By Tabassum M
Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
“What is your aim in life?”
This is a clichéd question which we are asked once too many times in our childhood. And the answers are usually: “I want to be an engineer/doctor/pilot” or “I want to buy this and that”. Perhaps no one will say: “My aim in life is to be happy.” This is so obvious that we don’t even consider it on its own; we consider only the things which we feel will lead to it.
If you imagine people’s moods to be spanning across a spectrum, there is total loss on one end and lifelong happiness at the other. The default position for humans, according to the Quran, is at the negative end – the state of loss:
“By time, indeed, humankind is in loss, except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.” (Surah al-Asr)
Loss is the threshold, not neutrality. And in order to first rise above that loss and then to attain happiness, we need to exert effort. But what should we put effort in? In the four things mentioned in the surah – faith, good deeds, helping one another to the truth, and patiently pursuing the truth. (Scientific research also says that happiness is not just a state of mind but requires active effort.)
Keeping these four things in mind, let’s jump to the other end of the spectrum – lifelong happiness.
The Quranic Formula for Happiness
Again, Allah mentions the way to happiness in the Quran:
“Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do.” (16:97)
Note the similarity in the verse and in Surah al-Asr. The recipe for getting out of loss is the same as that of getting a good life: faith, good deeds and, by extension, advising one another to truth and patience.
The Pursuit of Happiness
We all want a good life. But people ordinarily seek it in places where it can’t be found. They pursue a mirage of happiness through money, entertainment, love, intoxicants, and even food. But these things, as has been proven by scientific research, give merely a momentary high. When this high subsides, it leaves one feeling drained out, and so one looks for more highs. Soon the person realizes that this pursuit is fruitless, and even at the very peak of it, there is nothing but hollowness. Anyone who has looked for happiness in these pursuits will understand what I mean by hollowness.
Pursuing happiness through incorrect ways can even be destructive in some cases, when the hollowness becomes apparent; doomed to misery, people decide to end their lives.
So what are the fruitful ways of achieving happiness?
Research on positive psychology has identified some happiness boosters that have a relatively lasting effect. Some of these, listed in the famous book The How of Happiness, are:
- Expressing gratitude
- Cultivating optimism
- Avoiding over-thinking and social comparison
- Practicing acts of kindness
- Nurturing relationships
- Doing more activities that truly engage you
- Savoring life’s joys
- Committing to your goals
- Developing strategies for coping
- Learning to forgive
- Practicing religion and spirituality
- Taking care of your body
It’s amazing how little money and effort it takes to do these. And it’s still more amazing how little we apply them. Our grandparents knew these secrets of happiness better than us. They are timeless. And most importantly, they are all a part of Islam, and were revealed about fourteen centuries ago.
More Happiness Boosters?
These few (and more by other researchers) are only the ones that have been “discovered” by positive psychologists (although they would find them if they looked into the Quran and Sunnah). There are hundreds of such small happiness boosters presented to us by Allah and His Messenger (sa) – a whole array of acts which comprise good deeds. There is an ocean of happiness yet untapped by science, but within the reach of Muslims.
Here are some examples to try out. See if they aren’t equally effective (if not more) happiness boosters to the scientifically proven ones.
- Reading the Quran
- Sending peace upon the Prophet (sa)
- Playing with your spouse
- Saying “subhanAllah” one hundred times
- Smiling at a stranger
- Reflecting on nature
- Calling others towards Allah
- Staying away from a sin despite temptations, only for the sake of Allah
- Giving charity
Tabassum M is a freelance writer and a student of MA in Islamic Studies at IOU. She is also studying at al-Salam Institute, UK and has a degree in Mechanical Engineering. She likes playing with animals, watching natural beauties, reading novels and researching interesting topics on psychology, sociology, history and current affairs. She shares her reflections at the blog sections of Understand Quran Academy, IIPH and Ibana. Contact: email@example.com
© IIPH 2016