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The Eight Pillars Of Joy

For one week, the Dalia Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu conversed 

on the subject of attaining joy in a sorrowful world. This is what they found.



“For every event in life,” says the Dali Lama, “there are many different angles.”


There is, perhaps, no greater route to joy than this. Taking a “God’s-eye perspective,” as Archbishop Tutu says, allows for the birth of empathy—the trait that creates joy not only in the one, but in the many. Empathy opens the door to togetherness, and keeps us from building walls around our individual selves—walls that keep out so many potential friends and allies.


Realizing and accepting the validity of different perspectives turns “I” in to “we”. The anger and frustration that comes of living a life of “I,” makes sustained joy nearly impossible. Humans are social creatures in an interconnected world—there is no escaping our fellows.


Opening up to the lives and perspectives of others, and being willing to experience their suffering and hardships, reminds us that we, too, are not alone in our own difficulties. In nurturing perspective and allowing ourselves to see the world in a larger way, we open up the door for joy to come into our lives, and for us to open up that door for others unlike ourselves.



Pillar 2: HUMILITY


The Dali Lama speaks of a Tibetan prayer—“Whenever I see someone, may I never feel superior.” This is the second pillar of joy.


Considering yourself greater than your fellows only serves to rob you of happiness. It separates you, makes you feel as if you must act a certain way, forces you to strive ever harder to maintain this air of superiority. Both the Dali Lama and Archbishop Tutu feel the same: why bother? They want to be able to truly appreciate the people around them as equals.


When we foster humility within ourselves, we find it easier to be open to the opinions of others, and to realize our own limitations. Without being open in this way, learning and growth stop—both of which are components of a happy life.


Many people confuse humility with timidity, but these two qualities are very different. While timidity is rooted in fear, humility merely means remembering that others are as valuable and wonderfully made as you are.


Allow yourself to be connected with others through humility, and you’ll discover one of the essential pillars of joy.



Pillar 3: HUMOR


According to author Douglas Abrams, the Dali Lama and Archbishop Tutu “seemed to be as much a comedy duo as two venerable spiritual leaders”.


Their humility paves the way for another pillar of joy: humor. Both men have the special ability to laugh, not only at life’s troubles, but at themselves and their very human foibles. They don’t take themselves so seriously that they cannot do this.


Humor that does not mock or belittle brings us closer together, and can diffuse tense situations. Humor shows us our shared ridiculousness—according to Archbishop Tutu, “we then get to see our common humanity in many ways.” Like humility and perspective, humor helps us coexist peacefully with others.


Not only this, but studies on humor are beginning to show that laughter boosts the immune system, relaxes the body, and protects the heart by lowering stress hormones which cause destructive inflammation.


Remember—laughter is a respite from pain, and the ability to find humor in any situation helps us maintain the joy that so many of us crave in life.





As the Dali Lama says, “Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied?”


Acceptance is “the ability to accept our life in all its pain, imperfection, and beauty, according to Abrams.” It is not resignation. It is not defeat. It is accepting that we must necessarily pass through the storm. It is facing suffering and asking the question, “How can we use this as something positive?”


Acceptance allows us to engage life on its own terms rather than wishing, in vain, that things were different. It enables us to change and adapt, rather than becoming mired in denial, despair, and anxiety.


One of the central practices of Buddhism—one that we can all learn from—is aimed at seeing life accurately, at cutting through our webs of presuppositions, expectations, and distortions. When we accept reality, we are better able to see it accurately, and to respond to it in appropriate ways.


And if things don’t go well for us? We can accept that, too, and move on with our lives. This is essential for joy.




Once we attain acceptance of the present, we can release our desire to change the past, as well—through forgiveness.


Holding on to grievances is our way of wishing the past could be different. When he hang on to those negative emotions, that anger and grief and the desire for vengeance, we only hurt ourselves. And if we use those emotions to strike back and cause harm, we only invite a cycle of retribution.


Forgiveness does not mean that we forget. “Not reacting with negativity, or giving in to the negative emotions, does not mean that you do not respond to the acts or that you allow yourself to be harmed again,” says the Dali Lama. Justice should still be sought, and the perpetrator, punished. Justice can be served without anger, without hatred, and once it is served, we must let go.


Until we forgive a person that has wronged us, we allow that person to hold power over us—they effectively control our emotions. Forgiveness allows past hurts to recede into the distance, where they stop becoming an impediment to a joyful life.





Gratitude is fundamental to joy. It, quite literally, allows us to generate our own happiness.


“Gratitude,” writes Abrams, “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.” It allows us to shift our focus from what we lack to what we have. If acceptance is not fighting reality, gratitude means embracing it, counting blessings rather than burdens.


Our minds have a naturally negative bias—after all, being able to point out what is wrong or dangerous is advantageous to survival. But we need to be conscious of this, and purposeful in our gratitude. Our time on Earth is limited. Why waste it by miring ourselves in negativity?


Gratitude also connects us to others. When we are truly grateful, we remember all of those who help make our happiness possible, who bring goodness into our lives. We, then, are able to recognize those people, and enjoy them and their differences.


In this way, we can be made joyful by the world and people around us, instead of finding ourselves filled with anger and despair.




A saying that is often attributed to the Buddha explains compassion well: “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 see others suffer, and wish to see that suffering relieved. It is the bridge between empathy and kindness.


A large part of being compassionate is realizing our shared humanity. We are social beings, and depend upon one another. When we are compassionate toward others, and they, toward us, the world is a better place.


The Dali Lama puts it well when he says that, “when we think of alleviating other people’s suffering, our own suffering is reduced. This is the true secret to happiness.”


Compassion should be extended to the self, as well. Contemporary culture measures us constantly, evaluates and judges us based on our achievements. Self-loathing often results when we fail to live up to these expectations, which we internalize. But we must learn to be compassionate toward ourselves, and to recognize our own humanity and needs. To be kind to yourself is an important part of this pillar of joy.



Finally, there is generosity—the eighth pillar of joy.


Giving to others does not truly subtract from ourselves, but adds to us. Researcher Elizabeth Dunn and her colleagues have found that “money can buy happiness, if we spend it on other people.” People who give experience greater long-term life satisfaction, whether that giving is large or small.


There’s a reason why nearly every major religion embraces charity, and why our bodies respond positively to the virtue of generosity. We are complimentary beings in a competitive world. We’re not meant to be so constantly set in opposition to one another. And so when we give to one another and engage others in a spirit of generosity, we thrive.


We can see this in how we regard others. Who are the figures whose names ring out across history, and are still spoken today with love and admiration? Mostly, they’re the names of people who were the most generous, the most caring and compassionate. People look up to men like Desmond Tutu and the Dali Lama for a reason—they promote harmony.


Strive to attain a generous spirit, made possible by acknowledging that you are merely a steward of your wealth, possessions, and power—you’ll soon find your joy.

*article written by Wesley Baines, on behalf of

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