Joy to the World

It’s that time of year when the word “JOY” appears everywhere: in songs, on signs and greeting cards, and in glittering holiday decorations. We all need a little joy!

I’ve become increasingly intrigued by the concept of joy. With violence near and far, natural disasters of all kinds, a vicious political climate, and distress surrounding us, it seems natural to wonder about the joy. How can we have lasting joy amidst suffering, sadness, and turmoil?

As perhaps an answer to a prayer, I stumbled across a book that has been a tremendous gift: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. Written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, two spiritual leaders whom I greatly admire, they share insight from their long lives and faith traditions. These men have experienced heartbreaking adversity, hardship, and suffering, yet they are two of the most joyful people on the face of the planet. They met for five days to share their wisdom, stories, and humor, and to answer the important life question: How do we find joy in the middle of life’s inevitable sorrows and suffering?

Their insights, captured by writer Douglas Abrams, reveal how to transform joy from a fleeting feeling into a lasting way of being. Don’t we all long for this? Joy is rooted in our spiritual DNA. We cannot let the cynicism pervading our culture engulf us.

Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama shed new light on joy and how it is different from happiness. Joy is much larger and deeper than happiness. Happiness is usually dependent upon external events, while joy reflects an inner quality—a shining contentment or a spiritual radiance born from a sense of deep well-being. You can be joyful while being unhappy. In fact, sometimes we need sorrow or sadness to find joy (see the Pixar movie, Inside Out!).

These two great wisdom figures identify and explain certain obstacles to joy. Ironically, these obstacles often provide the opportunity for growth, beauty, and joy in life:

  • Fear, stress, and anxiety
  • Frustration and anger
  • Sadness and grief
  • Despair
  • Loneliness
  • Envy
  • Suffering and adversity
  • Illness and fear of death

Now for the positive qualities that form the pillars of joy:

  • Perspective (there are many different angles)
  • Humility
  • Humor
  • Acceptance
  • Forgiveness
  • Gratitude
  • Compassion
  • Generosity

It is encouraging to note that these positive qualities can be cultivated and deepened throughout the course of our lives, leading to greater joy. The authors conclude with the insight: “Ultimately, joy is not something to learn, it is something to live. And our greatest joy is lived in deep, loving, and generous relationships with others.”

Given the authors’ ability to share the stories from their lives, inform us of the science of joy, and offer joy practices that we can use in our daily lives, it is a perfect resource to explore with others, especially in small groups or classes. I am grateful to have been immersed in this book while I help write curriculum for upcoming programs at Well for the Journey. It nourishes my spirit to read, reread, highlight, make notes in the margin, reflect, and learn how each of us can live more joyful lives. Meaningful change begins within each of us. Then, by the grace of God, it ripples out.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to live a more meaningful, joyful life. Purchase the print copy so you can access and revisit it easily (and underline and scribble in margins). Below are some favorite quotes from the book for those who are intrigued.

Although this is a joyous season, it is also a tender, sad time, especially for those missing loved ones or suffering in others ways. May the joy that is within you shine like a candle and light your darkness.

Love and blessings,


Dedicated to my mother, Dede Wilson, who passed away on this day four years ago. Her spirit and life revealed how to live with joy, even in the face of life’s hardships.


“Joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.”

“Discovering more joy does not, I’m sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet, as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartache without being broken.”

“The ultimate source of happiness is within us. Not money, not status. Some of my friends are billionaires, but they are very unhappy people. Power and money fail to bring inner peace. Outward attainment will not bring real inner joyfulness. We must look inside.

“Sadly, most of the things that undermine our joy and happiness we create ourselves. Often it comes from the negative tendencies of the mind, emotional reactivity, or from our inability to appreciate and utilize the resources that come from within us…We create most of our suffering, so it should be logical that we also have the ability to create more joy. It simply depends on the attitudes, the perspectives, and the reactions we bring to situations and to our relationships with other people.”

“The question is not: How do we escape it? The question is: How can we use this as something positive?”

“Forgiveness is the only way to heal ourselves and be free from the past.“

“If you want a happy life and fewer problems, you have to develop a serious concern for the well-being of others…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. So this is a very practical thing. In fact, it is commonsense.”

“Our greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others.”

“Grateful people are joyful people. A grateful world is a happy world.”



One thought on “Joy to the World

  1. What a beautiful reflection, Mabeth (and I love that you’ve dedicated it to your mom). I agree wholeheartedly about your take on The Book of Joy. It’s on my night table right now and I’ve read it twice cover-to-cover. Scatter joy!!

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