Thursday,23 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1186, (27 February - 5 March 2014)
Thursday,23 November, 2017
Issue 1186, (27 February - 5 March 2014)

Ahram Weekly

‘The sun also rises’

Do we deserve to be happy?  Surely the answer is a universal, resounding YES… But why?  Life owes us little, we owe it everything.  We were only promised death, but we were not promised Happiness!  Even if Thomas Jefferson found it necessary to include, “the right to the pursuit of happiness”, in the American Constitution, a very noble addition indeed, what does it mean? How does one go about pursuing happiness?  Besides, we can pursue and pursue and never quite get there!

Men of reason believe happiness is an ideal of reason!  Men of imagination believe it is an imaginary condition.  It may well be one or the other, or both, or neither!  Still we seek it, in a golden sunset, a bird in flight, a Mozart sonata or a silent prayer.  Sometimes we find it in a senseless burst of laughter, but happiness is no laughing matter.

Even if we were to be happy, are we equally happy?  Does not happiness mean different things to different people?  To some it may be luxury, to others, health, romance or simply comfort.

In reality, nothing makes us really happy for long: “For Happiness comes fleetingly, now and then, to those who have learned to do without it!”  Once you are consciously happy, somehow happiness disappears. It is a mystery, something akin to religion and should never be rationalised.

Eager psychologists who wish to right all that is wrong with the world, established a new branch of ‘Positive Psychology’ in 1998 to investigate and promote realistic ways of fostering affirmative behaviour in individuals and communities. It is a worthy attempt by them, to make normal life more fulfilling and to understand the “positive, adaptive, creative and emotionally satisfying aspects of human conduct”.  Happiness was never mentioned. “A well-lived, fulfilling life” was as close as they could get.

The International Branch of Positive Psychology Association, (IPPA) has invested tens of millions of dollars in research, published science papers, several Master’s and PhD programmes and has expanded to thousands of members in 80 countries.  In June 2009, the 1st World Congress on Positive Psychology took place, but is the world  any  happier?

This latest effort to understand the nature of personal ‘happiness’ is by no means the first attempt to solve this human puzzle.  It is a subject that has plagued mankind since Eve fed Adam the apple.

Philosophers have had different views on what happiness is!  Socrates believed self-knowledge was the path to happiness.  The Epicureans sought enjoyment in life’s simple pleasures.  Stoics focussed on logic and reason.  The Romantics valued individual emotional expression such as love, intimacy and marriage.

Religions believed in the divine theory that happiness was following the command of a Supreme Being.  Jews, Christians and Muslims followed the teachings of their Holy Books which were essentially the same with few variations.  The Sufis found sublime joy in love of their creator.  Muslims promised all the joys of Paradise to the faithful.   Christians believed true happiness came after death.

Martin Seligman, one of the world’s most renowned psychologists and his associates who founded ‘Positive Psychology’ referred to ‘the good life’ as using your signature strengths every day to produce “authentic happiness and abundant gratification”.   We are most grateful indeed for their tireless efforts to find the true path to happiness for all of human nature, at so much expense and endless hours of hard work.  The result is that they seem to have simply stumbled on an old theory which has been practised for centuries, and that is ‘Positive Thinking’, which brings us right back to square one.

Is happiness simply a product of the mind?  Is every mind capable of producing it?  If so then how do you conjure this positive thinking?  Can the whole human race successfully practise mind over matter? We would indeed be as happy as larks and as healthy as bulls, but reality negates all that!  If happiness is truely only in the mind, how come we are not all happy? We have minds, but are they equal?

Some thinkers believe that it is unquestionably possible to do without happiness. British philosopher John Stuart Mill, (1806-1873), was certain that:” it is done involuntarily by nineteen- twentieths,(19/20th)  of mankind.”

We are left with the eternal question as to whether there is happiness in this world, where is it what is its shape, form or colour, and how can a simple human find it and above all, keep it? There are no answers!

The best way to view the matter is to consider happiness as a destination towards which we are constantly heading. We get a glimpse of it every now and then, therefore it must exist.  Or better still, it may be best not to think of it at all!  Therein lies the greatest happiness!

Let us do everything and expect nothing! Let us be honest, charitable and content with what we have. “If we cannot live so as to be happy let us at least live so as to deserve it”; so ruminated  German philosopher Immanuel von Fichte.

Let us cease to worry about things beyond the power of our control and look within ourselves and not at others.

If the night is cold and dark and we are drowning in a deep sea of tears, warm sunrays will brighten the morn, for challenging each dark night, the sun also rises!


“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere”.

Agnes Repplier

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