Is Happiness even a Thing?

Co-written by Amena Baalbaki and Sameh Helmy

 

“How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him.” (Narrated by Muslim)

Disclaimer: We are not academics or psychologists, rather we will be presenting our personal perspectives on this matter. That being said, there is a difference of opinion among the writers (two) of this piece. We’ll present our cases, let them tumble around in your minds and hearts and let us know what you think in the comments below.

What happens next will shock you.

One of us thinks happiness itself is a feeling. The other thinks happiness is a combination of more specific feelings. So let’s say you’re sitting around contemplating, introspecting, searching your soul and you suddenly get an onrush of…well, one of us thinks it’s an onrush of feeling happy – that burst of rainbow that we sometimes get. Let’s call them Person 1. The other thinks it’s an onrush of good feelings specific to your introspection like contentment, love, value or growth. Let’s call them Person 2.

Here is why Person 1 thinks so: Happiness is a feeling. I’m sure many of us who have had the chance to sit down with ourselves and to just be, can come to a feeling of pure contentment. We’re content with where we are now, how far we’ve come, and how much we’ve learned. Sure, there are things that can trigger our happiness, but I believe that happiness can come from within as well. There is no ultimate happiness in this world. Ultimate happiness is saved for the time after this world. Happiness, in this world, is an internal state of being. It’s a subjective feeling.

Here is why Person 2 thinks so: Happiness is not a state of being. To my limited knowledge there is no concept of “happiness” in the Quran or the Sunnah. There is no perpetual state of everything being just right – that fundamentally clashes with the nature of life in an Islamic context. We are meant to toil, learn and grow. There are good feelings and there are bad feelings. When we complete a project we do not feel happy, we feel accomplished and victorious and it doesn’t mean that everything in our lives is working just the way we want. And that’s OK. The blues and breakdown halfway through said project don’t mean we are unhappy, it means we are being challenged beyond our comfort. It means we are being taught something and it doesn’t mean that everything in our lives is falling apart. One of the most extraordinary skills a person can have is an acute sense of their emotions. An understanding of what makes them feel good, why it makes them feel good and precisely what the feelings are in the same way they understand what makes them feel bad and why it makes them feel bad. Recognizing those specific feelings, like value, accomplishment, love, safety, fear, disappointment, loss, can give us the tools to understand and control the behaviours that come with them. Therefore, it is my opinion that believing that happiness is itself a feeling would leave people at a disadvantage. That is the most crucial step in gaining control over one’s behaviours and coping mechanisms because it enables us to recognize and spot the things that trigger our behaviours.

The breakdown, according to Person 1: If you were to try to identify happiness, you may think about the various things in your life that satisfy your desires. The challenge with this is that once you satisfy one desire and achieve that happiness, another desire in need of fulfillment creeps up on you shortly after. This constant loop of satisfying your desires can be emotionally draining. You feel as though you’ll never achieve “true” happiness. If you are feeling this way, you’ve most likely been striving your entire life to achieve and then maintain a feeling that is static. It’s in our nature, as human beings, to constantly be changing. We tread through our breakdowns and rise having learned from them. For us to place happiness at the pinnacle of our desires is to limit our potential. Enduring a struggle can teach us an awful lot, especially if our goal is to learn from it. If we are to learn from our struggles, we can’t be looking ahead at the goal of ‘happiness’. As cliche as this sounds, living in and learning from the present can help us grow into our authentic selves. This way, we can be authentically human, rather than living our lives day in and day out as shells just waiting for the moment that happiness will come to fill us.

The breakdown, according to Person 2: I absolutely love what Person 1 said about this and the pitfalls they brought up are precisely why I think it can be dangerous to postpone feeling good about one’s life to some end goal or event: “If I get this job I will be happy” or “when I get married I will be happy.” That in addition to considering happiness to be a specific feeling is nonsensical. First of all, there are so many variables in life so it’s impossible to presume anything; and to further presume that we would be “happy” – a perpetual state of peaches and rainbows – completely dismisses the rest of what could be happening alongside the “job” or “partner”, some of which could be challenging. To really internalize this is very powerful. To partner gratitude for one’s blessings with patience and readiness to struggle would allow us to experience all of our moments to their fullest because no longer will anything be unexpected; disappointing (of course, there is always an initial reaction to hardship that can be a mix of those things but it’s a teachable moment about the fleeting nature of life). We can therefore approach everything as an experience.

We are only experts in our own experiences and every one of you has personalized lenses through which they see the world – and they never stay the same.

What do you think of happiness? How has your perspective changed over the years? Do you identify more with Person 1, Person 2, or a bit of both? Did that change or was it enforced by the end of the article?

 

Do neither perspectives resonate with you? Tell us in the comments below!

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