Friday, December 2, 2011

Happiness



If I were to ask you what you want in life, you might say things like making a million dollars, marrying the perfect spouse, having good physical health, achieving closeness to Allah, saving the trees, being respected, and, and, and. The underlying objective of such wants is to achieve a sense of pleasure, an internal joy, a feeling of peace, all of which can be summarized as a state of happiness. At the end of the day, what we want in life is to be happy.

Contrary to popular belief, happiness does not require means. We don’t need to achieve some goal to attain happiness.  Rather, it is an emotional state that we can choose for ourselves, depending on how much control we have over our emotions. We can and should be happy right now, simply by choice. It is as Abraham Lincoln said, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

We have all come across people, who, despite possessing everything required to be happy (by our personal standards), are unhappy, and also people who, despite lacking what we would deem necessary to be happy, are still happy. This is a proof that happiness is a choice and not something that has to be earned or achieved.

Being happy by choice may sound simplistic, especially to those that value hard work, competition, and accomplishment, because their underlying belief is that happiness is a ‘reward’. I shared this feeling too until I was first introduced to the ‘happy by choice’ paradigm through Anthony Robbins’ talks and Marci Shimoff’s Happy for no Reason.

It all made sense to me when Anthony Robbins said that instead of achieving happiness, we should be happily achieving. In other words, success should not be seen as a means to happiness. Rather, happiness should be seen as a means to success. Perhaps, the reason that people are not as successful as they can be is because they are not happily working towards their goal.

Of course, this does not mean that our happiness ‘level’ will not increase during moments of achievement, nor decrease during moments of ‘crises’. Our happiness level can and does evolve.  There are two factors that affect one’s happiness:

1.     Our baseline level of happiness. Different people have different levels of predisposition to happiness, just as different people have different predisposition to anger, for example. Some tests are available to measure your baseline happiness level, such as Marci Shimoff’s Happiness Questionnaire.
2.     The robustness of our state of happiness during adversity and prosperity. This factor represents the degree to which our happiness is controlled by our circumstances, rather than by our choice. Our state of happiness will go through ups and downs, but the magnitude of those fluctuations depends on two forces – the severity of the circumstance, and the robustness of our happiness. We cannot always control our circumstances but we can make our happiness robust.

(For those that are mathematically inclined, the baseline happiness can be represented by the statistical mean (average), and the robustness of happiness can be represented as the statistical variance J)

Imagine a man who was raised as an orphan; who was humiliated by his own relatives; who was forced to leave his homeland, whose beloved uncle’s corpse was mutilated out of the uncle’s love for him; whose wife was charged with having an affair; who lived in poverty; who had to bury the bodies of all but one of his six children. Would such a person have a high happiness level?

The above description is not a fictitious person – he is none other than our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him). Despite all the hardship he had to endure, he would be constantly smiling. AbdulLah ibn Haritha said, “I have never seen anyone who smiled more continuously than the Messenger of Allah"(Tirmidhi). That smile reflects an internal state of happiness – a very high level of happiness, untarnished by the circumstances around him.

The Prophet’s happiness (peace and blessings be upon Him) was also very robust, as was reflected on the day of his passing, while he was in a state of intense sickness. When Abu Bakr was getting the people lined up for prayer, the Prophet managed to stand up and move aside the curtain of his room. “His face was like a page from a Qur'an manuscript.” Yet he smiled at the congregation, a bright laughing smile (Bukhari, Muslim). To smile during intense sickness is a sign of robust happiness.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) did not get excessively excited over some event either: Jabir ibn Samurah narrated: Simak ibn Harb asked Jabir ibn Samurah, "Did you sit in the company of the Messenger of Allah?" He said: Yes, very often. He (the Prophet) used to sit at the place where he observed the morning or dawn prayer till the sun rose or when it had risen; he would stand, and his companions would talk about matters pertaining to the days of ignorance, and they would laugh over these matters while the Prophet only smiled. (Muslim) This hadith again illustrates that external circumstances did not pull his level of happiness strongly one way or the other.

Increasing one’s happiness is not easy – it certainly isn’t for me. Making the choice to be happy requires repetition and effort, until it becomes habitual and natural. And for people that are regularly exposed to negative people, this task can be increasingly challenging. Nevertheless, there are tools to enable us to make that choice. In an earlier post, I spoke about the power of contrast, which is one such tool. InshaAllah, in future posts I will talk about other happiness tools. The book I mentioned earlier, Happy for No Reason, is a decent start if you want to explore this field further. 

1 comment:

  1. Once again great post and reminder of the Prophet Muhammad saw and his disposition on displaying happiness.

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