Spirit Matters by Shirley Barr – Where does happiness come from? – October 2, 2012

CFN – Where does happiness come from? Why are some people happy and others seem never to be happy? How do we achieve happiness? Can one go from being an unhappy person to one who is happy?

The reason I chose this topic today was because it is raining outside and overcast days have a tendency to make me want to hibernate and feel sad. Over the course of my life I have experienced sadness more than happiness and this is something that has shifted, especially in the last few months. I think that expressing myself creatively is a big help in this shift. More importantly though, it is the practice of actively cultivating happiness in my life as if it were a flower garden that I am in charge of. I have come to realize that being happy is a choice that I can make every single day – at every moment. That realization is very empowering and has contributed to raising my standard of living exponentially. We live in a society that measure our standard of living in dollars and cents, that analyzes and categorizes everything we buy and our gross domestic product as if that was all that mattered. What is becoming evident, however, is that past a certain point having more money or things makes us less happy. Many of us live as if our things owned us, not the other way around, and in doing so, it leaves us empty and unfulfilled.

Happiness is a spiritual quality that can be developed, as with any other quality or virtue that we may feel in need of. But, what is happiness and where does it come from? According to Aristotle, happiness is “the virtuous activity of the soul in accordance with reason” – in other words, happiness is the practice of virtue. That quote beautifully describes how happiness comes from higher level thinking that can be tenderly nurtured within us. To be happy no matter what happens in life can be strived for.

The following story illustrates how happiness is a practice:

The story is set in Palestine when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. The group in the story is made of up a few early followers of the Bahá’í Faith, along with Bahá’u’lláh (the “Glory of God”), the founder. The perspective is that of Bahiyyih Khánum, Bahá’u’lláh’s daughter.

Bahiyyih Khánum, aged 21, describes how their family arrived in the prison city of Akka in 1868 by ship after a terrible journey across the sea. The boat could not dock because the port was so run-down, so, the guards were going to throw the women into the water. Her brother, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá intervened and had the women lifted down in a more careful manner onto the dock. Once there the Bahá’í were greeted with  jeers, derision, and hatred by the crowd, and as they were herded towards their cell, they were pushed, shoved and spat upon. They were then imprisoned with no food or clean water in the filthiest conditions imaginable. Conditions were so bad that Bahiyyih Khánum fainted and there was only dirty water to use to try to revive her. Despite this, on the second night, they found something funny to laugh about, which they did to the point that Bahá’u’lláh came and told them to keep it down as it might make the guards think they had gone crazy. Over the coming days many of the believers died in these conditions. Nonetheless, the group maintained a level of contentment because of their faith and their connection to each other. This remarkable story has had an influence on my life because it has caused me to reflect on the patterns of thinking I was brought up with, and to gradually re-pattern that thinking into one that is healthier and more spiritual.

Happiness is the antidote to depression. We need some massive injections of happiness into our human system. Perhaps you would like to share your thoughts on what makes you happy and what has caused a shift in your thinking.

Shirley lives and works in Cornwall and is a member of the Bahá’í community. She can be reached at spiritmatters9@gmail.com; comments are appreciated.


  1. For me, happiness seems to come from from family and friends and the following: Not having to be up at 5:30am to go to a crappy job, which I did for many years. Living in the boonies with no neighbours within sight or earshot. Riding a motorcycle in the warm weather, and driving a car with a decent heater in the cold weather. Not being saddled with an asinine man-made religion that instills guilt and fear of the unknown. Not giving a rat’s a$$ about the meaning of life or the afterlife (yes, I’m a shallow guy). The list could go on, but for me, just living in the present seems to work most of the time. Good health and good luck play a big part as well, and I’ve had both.

  2. Interesting article Shirley!!!

    I learned that happiness must come from within and that one should not depend on another to bring them happiness. One can definitely go from being unhappy to happy, but it takes introspection which is hard work.

    Funny how people differ because a dark and rainy day brings out the best in me. My spirits soar, I get motivated and that is when sitting in front of a canvas I do my best work.

    Spending and buying fills a void for the moment, but unfortunetely, the joy is short lived. I have no desire to buy ….but I know many who feel they need all the latest toys and they are not happy.

    The turning point for me was a split at which point I sat and analized the situation, the why and the how it got to this point. What was missing, what lessons could I learn in order to grow from this experience and how I could change things in the future. The majic word was to grow. One has to learn from past experiences. I began to look at life and people in a different context but most importantly I took time to get to know who I was. If one can’t be happy from within, they will never be happy no matter what. My faith also played a major role in getting me to where I am today. Believe it or not, I feel there is a purpose for whatever happens, we may not realize it at the time, but with time the purpose is clear and most times it was for the best.

    A few weeks ago, Jamie wrote an article asking people to share their thoughts on what makes them happy. Guess what? Perhaps 5 responded, which spoke volumes to me. It seems people are just going through the motions and never give happiness a second thought which is sad indeed.

  3. This is one of the biggest ironies that makes most people unhappy with their lives. While everyone claims they want to be happy they don’t do the things that make them happy because of claiming to be busy working, studying….etc.
    Lots of people aren’t happy with lives because they forgot about their real needs and wants. They became trapped in routine lives where they do the same things everyday without realizing that becoming happy requires that they go after their unmet needs
    Some people are more positive, they try to become happy by traveling, hanging out with friends or doing something new but they never feel truly happy. You will only feel happy when you go after the things that make you tick, for some people this will be money, for others this will be fame while for a third group this might be something else. Knowing what makes you happy is the key because each person is different
    The ultimate guide to getting over depression I said that you won’t be happy with your life before you manage to find the real things that make you happy then go after them. Keep giving excuses such as there is no time or there are other priorities and you will remain unhappy.

    For me, my happiness levels soar when I find myself successful in both my career and my social life. One of my worst down times happened was when I was focusing on financial success to the extent that I didn’t have time to socialize! Just like millions I was giving excuses and saying that work is more important than anything else but soon I realized that happiness is as important as my work.

    When I restored the balance to my life I felt happy once again and found myself doing even better in work.

  4. @Ed-appreciate your comments and your very down-to-earth attitude, thanks for reading this column especially in light of your non-religious views. It sounds like you live with alot of gratitude every day, which is a spiritual quality, and therefore you experience happiness, and moments of joy on that motorcycle no doubt! Always enjoy hearing from you Ed, take care.

  5. Thanks for that Shirley. I’m sure my sometimes over-the-top anti-religion views are the result of being forced to attend Sunday school and church (Presbyterian) until I seriously rebelled at about fifteen. I was sick of being told that I was a sinner and had to be saved. I had lingering doubts for a few years, but no more. Today, I think I can say that I’m a completely recovered Christian. Not saying that’s for everyone, and if some people get comfort and “happiness” from their religion, that’s good too.
    Keep on writing. It’s always good.

  6. Shirley you sure have touched a special need this week. Your readers have responded with many wonderful ideas on happiness. It is a topic I could write about at length, but here is just one little idea. We often think of our happiness in terms of luck, good luck (happy), bad luck (unhappy). What is luck?
    Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. So prepare for happiness, you might surprise yourself.

  7. @ Stella: Thank you for your kind comments, somehow I am not surprised that you are an artist, your way of thinking is creative and independent. With reference to your point “The turning point for me was a split at which point I sat and analyzed the situation” this is of great interest to me because that split can be such a catalyst for change. It piques my sense of curiosity, I love to discover what causes transformation and change.
    Taking the time to know who you are is one of the great tasks of life, one which, if I can offer, cannot be done without dedication and commitment to achieving our potential, whatever that may be. Happiness does come from within, I agree. Everything happens for a reason is one of the truths of this earthly life, this is how we are supposed to learn our lessons, as you say, it may take some time to figure out.
    Cultivating the art of happiness does come from expressing gratitude, the editorial Jamie wrote illustrated that perfectly. It’s good to have this conversation, may we have many more.

  8. Good for you Ludwik, balance is so important, thanks for telling us how happiness works for you.

  9. @ Ed- I really enjoy your honesty and point of view, with respect to your description of how religion was forced down your throat I agree with you that is totally and completely the wrong way to go and, in fact, is an act of violence, when you think about it. Trying to inculcate faith by using fear tactics has a very detrimental and damaging effect on anyone, but on a child it can cause them to lose faith. Truly, to me, this is the greatest and most damaging single event that can happen to an individual, my humble opinion. To lose one’s natural connection to our creator seems to be the most tragic experience one can undergo. The fact that you recovered shows how resilient you are, it’s a testament for sure of fortitude. Thank you for your kind words.

  10. @ Happy Hoofer
    “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. So prepare for happiness, you might surprise yourself.”
    Dear Happy Hoofer, I wonder who you are dear friend, lol…this is much better than a horoscope!
    I have a feeling way down deep inside me that the intersection of luck, preparation and opportunity are about to meet and the result will be pure, unadulterated magic, miracles and unimaginable love, agreement and the realizing of the so-far unrealized potential of the souls concerned.
    Thank you dear, HH for being such a blessing in my life.

  11. Great article Shirley! About expressing creativity, I’m happiest when I’m being creative. For all you blocked creatives out there, read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It helped me get back to my true path.

  12. Actually Shirley, and I say this with great respect for those who think differently, it came as a great relief when I finally realized, in my own mind, that there is/was no creator, no afterlife, and no need to even worry about that stuff anymore. And I mean a GREAT relief. I still enjoy hearing and reading other people’s nonjudgmental views on the subject. I hope the comments on your writings remain respectful and tolerant. So far, so good.

  13. Ed…….I honestly think we don’t have to worry about that type of behavior here **s**

    I do have a few more comments I would like but lack of time at this moment, stay tuned…..coming soon at a theater near you **smile**

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