Your striving for what has already been guaranteed to you, and your remissness in what is demanded of you, are signs of the blurring of your intellect.
Ibn Ata Allah, Kitab al-Hikam
Being the consumate pessimist, I know all about the ways worrying and brooding can bring someone down. My first memories were shrouded in a profound sense of loss with the passing of several close family members months of each other. In the years following, I, like many other sensitive children, had learned to live with sadness and isolation. I was hard on myself and my family always had high expectations for me. Growing up, many of my dreams, hopes, and aspirations did not come true. Whatever I did attain did not come with ease. In fact, most of my adult life was spent overcoming some obstacle or challenge, dealing with some disaster’s aftermath or fall out, or strategizing to avoid some impending doom. I struggled and the struggle became part of me. Frankly, it was exhausting. I’ve spent many years seeking spiritual guidance, only to find that emotional issues which came from my experiences have been major blockages to that type of development. I think a major break for me followed some of my harrowing experiences in the MIddle East when everything came together despite the precarious situations I had been in. During that time, I was exposed to the wisdom of Ibn ‘Ata Allah. Many of his aphorisms addressed issues such as anxiety, sadness, and spiritual despair.
Working with teachers and community leaders, I find that many of us are plagued by many of these negative emotions. Hence, our spiritual development has been hampered. Many Muslims aren’t entirely happy, or we don’t allow ourselves to be. We are often worried, stressed, and unsatisfied with the state of affairs within the community, our lives, and the broader world. In fact, much of our community work comes from dealing with fear or malaise, rather from enjoying working in the community because one, we’re doing it for our Lord, and two, being around our brothers and sisters brings us much comfort. Often our conversations over supposed relaxing dinners are full of complaints, criticisms, and pessimism. “Muslims aren’t doing anything right.” “Muslims everywhere are humiliated.” “Everyone hates us.” “We are all fractured.” “Our communities are falling apart.” “We are losing our children” “Nobody is living the true spirit of Islam.” etc etc. Our general negative attitude, hyper-criticism, hyper-intellectualism, self-righteousness, and self loathing have all contributed to a bunch of unhappy people. After hearing adult Muslims complain so much, there is no wonder why our kids are bouncing out of our communities. We are not providing happy examples where Islam is a solution, where we are satisfied with our Lord.
I’ve complained about many things in the past. And I’ve spent many years worrying about everything coming in the future. My blog is also a bunch of critiques and analysis of many social problems. Despite these complaints, my quality of life has improved so much since I’ve been Muslim. I have gained so much meaning in my life that I would never have had if I chose a different faith. I have found a wonderful husband and have met amazing friends from all over the world. One friend who is non-Muslim commented that by becoming Muslim I have become closer to my true self than I had ever been. I have travelled and seen things that I would have never dreamed of. Allah has been good to me and nothing I can ever do could warrant such mercy. The only thing I can work on is becoming happy.
I know it is hard for many of us. And I don’t want to sound hokey. But my hope is that each one of us finds a way to lift up our spirits. There are numerous things that we can do to make ourselves a bit happier. I found a few suggestions in this article,Five Things that Will Make Your Happier
Here are five things that research has shown can improve happiness:
1. Be grateful – Some study participants were asked to write letters of gratitude to people who had helped them in some way. The study found that these people reported a lasting increase in happiness – over weeks and even months – after implementing the habit. What’s even more surprising: Sending the letter is not necessary. Even when people wrote letters but never delivered them to the addressee, they still reported feeling better afterwards.
2. Be optimistic – Another practice that seems to help is optimistic thinking. Study participants were asked to visualize an ideal future – for example, living with a loving and supportive partner, or finding a job that was fulfilling – and describe the image in a journal entry. After doing this for a few weeks, these people too reported increased feelings of well-being.
3. Count your blessings – People who practice writing down three good things that have happened to them every week show significant boosts in happiness, studies have found. It seems the act of focusing on the positive helps people remember reasons to be glad.
4. Use your strengths – Another study asked people to identify their greatest strengths, and then to try to use these strengths in new ways. For example, someone who says they have a good sense of humor could try telling jokes to lighten up business meetings or cheer up sad friends. This habit, too, seems to heighten happiness.
5. Commit acts of kindness – It turns out helping others also helps ourselves. People who donate time or money to charity, or who altruistically assist people in need, report improvements in their own happiness.
Lyubomirsky has also created an iPhone application, called Live Happy, to help people boost their well-being.
Following some of this advice is especially hard for someone like me. But I’m working on it. Sometimes we human beings choose to live in our own righteous indignation.But being grateful has always picked up my spirits. So, I’m definitely going to follow that advice. I especially relate to finding your strengths and knowing who you are. Be kind to others and give to those who are less fortunate. We should think about someone who has helped make a difference in our lives. Remember the saying “He who does not thank people, does not thank Allah.” My husband points out that we as Muslims, are not supposed to be pessimistic. Even if we think it is the last days, we should still plant our crops. We should still work hard on creating lasting institutions that will leave a positive impact on this society. We can’t just pack it up and call it a day. Even though things may look bad in the Ummah, we can’t become paralyzed by wallowing in despair. As believers, we have to look on the positive side with hope that Allah will guide us. We are supposed to be the best amongst people. But so much fitnah is caused by the politics of despair. Let’s not be so critical of others. Fault finding leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. We’re not all doing everything wrong. Some people are really trying and there are things that are working. Nor should we be hyper-sensitive about critiques against ourselves if we are willing to critique everyone else. We should constantly take assessments of what we’ve done wrong, but also take into account what has been done right. I’m not saying that we should follow all pop psychology blindly. But this study is really reinforcing common sense. But as one of my colleagues pointed out: Muslims aren’t using their common sense much lately.