Happiness is an elusive yet powerful mantra to live by. How do we get there? My understanding has evolved over my lifetime. My schooling taught me that happiness is a thing that can be pursued. It was a condition that existed outside of my control that would allow me to be happy. It could be a game, an event, or a material object that would give me happiness. The media has taught me that it could be bought as well.
At home and in my Bahá’í community, I learned that happiness was a spiritual reality that was attainable. It was brought home to me through teachings and prayers. A prayer by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that I love is:
"O God! Refresh and gladden my spirit. Purify my heart. Illumine my powers. I lay all my affairs in thy hand. Thou art my guide and my refuge. I will no longer be sorrowful and grieved; I will be a happy and joyful being. O God! I will no longer be full of anxiety, nor will I let trouble harass me. I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life.
"O God! Thou art more friend to me than I am to myself. I dedicate myself to thee, O Lord."
At some point in my life, I learned that happiness is actually a state of mind. In fact, at work I learned about a training called health realization. The premise is that when sad thoughts come into your mind, you just have to replace them with good thoughts. For example, they compared the mind to a VCR — simply take out the sad/bad videotape in your head and replace it with the new, happy videotape.
I recently went to a workshop on happiness. The facilitator, Jeff Brown, asked the audience what happiness was and I shared that it was a state of mind. He gently corrected me and the rest of the audience who shared my thoughts to say that happiness is a state of being. He defined happiness to be “One’s innate ability to locate and cultivate serenity and excitement about one’s life regardless of outside forces.” Jeff said there are five principles of happiness. I share them with you as another way to live happiness: be conscious, honor feelings, release control and be empowered, co-create what works now, and learn life lessons. At the Experience Happiness website, one may take a happiness assessment.
Despite this deepened consciousness, I still struggle with happiness. Sometimes I feel that it is a condition that you experience from some type of stimuli. For example, my mind still wants to tell me that good things make me happy and bad things make me sad. This mindset makes it so hard to stay happy. During my moments of meditation, I have found these tips from Abdu’l-Bahá that help me understand how to live happiness:
- To attain eternal happiness one must suffer. He who has reached the state of self sacrifice has true joy. Temporal joy will vanish.
- True happiness depends on spiritual good and having the heart ever open to receive the divine bounty.
- If the heart turns away from the blessings God offers how can it hope for happiness?
- Man is, in reality, a spiritual being, and only when he lives in the spirit is he truly happy.
- Material progress insures the happiness of the human world. Spiritual progress insures the happiness and eternal continuance of the soul. In accordance with these principles and actions and by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, both material and spiritual happiness shall become realized.
- May your souls be illumined by the light of the words of God, and may you become repositories of the mysteries of God, for no comfort is greater and no happiness is sweeter than spiritual comprehension of the divine teachings. If a man understands the real meaning of a poet's verses such as those of Shakespeare, he is pleased and rejoiced. How much greater his joy and pleasure when he perceives the reality of the holy Scriptures and becomes informed of the mysteries of the kingdom.
- No matter how far the material world advances, it cannot establish the happiness of mankind. Only when material and spiritual civilization are linked and coordinated will happiness be assured.
- “…Human happiness is founded upon spiritual behavior."
- The earth is one native land, one home; and all mankind are the children of one father. God has created them, and they are the recipients of his compassion. Therefore, if anyone offends another, he offends God. It is the wish of our heavenly father that every heart should rejoice and be filled with happiness, that we should live together in felicity and joy. The obstacle to human happiness is racial or religious prejudice, the competitive struggle for existence and inhumanity toward each other.
So this is it. I have come to terms that happiness is a spiritual way of existence that one must work toward everyday. It is not elusive. So in one sense it is a pursuit but more of the spiritual kind. What have you learned about what makes you happy?