Big Joy

One of the most uplifting books I’ve read recently is The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. I’ve spoken about this book several times, because it’s so inspirational. It’s based on interviews with his Holiness the Dalai Lama and the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, conducted by Douglas Abrams. Both Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu have survived more than 50 years of exile and the violence of oppression. Yet, despite these hardships, they are/were two of the most joyful people on the planet.

In April of 2015, Desmond Tutu travelled to the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala, India to celebrate the latter’s 80th birthday, and to create this book. In the interviews, they focused on a single question: in the midst of life’s inevitable suffering, how do we find joy? Throughout the conversations that took place, these two spiritual leaders were by turn mischievous, joking, teasing, serious, and wise. By the end of the week, they had revealed how to live a life filled with joy. As we know, being able to find moments of joy and happiness despite difficulties and worries is so important to our spiritual balance.

So, last week when I saw that there was a 90-minute documentary created around this incredible week, I had to see it. It’s called “Mission: Joy – Finding Happiness in Troubled Times.” It was not only a memorable recap of their most important messages in the book, but it really brought to life the deep and unique friendship the two of them shared. It was all the more poignant to see the two of them engaging with each other, knowing that Desmond Tutu had prostate cancer and that they would never see each other again. (Desmond Tutu died in 2021.)

Now, here’s what I really want to share with you. At the end of the film was an invitation to join something called “The Big Joy Project.” I checked it out to see what it was all about and decided to sign up. The project currently has over 64,000 participants in 200-plus countries. Participants engage in a micro-act of joy every day for 7 days, and we answer some basic questions about how we are feeling. Each act takes only a few minutes. At the end of the week, we will receive a personal profile and guidance on what kinds of activities bring us the most joy.

The Big Joy Project is part of a research project headed by Dacher Keltner at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of Berkeley, California. Dacher Keltner is the same scientist I quoted some months back in my sermon on awe. He and the researchers who are working with him are seeking to better understand what makes us happy and joyful. And one of the things they are discovering is that there is no single formula, no one-size-fits-all program. So that’s one of the cool things about the Big Joy Project. By participating, we get to find out what unique combination of actions works best for us.

I’ll let you know how my results turn out. And if you decide to join, I hope you’ll let me know how it works for you.

I’ll be on vacation next month and on study leave in August, so for most of you, I will see you in September. I hope you all enjoy your summer and that you find moments of joy and happiness every single day.