Reflecting on Gretchen Rubin's book

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I have finished Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project" (Harper Collins). It is impossible to summarise in one paragraph what I feel about the book. Gretchen Rubin spends one year doing a happiness project. She chooses a theme for a specific month and uses goals to explore how to increase her happiness. She reviews her goals everyday before going to sleep. The book has been well researched so there are many insightful and valuable lessons. However, it just seems so much hard-work. Everything is so goal-orientated that it ends up being depressing. So, here is my summary

Western perspective: Happiness is a process which requires constant goal-setting and self-evaluation. The basic assumption is that God does not exist and therefore we need to create our own happiness.

The Islamic perspective
: God created us with a purpose. By learning about Islam, we can understand our purpose in life and build a strong and relationship with God, based on gratefulness. One of the benefits is that we develop a sense of contentment (happiness) which arises from the fact that our life is in tune with our real purpose.

Let me make an analogy. In a famous story, a group of people were lost in the jungle. They started going in a direction. Any direction was good enough. But one of them decided to climb a tree to see where they were going. From the top of the tree, he pointed out to the group below that there is a better and safer way. The response from the people below, "It's OK. We are making good progress." That is why Gretchen's book is both fascinating and frustrating. There is a sense of futility because "every way is okay". In reality, there are only two roads. One leads to Paradise and one leads to the other place. Being on the right road is therefore crucial. It is important that the road that leads to Paradise CAN be enjoyable. Although people like to stress on difficult that road is, that is one interpretation. There is another interpretation which states that Muslims can have all the comforts of a modern life while being engaged in ibadah. It is not always about sacrifices. in fact, in one of the most famous hadith, the Prophet SAW said, "Make things easy for people and do not make it difficult. Give people glad news and don't make them run away."

In this project, my conclusion is that 80% of students do benefit from seeking knowledge, getting to know Allah better, understanding al qadar better and re-connecting with the Qur'an by listening to good tafsir. That develops a sweetness of faith which we often call happiness. However, the process of improving yourself is a comfortable process that is done in front of a computer or in group-discussions. And Allah knows best.

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