As I begin to write this blog, the rather quirky ‘70s/80s comedian Ken Dodd springs to mind. His TV shows would often feature his very catchy song:
“Happiness, happiness, the greatest gift that I possess
I thank the Lord that I’ve been blessed
With more than my share of happiness…..” 1
The rest of his song is definitely worth listening to as it does share some excellent truths. Well, how about we start with a definition? According to Merriam Webster,2 happiness is:
a state of well-being and contentment
a pleasurable or satisfying experience
Well there you have it….. Now that we know what it is, how do we ‘get’ it? And why are so many people struggling to ‘find’ it.
Since the economic crash of 2007/8 and the subsequent financial stress inflicted on many nations around the world, there have been significant, gradual improvements, over time, in the level of happiness experienced by people in the UK. 3
That is, until the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020. Latest figures have shown a marked increase in stress and a significant reduction in happiness in the UK 4
So lets look at these 3 areas:
- How do we become happy?
- What contributes to making us unhappy?
- How do we stay happy?
How do we become happy?
There is no doubt that financial stresses contribute to unhappiness and ill health. 5,6,7 There are many articles supporting the psychological and physiological impacts of financial stress. There is truth in the phrase that “money can’t buy you happiness,” however, it can buy financial security which can contribute to our overall wellbeing and happiness. As human beings we desire a level of security and certainty….. Take this simple example, how would we feel if we felt uncertain about the stability of the roof of the house that we lived in? Would that create anxiety, stress, unhappiness wondering if at any minute the roof would collapse on everyone in the house?
So having certainty in our finances, in our relationships i.e that we are loved and can rely on our friends, family, spouse etc, are vital contributors to our sense of happiness. However, I feel most of us will agree that the simple acquisition of material things, houses, cars etc, only brings temporary happiness and it is inevitable that a life spent in only pursuing these things would feel quite ‘empty’ in the end.
Tony Robbins, life and business strategist, has spoken at length about this. One of his key points is:
“What you get will never make you happy, who you become, what you experience, what you give, that’s what makes us really happy” 8
Tony Robbins mentions a vital component to being happy, namely, that it is an ‘inside’ job.
We get to decide…. every minute of every hour of every day…. we make decisions about how we feel….. We are responsible for maintaining and elevating our own mental state. Just as we are responsible for what goes into our mouths when we eat, we are equally responsible for what goes into our heads from the people we spend time with to what we watch on television and social media. 9
So, security, certainty, loving, supportive relationships and understanding that happiness comes from inside and can only be temporarily affected by external influences are some considerations that contribute to creating happiness. Once we understand this…. what can we do to help us stay happy?
How do we stay happy?
Recent studies have shown that as humans we have as many as 27 distinct emotions.10 Our nervous system requires variety, so consequently, even throughout the course of one day we will experience a fair few of them, which is normal. However, I would imagine most of us would rather live our lives in a state of happiness, joy, excitement, calmness, rather than fear, anxiety, sadness, envy. Here are a couple of key activities we can do to live in a more positive emotional state.
Gratitude: It is said that “Gratitude is the Attitude,” my understanding of this, is that focusing on and giving thanks for all the small, things in our lives, leads to us feeling more positive.11
In the Muslim holy book, The Quran, it clearly states the value of gratitude, it says,12
“Be grateful to Allah for whoso is grateful, is grateful for the good of his own soul” (31:13)
“And remember also the time when your Lord declared, ‘If you are grateful, I will, surely, bestow more favours on you; but if you are ungrateful, then know that My punishment is severe indeed”13 (14:8)
President Roosevelt writing to his friend William Sturgis Bigelow on March 29th 1898 said “Comparison is the Thief of Joy.” Adults are now spending on average 2 hours a day on social media.14 The unfortunate element of this, is that we are extensively exposed to peoples’ lives and most people only ever post the best parts of it and this can make us feel as though we are underachieving. Keep in mind that we all have different lives…. our journeys are different…. our experiences are different, so stop comparing… it has no real value. In the Quran we are reminded that, 15
“Beautified for men is the love of desired things — women and children, and stored-up heaps of gold and silver, and pastured horses and cattle and crops. That is the provision of the present life; but it is Allah with Whom is an excellent home” (3:15)
What contributes to making us unhappy?
As you can begin to see from the above, there are a number of things that have the potential to affect our happiness…..IF… and this is the key… we let them. This is a hugely important area and for this I would direct the reader to study The Holy Quran and its key teachings, one of which is to not get caught up in worldly affairs and also to constantly remember God.
In a nutshell,
Happiness is an internal job. You have to work on it every day. Be grateful for everything in your life and practise daily gratitude. Make sure you have positive, purposeful, considerate people around you… make an effort to connect with people who want to continually ‘grow’ and develop. Stop comparing….Your journey is unique. Remember that this life is limited…..we are only here for a short time and the real eternal life is yet to come. As Muslims we understand that the key to that life is acting on the teachings of the Holy Quran.
I leave you with one of the sayings (known as Hadith) of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). A man asked the Prophet,
“O The Prophet of Allah, please let me know what to do that Allah may love me and people also like me”
The Holy Prophet Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him said:
“Forsake and abandon the world and Allah will love you. Don’t desire for the things people have and people will also love you.” 16
- Ken Dodd Happiness song: https://youtu.be/m9_9cVxFny4
- Happiness definition: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/happiness
- Happiness trends in the UK over the last decade https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/research/centres/cage/news/03-06-20-advantage_magazine__summer/article-8
- Personal well-being in the UK: April 2019 to March 2020: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/bulletins/measuringnationalwellbeing/april2019tomarch2020
- Coping with Financial Stress: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/coping-with-financial-stress.htm
- Coping with Financial worries: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/advice-for-life-situations-and-events/how-to-cope-with-financial-worries/
- The psychosocial context of financial stress: Implications for inflammation and psychological health: John A Sturgeon PHD et al: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4738080/
- Do You Want To Be Happy: https://youtu.be/l8ZjJp2KkRk
- Association of Screen Time and Depression in Adolescence: Elroy Boers, PhD1,2; Mohammad H. Afzali, PhD1,2; Nicola Newton, PhD3; et al https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/2737909
- Self-report captures 27 distinct categories of emotion bridged by continuous gradients: Alan S. Cowen and Dacher Keltner https://www.pnas.org/content/114/38/E7900#sec-1
- Harvard Health Publishing: Giving thanks can make you happier: https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier
- Happiness and Prosperity: https://www.alislam.org/articles/happiness-prosperity/
- The Holy Quran: https://holyquran.site/ch%2014%20v%208#1:1
- Statista: https://www.statista.com/statistics/433871/daily-social-media-usage-worldwide/
- Contentment: https://www.alislam.org/friday-sermon/2004-04-30.html
- Forsaking the world: https://www.alislam.org/hadith/forsaking-the-world/