Durre-Ajam Sayed, UK
وَاَنَّهٗ هُوَ اَضۡحَكَ وَاَبۡكٰي
“And that it is He Who makes [men] laugh and makes [them] weep;” (Surah al-Najm, Ch.53: V.44)
“Night blooming Jasmine. I remember it used to grow in large bunches in our ancestral home. And every morning, my grandmother would ask me to go and pick a handful of fresh flowers which had silently been blooming overnight. And once I bought them for her, she would string them together, make two flower garlands to wear on each hand, and attach two separate flowers onto small hooks which she would wear in her ears as earrings. Wherever she went, the beautiful smell of the Jasmine flower followed.”
My mother pauses to reminisce the memory, and her happiness at merely recounting one such story (of many) gives me perhaps even greater pleasure than it gives her to recall.
Is this happiness? Or the child I can hear, playing joyfully outside as I write this – is that happiness? Or the sun that beams brightly through an opening of a large billow of grey cloud and uplifts all in its path, is that true happiness?
You see, happiness can be found in the most mundane and common rituals and routines of life. A toddler may gleam with happiness at the sight of rain. A keen gardener will smile when they see the first green leaf of spring. A mother and father will beam with joy at the happiness of their children, which may even be at their own expense. Yet as F Scott Fitzgerald stated, happiness is one of many “universal longings”.
So, what is happiness and what does it mean to be happy?
One can argue this notion is holistically individualistic and subjective because happiness means something different for everyone, everywhere.
The Fijians and Kai Colo from French Polynesia attribute their happiness to a strong sense of community; the Maasai Mara tribe relish traditional forms of singing which makes them happy; the Dutch (living in the Netherlands – consistently ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world) ascribe happiness to their infrastructure, strong social support and a healthy appreciation for individual liberty; whilst Japanese culture directly associates happiness through living in harmony with, and having an appreciation for the natural environment around them.
Perhaps we ought to stop divulging in Western paradoxes of emotional and social “ideals” of happiness and start by focusing on the religious and cultural connotations attached to unique ways of living in our globalised world.
As William Tov claims, “It bears on how we measure and define well-being, as well”. (“How cultural differences shape your happiness”, Greater Good Magazine, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu)
We always have more to learn. To understand what happiness means to different people, it is crucial to make sense of this concept through the vernacular. Cultural variances and notions of happiness may differ between the multitude of societies that scatter our planet. Contrastingly, it can be proposed that basic human emotions and mental states (including happiness and sadness) are reflective of a universal way of being. This concept can be supported by the fact that happiness is readily and easily quantifiable through universalistic measures (through the use of body language, for instance, a simple smile or laughter).
Every human being yearns to be happy, and for this reason, most people (if not all) assume life should be happy all the time by default. Thus, whenever we are overtaken with an emotion other than happiness – whether grief, anger, fear, shock, or sadness – we somehow feel bereft of happiness altogether.
Sometimes, our idiosyncratic imagination of a conceptualised happiness fails us as this happiness is no longer “natural”, but synthetically imagined. Therefore, when our expectations do not meet reality, and our future plays out (albeit beautifully, but) in another form as to what we had originally incepted, we are left disappointed and this vicious cycle defeats achieving happiness altogether. And often, happiness that could otherwise be perceived from multifarious avenues, becomes conformed and constricted to our perceptions of what happiness should be, rather than take it at face value for what it is, in its truest and rawest form.
The science behind happiness
It, therefore, becomes paramount to acknowledge that happiness is a way of being/thinking, as opposed to being an end goal. Hence, it is intrinsic to recognise and understand the power and sway that the mental state of our mind can have on us too. For this, it is imperative to acknowledge the science behind happiness.
“When people feel happy, they often feel physical sensations – a rush of passion, a flutter of joy – that correspond to brain signals sent to nerves in the heart, circulatory system, skin, and muscles. These physical sensations are accompanied by chemical changes in the brain which are interpreted as pleasurable.” (Ronald Siegel, What physical changes occur when I am happy?)
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter involved in many bodily functions, but in the brain, it helps to regulate mood and therefore is integral to an overarching sense of wellbeing. Increased levels of serotonin enhance feelings of confidence and belonging. A conscious and active contribution can be made to live better, healthier lives and this, in turn, can facilitate a natural increase in the production of higher levels of serotonin, such as eating healthy, regularly exercising and spending time outdoors (especially when we have longer and brighter days) with loved ones and making a conscious effort to practice gratitude in our lives.
“‘If you are grateful, I will, surely, bestow more favours on you; but if you are ungrateful, then know that My punishment is severe indeed.’” (Surah Ibrahim, Ch.14: V.8)
In this verse of the Holy Quran, we are taught that appreciation and gratitude do indeed make you a happier person and Allah likes those of His servants who are grateful to Him. For this reason alone, we should all inculcate the habit of trying to be more grateful for His favours that have already been bestowed upon us all (and are innumerable if we try to count them).
Thus, adopting an altruistic attitude and developing a positive growth mindset will give you energy and happiness.
We often tend to seek happiness in worldly pursuits, often forgetting that true and eternal happiness in its greatest sense, lies only in the remembrance (and pursuit) of our Gracious and Loving God, Allah the Almighty.
Our sole purpose – by which true happiness can be achieved – is living a life full of purpose, righteousness and performing deeds which are pleasing to Allah, not only in the pursuit of a good and happy afterlife but because “surely, Allah loves those who do good”. (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.196)
Doing good brings happiness
“Allah enlarges His provision for whomsoever He pleases and straitens it for whomsoever He pleases. And they rejoice in the present life, while the present life is but a temporary enjoyment as compared with that which is to come.” (Surah al-Ra‘d, Ch.13: V.27)
Hence, we should all continuously strive for eternal goodness and our hereafter, as opposed to seeking the vain pursuits of this fleeting world, which is but an illusion:
“And on the day when He will gather them together, it will appear to them as though they had not tarried in the world save for an hour of a day. They will recognise one another […]” (Surah Yunus, Ch.10: V.46)
“A further requirement for attaining spiritual prosperity and happiness is self-purification of thought, word, and deed. It is true that no one is perfect, but one should strive and be ever watchful in maintaining one’s conduct and attitude towards everybody and everything free of blemish. One should eradicate all feelings of resentment, malice, jealousy, impatience, pride, revenge, envy, injustice, scorn, and all kinds of ill-feelings towards others. On the other hand, one should cultivate feelings of love, kindness, sympathy, forbearance, humility, patience, charity, justice, courtesy, helpfulness, understanding and other pleasing virtues […] Happy and prosperous is the person, who through the Grace of God, is the recipient of this experience whether it be to a greater or lesser degree.” (Happiness and Prosperity, Bashir Ahmad Orchard, www.alislam.org/articles/happiness-prosperity/)
Therefore, to attain happiness, we should free our hearts from the shackles of egotistical traits and foster a sense of fraternity. Through the Islamic teachings, this is a means of attaining true happiness and peace. Conjointly, it becomes imperative to realise that our efforts are inept unless supported by the prayers and blessings of Khilafat. True and abiding happiness is effectuated with the loving and bounteous guidance, oversight and prayers of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa. Our prayers, our aspirations, our hopes, and our happiness are all inextricably linked to the blessings of Khilafat. Therefore, we all must establish and maintain a living link with our beloved Huzooraa at every phase of our lives, as the benevolent prayers and leadership of Allah’s vicegerent on earth cannot and should not be overlooked whilst conversing on the topic of attaining abiding spiritual bliss and happiness.
We should all make it our way that we regularly write to, and in this blessed age, meet with beloved Huzooraa at every opportunity to seek his blessings for a blissful life.
In conclusion, happiness is constituted by an array of means. And to take full delight in this, we must ensure that we establish and maintain a living link with God Almighty – Who in all forms and reflections is the ultimate source of happiness and grace. Thereafter, we must make a diligent effort to form an attachment and connection with His representative and Khalifa on earth which we have been blessed with by belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat.
Following on from this, we should assiduously look after and care for not only our friends and families but support our wider communities and societal circles, harbouring intentions and deeds of goodwill and constituting spaces for inter-faith dialogue. This is important because, after the right of Allah the Almighty, we all have a right to serve each other as human beings with dignity, respect and righteousness. When we become individuals, who fulfil both the rights of Allah the Almighty and the rights of our fellow human beings, we then become those who are dear and loved by God. This in turn constitutes the physical foundations for a happy, prosperous and righteous life.