Without even winning the lottery or having a genie bestow him three wishes, Douglas Abrams somehow got to spend a week hanging out with perhaps the two most celebrated spiritual leaders on the planet, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama.
As the only guy in the room without a Nobel Peace Prize, Abrams was content to listen and record what he heard in the company of the two holy men in Dharamshala, India in the spring of 2015. The result was The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (Avery), which has sold over a million copies and has been translated into 39 languages worldwide.
On Sunday, Dec. 9, Abrams will host a community event at Temple Beth El in Aptos on The Book of Joy. He will not be accompanied by the archbishop nor the Dalai Lama. But he’ll come with the next best thing: video.
“I’m basically the warm-up band for the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu,” laughs Abrams, an author and literary agent from Santa Cruz.
The event—sponsored by Bookshop Santa Cruz, the Humanities Institute at UCSC, Santa Cruz Public Libraries and Temple Beth El—is a significant ecumenical gathering featuring many of Santa Cruz County’s most prominent spiritual leaders, including Rabbi Paula Marcus, the Rev. Deborah Johnson, Father Cyprian Consiglio and the Venerable Tenzin Chogkyi, each to speak on the spiritual component of finding joy in daily life, and other themes of the book.
It is also an opportunity to see some “backstage” footage of Tutu and the Dalai Lama. “It’s going to be like they’re there in the room with us, speaking directly to the audience,” says Abrams. “We’ll be telling the story behind the story and taking people on the road trip to Dharamshala and show them what it was like.”
Abrams, who has served as Tutu’s literary agent for more than a decade, says he is surprised and gratified with the reception that The Book of Joy has gotten in the two years since its publication. The book is a meditation on joy, its relationship to similar emotions like pleasure and happiness, and how it interacts with fear, anxiety, grief and other reactions to life’s inevitable trials.
“It has impacted people’s lives in extraordinary ways,” he says, “from helping people deal with chronic illness to getting through the grief from the loss of a loved one.”
The book has taken on a second life as a tool for workshops and community building, says Abrams. Local audiences will have the added benefit of getting a sense of the personality of the book’s two larger-than-life figures. “They’re like a comedy duo,” says Abrams. “They were so hilarious. It’s not what you would expect from revered holy men.”
The free ‘Book of Joy’ talk will be 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 9 at Temple Beth El, located at 3055 Porter Gulch Road, Aptos. Visit bookshopsantacruz.com for more information.