughout the book that ultimately focus on how to reframe one’s mindset, and reconsider situations. This is the type of book you can revisit often, learning something new each time. Different sections of the book will likely resonate each time too, depending on what’s going on in your life at the moment. For me in particular, this time around it was Acceptance.

While there is a plethora of great information to be found (and of course, ultimately implemented) in this wonderful read, The Book of Joy, I leave you with the following few favorites:

“We are meant to live in joy,” the Archbishop explained. “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 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.

Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

Powerful, exquisite, full of love and friendship between Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama. I listened to this on audio; incredible to hear the different voices (narrators were actors, very good actors) and quotes from these two enlightened friends. I will refer back to with frequency the helpful practice chapters at the end on meditation/thought changes. This is the premier "book of joy" I've read thus far. Empowering and thought provoking with humor and love for self and others.


Read this book.

I so desperately needed to read this book but I didn't know it until tears were running down my face. Not from sadness, but from the opportunity it presents. Suffering is unavoidable. But practicing joy is a choice that we can control when so much is out of our control. It's a simple concept but potentially life changing nonetheless. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World is self-help in nature with elements of documentary, spiritualism, and world culture. It teaches how to practice joy through redirecting our thoughts, showing compassion, choosing gratitude, and by purposefully giving joy to others. There is a manual at the end that goes into greater detail/instruction for interested readers. Highly recommend!

My favorite quote:
“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?”


Enjoyed multiple parts of this book, but spent more time frustrated with the collaborator who just couldn't seem to get out of the way. For a book that multiple times stressed that people who use the word, "I," more often die earlier, he certainly seemed to get a lot in. If you skim for quotation marks so you can focus on the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop's discussion, as well as where you see some discussion of the psychology and neuro-science, there's a good book in there.


‘Wherever you have friends that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.’” --Tibetan Proverb

Two Nobel Peace laureates meet for a week in Dharamsala, India and engage in a spiritual dialogue and these talks will become the basis for a book. Sounds a bit lofty and just a smidge dull except that the two men at the heart of these discussions are his Holiness the Dalai Lama, he of the beatific smile, and the Honorable Archbishop Desmond Tutu, himself a bit mischievous. The result of these far-ranging discussions is this book filled with insights and laughter in equal measure and I was filled with joy just listening to it.

Structured on the Eight Pillars of Joy--perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity--these principles provide the basis for finding joy in every moment and in every encounter. And while these precepts seem simple enough, how hard is it for all of us to live with these thoughts top of mind every day? Certainly not I when the fifth driver of the day cuts me off, but this is why I listen to books like this, so that I can keep drumming the message into my head. All issues big and small can be overcome with a modicum of compassion, reconciliation and perspective.

What resonated most and why I’m most grateful to have listened to this book is the perspective the Dalai Lama brought to his own predicament. How the tragedy of his exile when seen from a different angle brought the plight of the Tibetan people and the teachings of Buddhism to a larger audience that might not have been cast in the limelight had he remained in Lhasa. In his own words:

There are different aspects to any event. For example, we lost our own country and became refugees, but that same experience gave us new opportunities to see more things. For me personally, I had more opportunities to meet with different people, different spiritual practitioners, like you, and also scientists. This new opportunity arrived because I became a refugee. If I remained in the Potala in Lhasa, I would have stayed in what has often been described as a golden cage: the Lama, holy Dalai Lama.” He was now sitting up stiffly as he once had to when he was the cloistered spiritual head of the Forbidden Kingdom.

“So, personally, I prefer the last five decades of refugee life. It’s more useful, more opportunity to learn, to experience life. 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.’

I think this is the most difficult of the concepts to accept and adopt from this book, but it can be the most significant in terms of how we view the misfortunes in our own lives. It has certainly changed the way I am viewing my own tragedies. How can these two men who’ve endured such adversity and losses still find their way to joy? This is the ultimate lesson in how to make lemonade out of lemons.

I can’t say I’ll become a better person overnight and I won’t guarantee that if you cut me off in traffic I won’t yell a few expletives (yes, I have been known to use 'colorful' language in the privacy of my car), but I have been thinking about this book for two months since listening to it and I do find myself squashing more of the negative feelings and replacing them with more kind and productive thoughts. And while I still despair some days at the state of our world, I focus instead on what I can do in my little corner. How can I be there for my family? How do I support my friends? What charities can I lend my talents to that will make a difference in my neighbors' lives?

It’s not a perfect book, it does get a bit repetitive in parts and the author (moderator) injects himself into the narrative ‘mansplaining’ sometimes, but overall these are small criticisms in the overall message. And who is going to dock two holy men stars? Who needs that kind of bad karma?

So take a step back, practice humility, laugh often, accept things as they are, forgive when necessary, be grateful, be kind and help others. And if you fail at one or any of these today, remember that every day is an opportunity to begin again. I will step off the soapbox now, I’m sure someone needs the wood.