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Health Contributions in History: Celebrating the Dali Lama: Messenger of Joy

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Joy is the reward, really, of seeking to give joy to others. When you show compassion, when you show caring, when you show love to others, do things for others, in a wonderful way you have a deep joy that you can get in no other way. – The Dali Lama

BERLIN – Dalai Lama gives a speech during a solidarity demonstration for Tibet at the Brandenburg Gate May 19, 2008, in Berlin.

The Dalai Lama is arguably the most beloved spiritual leader in the world. From spiritualism to philosophy to human rights, this man is revered for his wisdom and spreading the message of peace far and wide. 

He was born Lhamo Dhondu on July 6, 1935, to a farming family, in a small hamlet in northeastern Tibet. When he was two years old, Lhamo was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama and declared Tibet’s future spiritual and political leader.

In 1950, the Chinese invaded Tibet. Eight years later and following China’s brutal suppression of the Tibetan national uprising, the Dalai Lama was forced into exile and has been living in Dharamsala, India, ever since. In 1989, the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent 40-year campaign to liberate Tibet in the face of extreme aggression. 

Forgiveness and compassion for all living beings have always been the two cornerstones of the teachings of the Dalai Lama. He has received hundreds of awards, honorary doctorates, and prizes, recognizing his messages of non-violence and inter-religious understanding.

He has written and co-authored over 100 books on living a more compassionate, more joyous life. In 2015 he spent a week in retreat with Archbishop Desmund Tuto, reflecting on the paths to sustained happiness. From this meeting of two great spiritual minds came the Book of Joy. 

The Eight Pillars of Joy

1. Perspective

“For every event in life,” says the Dali Lama, “there are many different angles.” How you see your life determines how you feel about your life. Nurturing a broader perspective and reframing things in a positive light allows you to be less self-centered and see challenging moments in a more neutral context. Take heart in knowing that situations that seem impossible today will be unimportant in time. 

2. Humility 

A Tibetan prayer reads, “Whenever I see someone, may I never feel superior.” Humility makes it easier to be open to the opinions of others. Without this openness, learning and personal growth stop – both of which are necessary for a happy life.

Many people confuse humility with timidity, but they are very different qualities. While fear is the root of timidity, humility understands that other people are just as valuable as you are.

3. Humor

Humor that does not belittle or mock others brings people together and diffuses stressful situations. Humor allows us to coexist peacefully with each other. 

In addition to the joy that humor brings, it has a positive impact on your physical health. Studies show that humor boosts your immune system and lowers stress hormones that cause inflammation.

4. Acceptance

According to the Book of Joy, acceptance is “the ability to accept our life in all its pain, imperfection, and beauty.” A central practice of Buddhism sees life accurately, cutting through presuppositions, expectations, and distortions. 

Don’t confuse acceptance with resignation or defeat. 

Acceptance lets you realistically see your life instead of wishing in vain that things could be different. It enables you to move forward and adapt rather than be mired in the past, which brings about despair, denial, and anxiety.

5. Forgiveness

Holding onto grievances is a way of hoping that the past could be different. When you hang onto the past – you also feel anger and want vengeance, and you are only hurting yourself with those feelings. 

Until you forgive, you allow the person that perpetrated the wrong to have control over you. Forgiveness allows you to get past life’s pain, and then it stops impeding living a joyful life.

6. Gratitude

Gratitude forces you to shift your attention from what you lack to what you have. Gratitude makes you count your blessings instead of your burdens. 

But gratitude does not come naturally. It’s in our DNA to drift towards the negative because awareness of what’s wrong and dangerous is about survival. You must actively be aware of your negative bias and purposefully choose gratitude every day.

7. Compassion

When you see others suffer and want to help relieve that suffering, that is compassion. The more time you think of others, the less time you think about your own problems. The Dali Lama says, “When we think of alleviating other people’s suffering, our suffering is reduced. This is the true secret to happiness.” 

8. Generosity

Money and possessions are not on the road to happiness, but spending on others is. Giving of yourself has a doubling effect because both you and the receiver feel joy. Whether the giving is large or small, people who give have greater long-term life satisfaction. 

There’s a reason why every spiritual practice embraces giving and why we have a positive physical response to generosity. We are social beings and not meant to live in opposition to each other. That’s why when we give to others, everyone benefits.

When the Dalai Lama was asked to account for his popularity among believers and non-believers alike, he responded, “Perhaps it’s because I talk about cultivating a good heart.” He added, “I think of other human beings as my brothers and sisters, and I pay special attention to the oneness of humanity.” 

Now in his late 80s, the Dalai Lama continues to spread the message of universal human kindness. Always with a smile on his face and a loving message for all, the Dalai Lama inspires us to live his Eight Pillars, letting joy be an enduring part of our own lives.

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