The Eight Pillars of Joy

January 4, 2017

Watercolor sketch of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu from The Book of Joy

Watercolor sketch of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu from The Book of Joy

Pencil sketch, portraits from the cover of The Book of Joy

Pencil sketch, portraits from the cover of The Book of Joy

Today is the first time in 2017 that I took the time to pick up art materials and make art.  It felt good.  It is a bright, sunny, cold day, and the light was good for painting at my table.

As I look forward to this coming year, I’ve decided to focus on four main art projects/themes/activities for 2017:

  1. To continue working on line drawings in pen and ink or pencil.  I have a new book to put these in.  I think I can only get better if I draw a lot.
  2. To copy famous art works by master artists from history;  my own version in watercolor;
  3. To do more portraits of animals and people; and
  4. To take the time to draw or paint the covers of some of the best books I read in 2017.

My first book cover painting and pencil sketch are from The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

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These two wise men spent a week together discussing various aspects of joy and obstacles to feeling joy.  They offer insights into eight “pillars of joy”  — four qualities of the mind and four qualities of the heart:

  • perspective
  • humility
  • humor
  • acceptance
  • forgiveness
  • gratitude
  • compassion
  • generosity

The facilitator, Douglas Abrams, wove the Dalai Lama’s and Archbishop Tutu’s comments and observations with recent findings from academic and scientific research.  It was interesting to see the overlap.  One researcher, Sonja Lyubomirsky, found the following three factors have the greatest influence on increasing joy and happiness:

  • our ability to reframe our situation more positively
  • our ability to experience gratitude
  • our choice to be kind and generous

Another researcher, Richard Davidson, discovered four independent brain circuits that influence our happiness and well-being:

  • the ability to maintain positive states
  • the ability to recover from negative states
  • the ability to focus the mind and avoid mind wandering
  • the ability to be generous

I especially appreciated the discussion about negative thoughts and emotions, like feelings of worthlessness, envy, loneliness, etc.  The Dalai Lama was a strong advocate for building our mental immunity so that we are less susceptible to negative thoughts and feelings.  He believed that preventive measures can be learned and cultivated, things like meditation or keeping a gratitude journal.  Archbishop Tutu, on the other hand, felt that human beings are not always in control of the negative emotions and thoughts that crop up during times of stress.  He believed that because negative thoughts and emotions are inevitable, we should accept that they come and forgive ourselves for having them.  We can learn and grow and develop stress resistance over time after experiencing challenges and situations and people that test us.

Reading The Book of Joy was a perfect way to start the new year.  The two holy men remind us of our common humanity and that we are in this life together.

“. . . ultimately our greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others.”
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu

“Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering.  A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.”
— The Dalai Lama