March 17, 2020

Happiness – Material and Spiritual – by Shahnaz (Louise Spencer) Waite

Thomas Edison, when celebrating his eighty-second birthday, was asked to give his formula for a happy life. He replied -"I am not acquainted with anyone who is happy." He could not give a recipe for happiness, he who had given to mankind so much that had brought comfort and enlightenment the world over, because, as he stated he knew no one who was happy. His statement was unqualified, he made no exceptions.

On the other hand, there are countless cults whose leaders make a specialty of "formulas for happiness." They promise perfect "health, wealth, love, and happiness" to all who will pay the price for the formula with instructions as to how to apply it; but it does not seem to work out well or more of their followers would demonstrate the promised results.

The extreme scarcity of happiness goes to show that there is something else to be sought for upon which happiness depends, or else that one is searching in the wrong direction.

There are as many human opinions as to how happiness may be obtained as there are various conceptions as to what constitutes that blissful state. That which ranks first among these may be classified under sense-gratification. By the pleasure seeker it is confused with the sought-for prize. Yet we know that sense-gratification is not happiness neither is asceticism practiced to win this sacred gift.

It has been said that "happiness ever flees the ardent seeker," that it "comes unbidden when it comes at all." Conditions must be right, for it enters the human heart. It cannot dwell with discord or inharmony. It is never found where evil impulses, greed and selfishness dwell.

Neither does marked culture, education, talents or fame encage it. Palatial environments, wealth and social position seem more often to frighten it away; and sordid conditions offer no inducement for its abiding place. Material grandeur, pomp and glory hold nothing that attracts its divine nature.

In Mythology even the "Gods of Olympus" were not said to be happy, and human history reveals very little happiness in its record of the ages.

Why then does this quest for happiness go on so frantically, continuously, and apparently is so futile? Has its evasiveness no spiritual meaning for us? Are we as humans really ready for happiness?

To entertain so divine a guest, one must have a still chamber in the heart, a place of absolute purity, beauty and harmony. The flitting fantasies which men experience, dependent upon the senses, which enter their lives from time to time, cannot enter that sacred chamber. One may think he is happy for a while, but later awakens from the dream only to find it an illusion, and not reality.

Many of the religions do not promise happiness during one's human pilgrimage. Jesus held up the immortal life, life in the hereafter, as the goal of attainment. Human life implies growth, and growth is ever accompanied by pain. While there is any undeveloped side to man's soul, any imperfect faculty, there must be struggle and strife. Hence happiness complete and soul- satisfying cannot be of human origin, or known by the lower consciousness of man.

Mr. Edison has been more than frank. He has plainly and bluntly stated a fact which most seek to hide even from themselves. He is "acquainted with no one who is happy." Yet Mr. Edison is eminently successful. Those who so lightly unite "success with happiness', as twins, might note this fact. It would seem these twains are not interdependent or in any way correlated.

What then is happiness, that it is so elusive, and comparatively non-existent? Who can describe it? It seems to mortal sense an intangible, ethereal essence which steals into hearts like a breath from heaven. It may linger but a moment, or it may shed its benediction over a shadowed life, for shadows are not incompatible with it, though earthly splendor may be.

Having seen its rare radiance shining forth now and then through the human face of some great soul, we know it is not a myth, therefore its general absence from the world of humanity seems to prove that conditions for its abode are not right in human hearts.

Is selfishness the unsurmountable barrier to happiness? When we rise in consciousness above the petty, little center and circumference of self with its material interests, its insatiable clamorings for pleasure, for entertainment, for earthly possessions, and so-called joy, we find that the human heart has not been seeking for real happiness, but only forgetfulness of self, forgetfulness of some misery, some disappointment, some jealous thought, some envious desire, some unfulfilled ambition. To forget self is the motive of this urge.

Between those who only seek to forget, and those who are taught to "visualize a positive, radiant supreme state of happiness”, created through the power of thought, and will force, yet which ever eludes the seeker, there is a wide division -- the two extremes of the pole and neither attaining the coveted goal.

Even in our cherished arts and sciences, our aesthetic culture and "inspiring avocations" there may be a subtle and deep-rooted selfishness, then we wonder why we are not happy.

The great mystics tell us that we "gain by losing, we receive by giving, and all things become ours through renunciation." May this not be the sign-post which points to the road leading to happiness?

Many centuries ago St. Augustine said – “Thou hast made the heart for Thyself and it is ever restless until it finds its rest in Thee." Even in those far off days human hearts were searching vainly for happiness.

All things considered, what is the answer to this insistent question – “Where can happiness be found?" How may we find it and having found it keep it? Who can point to us the way?

‘Abdu'l-Baha, who was -- "A joy-bringer, and a Herald of the Kingdom of Happiness” -- has placed in our hand the Golden Key which will unlock the door to the Kingdom where happiness alone abides. Let us meditate upon these His words:

"Know thou that there are two kinds of happiness, spiritual and material. As to material happiness it never exists; nay, is but imagination, an image reflected in mirrors, a specter and shadow.

“Consider the nature of material happiness. It is something which but slightly removes one's afflictions; yet the people imagine it to be joy, delight, exultation and blessing. All the material blessings including food, drink, etc. tend only to allay thirst, hunger, and fatigue. They bestow no delights on the mind or pleasure on the soul; nay, they furnish only the bodily wants. So this kind of happiness has no real existence.

"As to spiritual happiness, this is the true basis of the life of man, because life - (the spiritual) is created for happiness, not for sorrow, for pleasure, not for grief. Happiness is life; sorrow is death; spiritual happiness is life eternal. This is light which is not followed by darkness. This is honor which is not followed by shame. This is existence which is not followed by annihilation.

“This great blessing and precious gift is obtained by man only through the Guidance of God. This happiness is the fundamental basis from which man is created, worlds are originated, the contingent beings have existence, and the world of God appears like unto the appearance of the sun at mid-day. This happiness is but the Love of God."

"The world needs more happiness and illumination. The star of happiness is in every heart; we must remove the clouds so that it may twinkle radiantly. Happiness is an internal condition. When it is once established man will ascend to the supreme heights of bliss. A truly happy man will not be subject to the shifting eventualities of time. Like unto an eternal king he will sit upon the throne of fixed realities. He will be impervious to outward changing circumstances and through his deeds and actions he will impart happiness to others. A Baha'i must be happy, for the blessings of God are bestowed upon him."

It is evident from these inspiring words of 'Abdu'l-Baha, that real happiness is purely a spiritual condition, and the reward of victory over the carnal self, and this mastery He has said is gained through loving service to others through self-forgetfulness, not by external means, but through losing the thought of self in thinking of others. He has said -- "The Key to self-mastery is self-forgetting." Thus self-forgetting is the magnet which draws the spirit of happiness into our hearts. It has been said --" Happiness is a perfume which we cannot pour upon others without spilling some of it upon ourselves." Thus in giving, we receive.

'Abdu'l-Baha has further said upon this most vital question:

"Afflictions and troubles are due to a state of not being content with what God has ordained for you. If one submits himself to God he is happy.

"A man asked another - 'In what station are you?' He answered: 'in the utmost happiness.'; 'Where does this happiness come from? He answered: 'because all existing things move according to my wish; therefore I do not find anything contrary to my desire; thus I have no sorrow. There is no doubt that all beings move by the Will of God, and I have given up my own will, desiring the Will of God. Thus my will becomes the Will of God, for there is nothing to myself. All are moving by His Will, yet they are moving by mine, in this case I am very happy.'

“When man surrenders himself, everything will move according to his wish."

"Concentrate the soul upon God so that it may become as a fountain pouring out the Water of Life to a thirsty world. Live up to the principles of sacrifice. The world will then become as nothing, and be without power to attract you away from God. Sacrifice your will to the Will of God. The Kingdom is attained by the one who forgets self. Everything becomes yours by renunciation of everything."

"Love is the means of the most-great happiness in both the material and spiritual worlds."

"Man must live in contentment with the conditions of his time. He must not make himself the slave of any habit. Contentment is real wealth. If one develops within himself the quality of contentment, he will become independent. Contentment is the creator of happiness. When one is contented he does not care for either riches or poverty. He lives above the influence of them."

"Wealth has a tempting and drawing quality. It bewilders the sight of its charmed victim with showy appearances and draws them on and on to the edge of a yawning chasm. It makes a person self-centered, self-occupied, forgetful of God and holy things. On the other hand there are souls who are the essence of existence; in their estimation wealth offers no attraction... Their intense passion for God will wax greater each day. Such rich men are in reality the light-bringing stars of the heaven of mankind, because they have been tried and tested and have come out of the crucible as pure gold ... unalloyed and unadulterated. With all the wealth of the world at their feet they are yet mindful of God and humanity, they spend their acquired riches for the dispelling of the darkness of ignorance and employ their treasures for the alleviation of the misery of the children of God. The light of such rich men will never grow dim and the tree of their generosity will grow in size and stature, producing fruits in all seasons. Their every deed will be as an example for succeeding generations."

"Strive day and night and do whatever is possible that perchance you may wake the heedless, give sight to the blind, bring life to the dead, refresh the weary, and bring those in despair and darkness to light and splendor. If the hope of man be limited to the material world what ultimate result is he working for? A man with even a little understanding must realize that he should live differently from the worms who hold to the earth in which they are finally buried. How can he find happiness there? My hope is that you may become freed from the material world and strive to understand the meaning of the heavenly world, the world of lasting qualities, the world of truth, the world of eternal kingliness so that your life may not be barren of results, for the life of the material man has no fruit of Reality. But lasting results are produced by the heavenly existence.

“If a man becomes touched with the divine spark even though he be an outcast and oppressed he will be happy, and his happiness cannot die."

These Divine Words are a formula for that Reality of happiness which all the world is seeking. Blessed are they who apply them and find thereby within their own hearts the Kingdom of Happiness.

In conclusion let me leave with you this beautiful prayer revealed by 'Abdu'l-Baha, which breathes the very spirit of happiness into one's soul:

"O Thou Kind God! To me thou art kinder than myself and Thy Love is more abundant and more ancient. Whenever I am reminded of Thy Bestowals, I am made happy and hopeful. If I have been agitated, I obtain ease of heart and soul. If I am sick, I gain eternal health. If I am disloyal, I become loyal. If I have been hopeless, I become hopeful.

O Thou Lord of the Kingdom! Cause Thou the rejoicing of my heart; empower my weak spirit and strengthen my exhausted nerves. Illumine thou my eyes; suffer my ears to become hearing, so that I may hearken to the Music of the Kingdom and attain to the joy and happiness Everlasting.

Verily Thou art the Generous, the Giver, the Kind!"
(Star of the West [The Baha’i Magazine], vol. 20, no. 5, August 1929)