A few months back I attended a seminar titled: Are You as Happy as You Could Be? The attendance was overwhelming. Literally hundreds of people (including myself) had given up three precious hours of a Sunday morning to attend, in the hope of gaining a glimpse of, or perhaps a deeper insight into, or possibly a firmer grasp upon, the generally perceived as elusive (like true love) state of happiness. The first segment of the seminar, ‘Understanding Happiness’, was delivered by Radio Islam’s Maulana Sulaimaan Ravat (one out of three speakers), and I’m going to attempt to share what he said.
Maulana Sulaimaan opened his segment with what he termed as the ‘Next Syndrome’. This, he explained, is our tendency to believe we will be happy once we possess our next acquisition. In short, we falsely believe that we will be truly happy when we get our new lipstick / handbag /car/ home / (add on whatever you want here). Most of us have discovered once we actually DO acquire what we want, we set our gaze on something else, and in doing so POSTPONE our happiness, yet again. While experience (supposedly) is the best teacher, we continue in this endless loop, proactively, and thereby constantly, delaying our own happiness. The trick, it seems, in the pursuit of happiness, is to separate our wants from our needs. After all, Maulana Sulaimaan says, “What is happiness, but a consistent state of mental, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing.” Happiness is directly linked to your internal state and has very little to do with external factors (such as what we own). He advised that we should shift our focus to what we HAVE, rather than what we want. In other words, be content with what Allah the Almighty has blessed you with (which anyone who has ever kept a Gratitude Journal will know, is an infinite amount).
What do the Psychiatrists say?
According to Maulana Sulaimaan’s research, fifty percent of our inclination toward being a happy person is genetic (Indeed! I checked with Google), while a mere ten percent of our happiness depends on one’s life circumstances. Maulana says belief in Taqdeer, or predestination, is an integral part of Iman or Faith. Taqdeer IS, essentially, our personal life situation. People with a firm belief in Taqdeer, tend not to blame themselves, or others, when things go wrong, or when disaster strikes (think coronavirus……would anyone blame themselves for its presence on our earth?) Remember, the Holy Prophet Sallahu Alayhi wa Sallam said, “Whatever was meant to hit you was never meant to miss you, and what has missed you was never meant to hit you.” So, if 50 percent of our happiness is the result of genetic inclination, and 10 percent life circumstances (which are essentially out of one’s control) that leaves a whopping forty percent of our possible happiness, to our own personal outlook. This forty percent is about how we choose to react to people and situations. The remaining forty percent of our happiness, to put it blankly, is up to us. Trust, therefore, that Allah has given us the tools to deal with whatever life presents us with.
So, having said that, what can we do to make ourselves happier? The following are some guidelines that Maulana Sulaimaan put forward:
* FAITH – happiness is not connected in any significant way to your intelligent quotient (better known as your IQ), nor to your emotional quotient (EQ). It’s connected to your Spiritual Quotient (SQ). It’s been found that people who practice (that’s actually do PRACTICE) a religion, are happier than people who don’t. Maulana Sulaimaan said people whose lives and behavior are rooted in values can, generally, be listed in the “happy” category. He said for us as Muslims, the bottom line of this is: If Allah is Happy with you, you will be happy. It’s a home truth (and of course, you can test it!). Maulana reminded the audience that humans are a combination of body and soul. Our soul also needs nourishment, which can be found through acts of worship, such as salaah, dhikr, Qur’aan recitation, and so on. He said we take time to take care of our physical self, we stop to eat, sleep, to shower. If we attend to the needs of our soul, we will be happier people.
“The soul,” says Maulana Sulaimaan, “needs to be better nourished than the body.”
If you meet the needs of your body to the neglect of the needs of your soul, expect unhappiness related emotions. Allah the Almighty says in the Holy Qur’aan: And whoever turns away from My remembrance, Indeed He will have a depressed life……… (Surah Taha, Verse 124)
* ABSTAIN – from sin. While we can’t all be saints, we can make an active effort to stay away from sin. This ties in with keeping the soul healthy.
* OPTIMISM – is something taught to us by our Deen. The ‘sabr’ (patience) and ‘shukr’ (gratitude) we keep being reminded to practice are actually the practice of optimism.
Maulana says, “Optimism is a mindset. It’s about how and what you think, not just about how you talk and what you say.”
He says, “Islam actually teaches us how to compare. Look at those who HAVE LESS than you, and at those who DO MORE than you.”
* FORGIVE – because if you cannot forgive others, you cannot be free. Moreover, even if you have every right to complain on the Day of Judgement, and will be recompensed for your pain, if you forgive here and now, you will gain MORE here and now, as well as in the Hereafter, from Allah the Almighty. Forgiveness is a quality of Allah himself, and of His Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). How can we NOT gain by following their Sunnah? Think of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him): can anyone have had more to forgive then he?
* DO ONLY FOR THE PLEASURE OF ALLAH – we all do for our spouses, our children, our bosses, and others. However, if we do only for the pleasure of Allah, and therefore not expect people to do for us in return, we will never be disappointed. Whatever we do for anyone, ourselves included, we should make the intention that it’s for the pleasure of Allah only. In enslavement to Allah only lies the discovery of true liberation, and happiness.
* INVEST IN YOUR RELATIONSHIPS –it’s a tragedy of our times that we have turned our homes into such impersonal spaces that they have become more like hotels. Maulan Sulaimaan says that even at the table, we eat with our right hand while texting with our left.
He says, “It’s more important to invest IN your family, than FOR your family.” He adds, “Give your family the priceless gift of time. Take 10 minutes to have a conversation with your spouse. Take 5 minutes to tuck your kids in at bedtime. Make sure meals are eaten together.”
He advises us not to marry our jobs, saying that decisions will always be made in the interest of the company, rather than of any one individual. People mistakenly believe they should give their work their everything, and that there will be time later in life to spend time together. Infact what happens is that later in life no one’s available. Children have grown up and are leading their own lives. Your spouse might no longer be living or may no longer be in good health. You might not be in good health any longer, either. Maulana Sulaimaan says it’s an irony of life that we tend to treat the people we love the most, the worst. So, for the sake of your own happiness, and that of your loved ones, do invest in your relationships.
* COMMUNITY – live for others. The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said that the best of people are those who bring benefit to others.
Maulana Sulaimaan says, “Build the community and build the Ummah.” He says that if you don’t possess money to share with your community, give of your time.
He questions, “Where are your footprints?”
The least one can do is wear a smile (which, incidentally, is also a Sunnah).
Maulana says, “Think about the lady at the checkout point, she always has a smile and a greeting. With that little bit of humanity, she makes you feel better.”
* DO NOT FORGET YOURSELF – see that you take care of the basic necessities of your own life, such as getting enough sleep. Begin by winding down before your actual bedtime, by shutting off or ignoring your devices, making your Niyyah, reading your Duas etc. Get your life organized, don’t live by winging it, get rid of clutter.
Maulana Sulaimaan advises, “Try to have a ‘green’ area at your home, an area where you’re growing some lawn, with, perhaps a water feature. A ‘natural’ area. (Think of all the people who live in high rise buildings, but have still managed to beautify their balconies with vegetation, and even grow vegetable gardens on their rooftops!)
Maulana adds, “Try to break the monotony of your life by doing different things. Be open to experience.” (There is so much of opportunity here for this now, considering we are in a national lockdown. While we might now be unable try something as wild as skydiving, we can try our hand at giving our kids a haircut, learning a language online, the choices are literally endless……..).
Maulana Sulaimaan concluded his segment of the Happiness Seminar by saying that happiness lies in the simple things.
“It’s not the major successes or failures that determine one’s state. If you’re a Muslim and you live a good life, and are obedient to your Creator, you will have happiness in this life and in the Hereafter.”
So………is happiness elusive? No. It’s right here, right now.
Umm Muhammed Umar