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I am looking directly into the eyes of the stranger sitting opposite me. His face is tired, his eyes a little sad, worn out perhaps with the heaviness of thoughts. As he looks at me, a light suddenly gleams in his eyes and his mouth slowly begins to curve up at the edges. Within a few seconds I startle myself by unexpectedly and spontaneously smiling widely back at him. He throws his head back and erupts into raucous laughter. It is infectious. My giggling gets louder and louder until, I too, am unabashedly laughing, tears running down my cheeks.
I am at a laughter meditation workshop. I am a novice at this. But nobody seems to mind. Apparently the body does not understand the difference between fake laughter and real laughter, and, making ourselves engage in the former inevitably causes the latter, and the benefits are the same, regardless of the mode. Despite initially feeling somewhat foolish, I slowly begin to relax and the laughter begins to flow more naturally.
Abdu’l-Baha says that,
Laughter is caused by the slackening of the nerves. It is an ideal condition and not physical. Laughter is the visible effect of an invisible phenomena.Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 13, Issue 5
I leave the workshop exhausted. My step is light and my thoughts are clear. I find myself smiling at people on my way home.
Do I feel happier? I don’t know.
Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded. We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness.
But when sadness visits us we become weak, our strength leaves us, our comprehension is dim and our intelligence veiled. The actualities of life seem to elude our grasp, the eyes of our spirits fail to discover the sacred mysteries, and we become even as dead beings.
There is no human being untouched by these two influences; but all the sorrow and the grief that exist come from the world of matter—the spiritual world bestows only the joy!
If we suffer it is the outcome of material things, and all the troubles and trials come from this world of illusion.Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks
The question of joy is one that I am always exploring. What is the relationship between this “spiritual state” 1 and the physical body in which we inhabit? Whilst we know that “happiness keeps our health while depression of the spirit begets disease” 2, can creating a physical state of happiness, (however ‘fake’ it may be), lead us to a more spiritual state? Can we ‘fake it ‘til we make it’? And what does it actually mean to be happy?
Recent research has determined that happiness comes from two things: feeling a sense of connection to those around us, and from contributing to something greater than ourselves, thus creating a sense of meaning. Additionally, those who are happiest are those who are optimistic. And those who are optimistic are those who trust that good will happen.
Up to 50% of our happiness is determined by our genetic make up – and is thus beyond our control. However, this means that at least half of our happiness is in our own hands and is dependent on our habits, behaviours and, ultimately, will. But, what kind of habits and behaviours?
Abdu’l-Baha says that,
Human happiness is founded upon spiritual behavior.Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings
I find myself reflecting deeply on these words. In a society obsessed with the pursuit of happiness, we find ourselves seeking all forms of activities and engaging in various acts of consumerism in this quest to be happy. We often feel that happiness is a result of gaining something. An acquisition. An end point.
Earlier this year, analysts determined that Panama is the ‘happiest nation on earth’. This, despite the sobering reality that nearly one quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. When asked what the cause of happiness was, the response, in order of importance, was: family bonds and social connection with the community, an appreciation of beauty for the physical landscape of the country, and an improvement in the economy.
So whilst there is an undeniable link between money and satisfaction, money alone, as the age-old adage goes, cannot buy happiness.
Indeed, Abdu’l-Baha says,
Anybody can be happy in the state of comfort, ease, health, success, pleasure and joy; but if one will be happy and contented in the time of trouble, hardship and prevailing disease, it is the proof of nobility…Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets Vol 2
Nobility. I ponder on these words deeply. Being happy allows us to be noble beings.
This brings me again to the question of happiness and spirituality.
Happiness consists of two kinds; physical and spiritual. The physical happiness is limited; its utmost duration is one day, one month, one year. It hath no result. Spiritual happiness is eternal and unfathomable.Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks
True happiness depends on spiritual good and having the heart ever open to receive the Divine Bounty.Ibid.
An open heart. I reflect on these words. What does this mean? What does it look like for me to open my heart?
If the heart turns away from the blessings God offers how can it hope for happiness? If it does not put its hope and trust in God’s mercy, where can it find rest?Ibid.
And suddenly my heart recognizes what it seeks. Happiness, true happiness, can only come from trusting in God. This ‘optimism’ I spoke of earlier, this ‘trust that good will happen’, ultimately rests in our trust in God and our acquiescence to His Will (granted, what His Will actually means, is another blog post altogether!). But in essence, to me, happiness is founded on trust; trusting that:
His bounty is everlasting, and…His Blessings…are superb. Oh! Put your faith in the Almighty, for He faileth not and His goodness endureth forever!Ibid.
So perhaps it is actually trust that I am seeking. Trust in God. That is what will inevitably lead me to happiness.
- Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 13, Issue 5
- Abdu’l-Baha, 239 Days in Akka
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