A number of people have asked whether I am still writing this blog. The answer is definitely. However, the number of postings depends on my activities. In 2010, I started focusing on the Western literature on happiness. Since 2010, I have started three projects: i) I am attending weekly lessons of Arabic grammar to be able to understand Islamic references in the original language, ii) I am attending weekly fiqh lessons with a IIUM scholar and iii) I am focusing on tafsir [explanation] of the Qur'an. In particular, there are two surah that appear very "simple", that most Muslims have memorized and yet have a very deep meaning. The first is surah al Kawthar and the second is surah al Tin.
These surah are important because the Western obsession of "happiness as satisfaction of the Self" leads to the paradox that "if the Self always wants more, we can never be happy with what we have". The Islamic perspective is to be grateful with what we have (surah al kawthar) and to know that Allah has created us with the ability to attain Paradise (surah al Tin). Whether we achieve that ultimate destination depends on whether we can develop an internal victory (faith) and an external victory (good actions).
This leads me to the two major projects that I have undertaken. The "Internet assignment" is still going on and about 100 students should complete that assignment this semester. The Productive Teens project is still running and the pilot projects in SMK Hillcrest and SMK Sri Gombak seem to be working. At SMK Sri Gombak, we have had feedback from the parents, the counsellors and the facilitators. Everybody agrees that the students are changing for the better. At SMK Hillcrest,students have taken their "private" time to shoot videos on weekends - I have yet to meet the parents to find out if the students involved changed their behavior at home. This leads me to conclude that "good actions" combines individual psychology (learning about Islam, setting personal religious goals, managing time,...) and social psychology (friends we hang out with, projects we get involved in....). For Muslims who are weak in faith (like the kinds in the SMKs we are working with), it is easier to use group dynamics to help them move from negative disruptive behaviour to neutral behaviour. At a later stage, they can clarify their understanding and their practice of Islam. And Allah knows best.
Since early February 2014, my students have been working with students at SMK Hillcrest and SMK Sri Gombak. Having read the literature since 2010, I have an idea of the theory behind happiness. With IIUM students, I can get them to listen to Islamic talks once a week and they - as an indirect consequence - become happier in 75% of the cases. But how to apply this in secondary schools? My conclusion is that Project-Based Learning (PBL) can help. Many kids at secondary school have a choice: To have an easy life or to have a good life. Happiness requires some sort of planning and this is what most kids at secondary school lack. PBL - in our case, getting secondary school kids to make videos - forces them to consider alternative life options. It helps them to think about the difference between having an easy life and a good life. Sounds simple right? Believe me, it is a lot of work and I have to thank my facilitators for doing most of it.
Since 2010, I have - alhamdulillah - quite a clear idea of happiness from an Islamic perspective. Helping my students become happier is quite easy. Their lack of happiness is rooted in a lack of understanding of Islam. By asking them to listen to Islamic talks every week, I am "forcing" my students to improve their knowledge - and this helps them to develop a more optimistic and happier outlook on life. As an incentive, I dangle very good coursework marks to push them forward.
The trick is whether I can use a similar (but different) approach with school kids who I cannot reward by giving them coursework marks. One idea is to get teenagers to make videos about other successful teenagers. I launched this project today with two schools in Gombak. Hopefully, through a process of vicarious learning, they will find that their life (and level of happiness) improves.
I am teaching management and organizational behaviour at the International Islamic University Malaysia. Since 2010, I have been researching anything related to Happiness in Islam. This blog documents my reading, my hypotheses,s and the data I collected.
This blog documents the perception of Dr Fontaine's students related to developing happiness in Islam. Students need to complete two assignments in which they improve their knowledge of Islam. This increased knowledge seems to lead to greater happiness.
Any comments can be sent to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org