Joy: It’s more than happiness

To inspire myself for this article, I downloaded “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World.” It’s a collaboration between His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Emeritus of Southern Africa, Desmond Tutu. He was the spiritual core behind the amazing feat of reconciliation between the white man, and the native African people when apartheid was over. Douglas Abrams, a Jew was asked by the men to help write it. Penguin Random House of NY, NY holds the copyright.

This book had appeal to me right away because both spiritual icons recognize that joy is much bigger than happiness. Happiness is often dependent on external circumstances, such as power, popularity, money, happy relationships, etc. But both men have known rich and famous people who aren’t happy.

They understand that suffering is inevitable. Archbishop Tutu is battling recurring cancer, and The Dalai Lama has been exiled from his native land and seen much bloodshed of his people. Yet, they both agree that how we respond to that suffering is a choice and that no one or nothing can take away that choice from us. “As people discover more joy in their lives they can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard, and heartbreak without being broken.” (Tutu)

The Dalai Lama stated in many ways that outward attainment will not bring real inner joyfulness. To find that we must look inside, and examine our minds, “such as through love, compassion and generosity…developing a strong sense of concern for the well-being of all sentient beings… What characterizes happiness at this deeper level is the sense of fulfillment that you experience.” We can even feel a difference if we spend ten or thirty minutes of meditation on compassion or kindness for others.

The science studies of Richard Davidson, neuroscientist found that there are four independent brain circuits that help influence our lasting well-being:

1. Being able to stay positive,

2. Being able to become positive again after falling into a negative state,

3. Being able to focus the mind and avoid mind-wandering, and

4. Our ability to be generous.

So it seems that we come equipped to cooperate and be compassionate and generous. I know I’ve suggested before to just try doing random acts of kindness, to sense how it makes you feel.

I already know the answer. You’ll feel good, even a little high as dopamine enters your bloodstream. And guess what? Anyone who watches your act of kindness will feel better, too.

The research of John Bargh showed that we are hardwired to survive, reproduce and cooperate.

However, an interesting side is that children are hardwired to cooperate with those who look like our caregivers, who keep us safe, and are more cautious of those who look different than our caregivers. It may be a source of innate prejudice. Both Archbishop Tutu and The Dalai Lama continually teach that we are one group: humanity. It might help to expose little ones to people of all race, to help them feel comfortable in all presences.

These two icons agreed that the way to heal our pain is by reaching out to someone else who is in pain, and loving and supporting them. It makes us feel more joyful, so we can reach out even more. It’s called a virtuous cycle instead of the more familiar vicious cycle. They believe that joy is contagious as is love, compassion and generosity.

I’m reminded of YouTube videos of a person who just starts laughing in a subway train and soon most of the passengers are laughing. Maybe it’s just happiness, but joy builds on happiness. It always makes me laugh, especially to watch the people who are at first afraid to laugh. What are they thinking? But then somehow, enough others are doing it so they give themselves permission to laugh as well. And there goes that arthritis pain!

I’ve written of that before, that after some deep laughing, pain in the body is often diminished or disappears for a while.

In the book it was suggested that starting the day right was essential: Thanking God for another day and asking to to do God’s will would be a good start for a religious person. God is love after all. For a Buddhist, it would be to remember Buddha’s teaching to be kind and compassionate, and to help reduce the suffering of others in the world. And given our predisposition for cooperation and generosity, those without faith could ask to to have a meaningful day and serve others if possible, but certainly not to harm others.

Relationships are very important, as we are social animals. Human beings become more human because of the other human beings in our lives. We are part of one whole. The Dalai Lama suggests that we can create more friends by showing our genuine sense of concern for another’s well-being, and then trust will come. Trust is key! If there is no trust, there is no friendship. If one is “befriending” another for personal gain, the other person will feel it. Friends for money or power are artificial friends.

Joy is the result of experiencing the other three advent concepts. We have faith in our God and fellow men. We know we are loved by a Loving Creator, or Universal Mind. We have peace in knowing that to our deity or universe we matter, and our thoughts and prayers are heard. We become better humans by practicing kindness, cooperation and generosity. Maybe that is the “magic” of the holiday spirit. May you have lots of all of it this year!


Hale `Opio Kaua’i convened a support group of adults in our Kaua’i community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at For more information about Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i, please go to


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.