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 firstname.lastname@example.org; comments are appreciated.