- Ayyam-i-Ha is a Baha’i festival that is joyously celebrated in countries and territories all over the world. It is a time of hospitality, generosity, and caring for the needy. This year Ayyam-i-Ha runs from February 26-29.
On average, the population of today’s world live with more material comfort, less illness, greater equality and far more opportunities than people who lived at any other time in history. In spite of this, the World Health Organization has estimated that by the year 2030, depression will be the most prevalent and debilitating illness in the world – in both rich and poor nations.
Judging from the number of bestselling self-help books out there on how to achieve happiness in life, this question seems to be a pretty big one for a lot of people. It seems that many people acknowledge that in spite of being financially comfortable, having a good job and an active social life, true happiness remains out of reach.
We don’t have to look very hard to notice the enormous number of cultural messages that we are bombarded with on a daily basis about what kinds of things we need in order to live happy lives. The world of advertising would have us believe that happiness is only a purchase away – fashionable clothes, fast cars, good looks, social status. This is part of living in a society that is driven by goals and outcomes, and in which happiness is something that can be pursued and acquired – if not through material possessions, then in a myriad of other ways.
Fifteen minutes on Facebook can often leave us feeling that the happiest people out there are the ones who have an endless number of friends, the ones who go on great adventures overseas and the ones who have amazing jobs. Focusing on the things that other people have that we might not have can easily lead us to believe that our happiness is dependent upon our life being exactly the way we’d like it to be.
So it’s interesting to see what the Baha’i writings have to say on the topic. ‘Abdu’l Baha talks about two kinds of happiness –
Happiness consisteth 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. This kind of happiness appeareth in one’s soul with the love of God and suffereth one to attain to the virtues and perfections of the world of humanity. Therefore, endeavour as much as thou art able in order to illumine the lamp of thy heart by the light of love.
This quote goes right to the heart of the matter, diagnosing the fundamental flaw in our understanding of happiness that leaves so many people frustrated and lost: true happiness is an attitude we foster rather than something we possess. It is about a condition of being rather than of having.
In order to understand what brings us real happiness, we have to understand our true nature as human beings. The fact that so many people are struggling to find what exactly it is that makes them happy must mean that we, as a society, have not understood who we really are.
What can we do, as individuals, to better understand our own nature?
In order to understand what brings us real happiness, we have to understand our true nature as human beings. The fact that so many people are struggling to find what exactly it is that makes them happy must mean that we have not yet understood who we really are. How can we do this? What can we do to further our understanding of our own nature?
Step 1: Service to others
One of the most fascinating quotes I have read in response to this is by Shoghi Effendi, who says that the key to knowing ourselves is, interestingly enough, to stop focusing on ourselves!
The more we search for ourselves, the less likely we are to find ourselves; and the more we search for God, and to serve our fellow-men, the more profoundly will we become acquainted with ourselves, and the more inwardly assured. This is one of the great spiritual laws of life.From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, February 18, 1954
This great spiritual law that the Guardian talks about – knowing ourselves through the search for God and through service to our fellow men – is one that our society has yet to fully understand. It seems counter-intuitive that in order to become more acquainted with ourselves we should focus our attention away from ourselves and towards others.
But imagine what our society might be like if the majority of people began to adopt this approach to life. Rather than constantly asking ourselves what else we need in our own lives to increase our happiness and being overwhelmed by the number of things that we do not yet have, our minds would be directed to considering what we already have – our skills, our resources, our time – that we can put to use to contribute towards the happiness of others.
It is through our concerted efforts to be of service to others that we become more profoundly acquainted with the gifts and talents that we possess, and are given countless opportunities to develop our capacities and our character!
Step 2: Focus on acquiring virtues
As ‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us in the quote above, true happiness goes hand in hand with attaining the “virtues and perfections of the world of humanity”. This is yet another principle that might not spring to most people’s minds when they are asked to think about how to increase their happiness.
The latest findings in psychology have shown that the happiest people are those who have identified and developed their own personal strengths and virtues and use them for purposes higher than their own personal goals. In striving to cultivate our virtues, we build our spiritual and psychological resources and are better equipped to navigate our way through life’s challenges and to face life’s hardships without being too deeply affected by them.
The key, it would seem, to happiness – true happiness – is constant effort: effort in our path of service, effort in the development of our character, and effort in becoming detached from our ego and in recognizing our true spiritual natures.
By recognizing that physical happiness and spiritual happiness are two distinct states of being, and by understanding that it is spiritual happiness alone – and not physical happiness – that endures and is ultimately what we should be striving towards, we are able to realign our efforts and energies.
Pursuing happiness as the sole object of our lives can only ever be a formula for frustration and disappointment – we will always find our lives, at some point, to be lacking in one way or another. By pursuing spiritual happiness instead, and focusing our efforts on service to others and acquiring spiritual growth, our eyes will be opened to the countless blessings in our lives.
What are your thoughts on finding “true happiness”? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
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