It doesn’t take more than a few moments of watching the news to know that the world is filled with personal challenges, political turmoil, and global adversity. This raises a timeless question: How can we cultivate joy in the face of life’s inevitable hardships and misfortunes?
The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu—who have survived tragedies, violence, and oppression—have dedicated their lives to answering this question. The two leaders joined together to write a book of their hard-won wisdom, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. In it, they identify the eight pillars of joy: qualities of the mind or heart that can help you cultivate enduring happiness, no matter what your external circumstances may be.
Here’s how to put the eight pillars into practice so you can live the life of joy that you deserve:
“For every event in life,” says the Dali Lama, “there are many different angles.” Changing the way we see the world changes the way we feel and act—which, in turn, changes the world itself.
Practice it: Take another point of view.The next time you find yourself angry or upset with someone, take a moment to consider the situation from their perspective. Archbishop Tutu tries to imagine that the person who cuts him off in traffic, for example, is rushing to the hospital because his wife is in labor. This practice builds empathy, which paves the way for joy.
The all-too-human traits of pride and ego can make humility—defined in the book as seeing others as our equal—challenging. But, as the Dalai Lama points out, humility is essential to joy because it allows us to celebrate the gifts others have to offer.
Practice it: Let someone help. The sooner we recognize that we can’t solve everything alone, the sooner we can experience humility. Asking for help can make us feel weak, but knowing when you need to reach out or accept the help that comes your way demonstrates self-awareness, strengthens bonds, and leaves you stronger than you were before.
Laughter helps you manage anxiety and stress. It also helps defuse tense situations—and it tends to be contagious. “Life is much better when there is not too much seriousness,” says the Dalai Lama.
Practice it: Take yourself a little less seriously. “Laugh at yourself, and don’t be so pompous and serious,” says Archbishop Tutu. “It makes everything easier, including your ability to accept others and accept all that life will bring.”
“We cannot succeed by denying what exists,” says Archbishop Tutu. “The acceptance of reality is the only place from which change can begin.”
Practice it: Do what you can. The opposite of acceptance is regret. If you find yourself brooding over what could have been, think through the positive changes you can make moving forward. If there’s nothing you can do differently, the only action left is to forgive yourself. What would you say to a friend in your position? Use the same language to explain to yourself why it’s okay to let it go.
When someone hurts us, our first response is often retaliation—but that’s a short-term solution at best. “In the end, you discover that an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind,” says Archbishop Tutu. Forgiveness breaks the cycle of revenge and makes room for healing and renewal.
Practice it: Forgive…even if you aren’t ready to forget. Letting go of grudges, both big and small, allows our relationships—and resilience—to grow. While the hurtful act may remain a part of your life, forgiveness can lessen its power over you and help you focus on the what’s going well for you.
There’s a reason why most spiritual traditions—including Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism—recognize the importance of giving thanks: Gratitude helps us appreciate life, which is fundamental to joy.
Practice it: Focus on feeling thankful. Whether it’s your warm bed, food on the table, or the person sitting across from you, there is always something you can point to and think, I am grateful for this—even when times are tough. At the end of each day, write down at least three things you’re grateful for. This deceptively simple practice has been scientifically linked to higher levels of positive emotions, empathy, and life satisfaction.
Compassion is the sense of concern that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering. “When we think of alleviating other people’s suffering, our own suffering is reduced. This is the true secret to happiness,” explains the Dali Lama.
Practice it: Do good, feel good. Kindness is compassion in action. When you perform a random act of kindness—such as treating a coworker to coffee, letting a stranger cut you in line, or calling a friend to ask about their day—you not only improve someone else’s mood, you boost your own.
Studies show that the reward centers of our brain light up as strongly when we give as when we receive—sometimes even more so. “In the end, generosity is the best way of becoming more joyful,” says Archbishop Tutu.
Practice it: Become a joiner. Money isn’t the only resource we can give to others—your time, skills, and energy are just as valuable. Join like-minded individuals working towards a greener planet, gender equality, or whatever issue you’re most passionate about. It doesn’t have to be political: Try joining a book club, small business association, or any group that allows you to connect with others while giving back to your community.
Hannah Wallace is a Portland-based journalist and editor who writes about integrative medicine, sustainable agriculture, and wine for Food & Wine, Vogue, Fast Company, and other publications. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram at @Hannahmw23.