The Book of Joy – Book Review

Be your best self. Share the joy.

If you are a human being, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World is for you.

The Book of Joy Book CoverYou might expect a book written by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu to be religious in nature (they do speak of their faith), but this book crosses all political, religious, and ethnic boundaries speaking to us as human beings living on Earth with other human beings. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu embody kindness, courage, humility, compassion, and joy and they inspire us to be our best selves.

Not long ago, I had finished reading four excellent books for a post series about GMOs and bioengineered food and I still had one book to go. However, I found I just could not read another book right then about pesticides or corporate ownership of the food system.

I wanted to read something that would be uplifting and hopefully enlightening. Scrolling through my ever-growing “books to read” list, I spotted The Book of Joy and I thought, “Yes, this is the book that I need.”

It was.

Book Review

“No dark fate determines the future. We do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and re-create our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet. That is the power we wield.” —The Book of Joy

The dialogue in The Book of Joy occurs between April 18 and April 24, 2015, when Archbishop Tutu traveled to Dharamsala, India to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s eightieth birthday and to engage in a multi-day conversation with him about joy.

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu are both world-renowned spiritual leaders and Nobel Peace Prize Laureates who are rarely in the same place at the same time and may never be again so that week in April was a momentous occasion for the two of them and the world. Constantly surrounded by a film crew, they seemed to be able to ignore all the hubbub talking and teasing each other as if they were just two people having a conversation (which they were).

The Book of Joy covers the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu’s teachings on joy, the latest science on joy, and stories of being in Dharamsala that week.

Day 1 – The Nature of True Joy

From the beginning, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu included all of us, the entire human population, in the conversation and reiterated repeatedly that we are all responsible for developing a happier more joyful world.

They expressed concern that today people focus too much on external, materialistic values and not enough on inner values like kindness and compassion and that unfortunately; this is what we are teaching our children.

Days 2 and 3 – The Obstacles to Joy

Two days were devoted to all the ways that human beings suffer from fear, stress, anxiety, anger, frustration, sadness, grief, loneliness, envy, illness, and fear of death.

It might seem like it would be depressing or distressing to read these chapters, but the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu approach suffering from a different perspective and share how joy can coexist with suffering and that suffering may actually lead to unexpected joy.

Days 4 and 5 – The Eight Pillars of Joy

The last two days were devoted to talking about the foundation of joy including qualities of the mind: perspective, humility, humor, and acceptance and qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.

“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.” —The Book of Joy

The Bottom Line

The Book of Joy is a beautifully crafted work of inspiration, hope, and joy co-created by the three men listed on the book jacket and many people behind the scenes.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual leader of Tibet. Forced to flee Tibet in fear of his life, the Dalai Lama has been living in exile in Dharamsala, India since 1959. He has traveled all over the world advocating for non-violence, peace, inter-religious understanding, human rights, and compassion and has worked tirelessly for over fifty years to free Tibet from Chinese control.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Southern Africa, was a leader in the decades-long crusade to end apartheid in South Africa and bring about reconciliation between the people. He is a staunch believer in non-violence, an outspoken campaigner for the oppressed, and a co-founder of The Elders, a group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights.

Douglas Abrams is an author, editor, and the founder of the literary agency Idea Architects.

The Book of Joy refreshed my spirit and reminded me that joy is available to every person every day.

Featured Image at Top: The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu blow out candles on a birthday cake during the Dali Lama’s 80th birthday celebration at the Tibetan Children’s Village School in Dharamsala, India on April 23, 2015. Photo by Tenzin Choejor/OHDL.

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The Hidden Life of Trees – Book Review

You will discover wonders great and small in a forest.

Surely, a book entitled The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate would draw the interest of anyone who admires trees.

Trees have always fascinated me. I was a tree hugger (literally) long before I became an environmentalist. I observe trees and wonder about things like what it is like to live in the same spot for hundreds of years or to have another tree fall on you during a storm and stay there.

I came across The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben while browsing the Volumes of Pleasure book table during a break at the Central Coast Bioneers conference last November. The title was intriguing. After flipping to the table of contents and scanning the names of the chapters, I smiled and bought the book.

Book Review

Reading The Hidden Life of Trees will give you an opportunity to get to know trees and forests up close and personal. Wohlleben delivers his observations comingled with science facts in easy to read chunks of 12 pages or less over the course of 36 chapters.

Prepare yourself to be entertained and informed, maybe even amazed by some of the things you will read about in this book. I was.

The Hidden Life of Trees Book Cover

For instance, do you know that when a predator starts nibbling on its leaves some trees will begin pumping toxins into their leaves to discourage the nibbler? In addition, the tree under assault will release a scent to warn nearby trees of the danger so they, too, can pump toxins into their own leaves.

Are you aware that fungal networks connect trees to other trees allowing them to share nutrients and information or that they perform other services like filtering out heavy metals in the soil and protecting trees against bacterial attacks? In return, the fungi receive food from the trees in the form of sugar and carbohydrates.

Have you ever considered the challenges facing trees planted in parks and next to streets? These trees are not only separated from their family members, their roots must navigate around concrete, pipes, and other obstructions, and they are constantly in danger of having their limbs cut off.

Wohlleben reinforces the interconnectedness of nature and the importance of biodiversity throughout the book and gives a realistic view of what actually occurs in a forest.

“The forest ecosystem is held in a delicate balance. Every being has its niche and its function, which contribute to the well-being of all. Nature is often described like that, or something along those lines; however, that is, unfortunately, false.”

Did you see that coming?

“For out there under the trees, the law of the jungle rules. Every species wants to survive, and each takes from the others what it needs. All are basically ruthless, and the only reason everything doesn’t collapse is because there are safeguards against those who demand more than their due. And one final limitation is an organism’s own genetics: an organism that is too greedy and takes too much without giving anything in return destroys what it needs for life and dies out.”

Hmm, perhaps humans could learn a thing or two from trees.

The Bottom Line

Peter Wohlleben is a German forester who has written several books about trees. To my knowledge, The Hidden Life of Trees is the first one translated into English making it accessible to millions of people who cannot read in German, including me.

Wohlleben writes in a lyrical and engaging way. As you are reading the book, you can imagine yourself strolling with him through the forest conversing about tree parents and their children or sitting on a tree stump talking about how trees act as carbon dioxide vacuums.

One thing that you will notice as you are reading The Hidden Life of Trees is that Wohlleben writes about trees as beings with thoughts and feelings. Attributing human characteristics to non-humans is called anthropomorphism. A familiar example is treating your pet like a family member.

Apparently, some people believe that anthropomorphizing plants and animals detracts from science or maybe they just think it is silly. To me, that is a shortsighted view.

I believe that Wohlleben’s use of anthropomorphic terms to describe trees and other forest denizens probably contributed to the book becoming a best seller. By writing a book that is easy for people to relate to and fun to read, he has made learning about trees and forests appealing to a wide audience.

Perhaps after being introduced to trees in The Hidden Life of Trees, you and other readers will be inclined to do some further reading or research about trees, get to know trees in your own community, or take action to protect an old growth forest at risk of destruction. Regardless, you will come away having gained knowledge and at least one interesting tidbit to share with your friends.

Reading The Hidden Life of Trees is a delightful and informative experience you do not want to miss.

Featured Image at Top: Beech Tree Forest Canopy in Germany during the Summer – Photo Credit Shutterstock/ Alexandra Theile

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