Philosophers have long written about happiness, but there is no general agreement on the true definition of happiness, which makes it difficult for many people to attain.
Some consider one to be happy when one’s positive feelings outweigh negative feelings. Others believe that happiness can be attained by maximizing wealth, worldwide fame and recognition, or having a lot of free time to travel. There are some who feel happy simply when dining out or going to the theater in the company of close friends, whereas a select few derive joy from doing volunteer work and helping others.
The achievement of goals is the path to happiness according to some; however, one first needs to have goals defined and must know how to accomplish them. The bad news is that the majority of people just go with the flow; they follow a universal script which dictates going to college straight after high-school without thinking carefully about their academic major, thereafter getting just any job before marrying based on a “crush”, and then starting a family irrespective as to whether they are ready emotionally and financially.
In contrast, people who set life goals can become miserable if things do not go according to their plans. They constantly look back and agonize over “what could have been” instead of accepting their life “as it is”. Perhaps simply being content can make them less miserable.
The most common misconception is that material wealth is a shortcut to happiness, thus some become obsessed with making money which renders them spiritually deprived. Money does not buy happiness, although it surely gives us the freedom to pursue our interests creating the flexibility to conduct our life in a manner that pleases us. For instance, an accomplished female may feel more satisfied with being a stay at home mom with her children provided that she has no financial concerns.
I personally know people who have set aside some savings over their working life which gives them the freedom in their mid life to pursue their interest in research, writing and learning new things. These savings eliminate the need to be enslaved to a full time job; they teach a couple of classes per semester on a part-time basis in order to keep in touch with the outside world. Such individuals have foregone the opportunity to earn a higher income in exchange for following their hearts and doing things they find interesting and pleasurable.
In a recent article in Yes Magazine , the author elucidated upon several factors that make for a better life. They include having a meaningful goal in life, avoiding comparing yourself to others, being optimistic, exercising, maintaining some close relationships, gratitude where appropriate, volunteering or donating to good causes, as well as placing a lower emphasis on accumulating financial wealth.
Two other keys to happiness which are frequently overlooked are good health and security, according to Imam Ali Bin Abi Taleb, the son-in-law of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). People generally take their good health for granted, and only appreciate it after they fall ill. On the other hand, the current turmoil that came with the “Arab Spring” (which some now sarcastically call “Arab Winter”) has made many people prefer authoritarianism as opposed to forced migration, living in tents and becoming refugees in their homeland. Security and stability to them have become synonymous with happiness.
There is a reported positive correlation between faith in God and happiness, because religion usually helps individuals see the meaning of this life and look forward to the afterlife. Believers console themselves when faced with a misfortune by thinking that it was predetermined by God in order to prevent a worse calamity. They persevere and accept God’s decree when faced with hardship without giving in to despair.
In fact, Muslims believe that God tests the strength of the true believers’ faith through a reduction in wealth and/or offspring (such as the death of a child) (Holy Quran Surat Al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2:155” And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient”).
Muslims consider life on earth to be a short and temporary slice of time in preparation for the everlasting joyful afterlife; thus pain and hardship are to be endured to pave what way to heaven. Ultimately, seeking to know God and worshipping him achieves happiness. As it says in Surat Ar- Ra’d, “Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance of Allah. Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured.” To regularly remember the transcendent and be thankful is far from being an easy task, and our souls will often falter. But by remaining steadfast then over time, happiness becomes more manifest and is less attached to the fleeting things of life. Perhaps the greatest challenge in our lives is maintaining the balance of being in the world while remembering that which is beyond this world.