Mission: Joy - Finding Happiness in Troubled Times is streaming from the Tribeca Film Festival until June 23. Purchase tickets here.
This inspiring and edifying documentary is directed by Academy Award- winning director Louie Psihoyos and co-director Peggy Callahan. It was filmed during the 2015 visit by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Dharamsala in India for His Holiness The Dalai Lama's 80th birthday. Those conversations led to their New York Times bestseller The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World.
The film opens as the Dalai Lama meets Archbishop Tutu's plane, and they share a warm greeting. These two Nobel Peace Prize laureates call themselves "mischievous brothers" and, unlike many spiritual teachers who eschew laughter and play, these two model those joyful practices as they smile, chuckle, embrace, hold hands, guffaw, and laugh boisterously.
Interviewed by Doug Abrams, they talk about how they how regard joy as the secret to happiness and the antidote to anger, hatred, selfishness, violence, revenge and other egocentric emotions that separate people from each other. They discuss learning from their enemies, embodying humility, practicing silence, the use of meditation and prayer for health and healing, and the freeing nature of forgiveness. The Dalai Lama's long-time translator Thupten Jinpa adds context and his own reflections on these subjects. Tutu's daughter, Mpho Tutu van Furth, does the same in light of her father's ministry.
Several powerful scenes find these two friends and spiritual leaders walking through the community of Dharamsala. At the birthday party at the Tibetan Children's School, they listen to the stories of children who have fled Tibet. In response to one girl who becomes sad while talking about leaving her parents, the Dalai Lama offers her courage and Tutu, comfort.
Historical footage and animation fill the viewer in on why the Dalai Lama left Tibet after the Chinese invasion and how Archbishop Tutu endured racist attacks under apartheid in South Africa. Both continued to risk their lives through the practice of nonviolence. For them, suffering became an opportunity to learn and find new ways to be of great service to the world. Taking care of others, they assert, is the best way to have a happy life. The Archbishop says that suffering is how we become compassionate. The Dalai Lama quotes a Tibetan saying that suffering is what makes you appreciate joy.
From start to finish, this documentary simmers with laughter, humor, and play. It all adds up to a fresh and fine reframing of joy and its predominant place in the spiritual life. We were reminded of these quotes about laughter:
"Of all the gifts bestowed by nature on human beings, hardy laughter must be close to the top."
-- Norman Cousins in The Heart's Code by Paul Pearsall
"Humor is a prelude to faith, and laughter is the beginning of prayer."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian
"Laughter sets the spirit free to move through even the most tragic
-Gerald Coffee in The Courage to Laugh by Allen Klein