Happiness – a state of mind or a milestone?

By Maha Amjad

Everyone is searching for happiness; but is happiness really a destination or a journey?

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Standing in front of the university crowd, all glammed up for the farewell, she was asked to give a word of advice. All her thoughts about prompting them to understand the word of God went out of her mind amidst the discussion about their search for happiness.

She stated in a matter-of-fact tone, “happiness should not be associated with events and moments, rather it should be a consistent way of life.” This stirred up another round of debate; an inconclusive one at that because all participants were still searching for happiness.

A few days later, she heard this verse of the Quran:

 وَإِذَا أَذَقْنَا النَّاسَ رَحْمَةً فَرِحُوا بِهَا ۖ وَإِنْ تُصِبْهُمْ سَيِّئَةٌ بِمَا قَدَّمَتْ أَيْدِيهِمْ إِذَا هُمْ يَقْنَطُونَ

And when We let the people taste mercy, they rejoice therein, but if evil afflicts them for what their hands have put forth, immediately they despair. (Sura Ar-Rum, Ayah 36) (Sahih International).

Allah SWT is describing the behaviour of the general populace. They usually swing between two extreme emotions. They are either rejoicing over the blessings that Allah SWT has bestowed on them or they become depressed over that which they don’t have. 

There is another set of people who are excluded from the addressees, they are the Mumineen; those who are grateful over their blessings and are patient over their hardships. They are rewarded for their patience (Sabr) and this makes them content and happy even during the difficult patches of their life.

This Ayah dispels all ambiguities surrounding the concept of happiness. As long as everything is going according to what man aspires for, he tends to be happy. But this does not always happen. Life is a test and we are tested through people and situations. And the moment someone states something against our liking, we tend to become unhappy. Similarly, if we had a blessing; the perfect job or the perfect relationship and according to the plan of nature it was taken away from us at its destined time, we become depressed. So how can we overcome this human weakness of associating happiness with material things and perfect situations?

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Ask yourself truthfully, when was the last time you were truly happy?
Was it the day you received your degree?
Or the day you got that specific award?
What happened next? Where did the bubble of happiness go?  

Yes, it was just that a bubble, a facade. That was not true happiness. Happiness is in fact not a destination to reach one day. It is a product of how we live our lives and what our actions make us feel.

Happiness stems from gratitude; the more we realise our own blessings, the more content we shall be. We need to look at what we have rather than focusing on that which we don’t have.  

Your happiness should not be based on what you do not have

This can be understood by the example of two families travelling on the same highway. They are both having fun within their own cars with their respective families. The moment the driver of one car starts racing with the other car, he/she forgets all the happiness they have, and the focal point of their drive became getting ahead of the other driver.

Imagine if the one of the drivers’ cars has a better engine and the other doesn’t.  He is neither going to be able to beat the other car and nor is he enjoying the journey. Isn’t that a complete loss of an opportunity to be happy on the car ride?

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Similar is our case when we compare our blessings with others, we lose focus from what we have. In either case we reach the destination that we were destined to reach but the quality of the journey  depends on the focus of the driver. The journey is analogous to life and the driver is you. 

وَمَن يَشْكُرْ فَإِنَّمَا يَشْكُرُ لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ
… whoever is grateful is grateful for [the benefit of] himself. (31:12).  

Dear reader, gratitude is the key to happiness. 

Another fact to realise is that wealth cannot buy happiness and peace (sakoon).  

A 2008 study concluded that how people spend their money may be as important for their happiness as how much money they earn – and that spending money on others might represent a more effective route to happiness than spending money on oneself. (1)

In this social experiment, 46 people were given either $20 or $5, some spent it on themselves and the rest spent it on people other than themselves. Those who spent the money on others felt happier at the end of the day. 

Happiness is, therefore, not the end-product of materialistic fulfilment; rather, it is the act of spreading joy among others which results in true happiness. Moreover, there are very simple things that we can practice that increase our happiness as well as that of others. A simple smile on our face or a quick ‘thank you’ can brighten someone else’s day. A pleasant tone, small acts of kindness, giving simple gifts are all tokens of spreading joy among our fellow humans and most of all, though they may seem like small things, they have the power to make us happy in this world and in the hereafter.   

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1. Elizabeth W. Dunn, Lara B. Aknin, Michael I. Norton, ‘Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness’ (2008).

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