Happiness: A summary of the literature so far

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Happiness is something people have been seeking since the dawn of humanity. For many centuries, people assumed that happiness was linked to good character (the Greeks in particular). In those days, happiness was a concept that we would translate roughly as "peace of mind" rather than "enjoyment". With the advent of Islam, the Qur'an tells us about the source of unhappiness (our desires as described in 57:20) and the source of happiness (remembering Allah in 13:28). As history continued and the paradigms found in the west started to influence the rest of the world, a shift started. Happiness became about possessing things and achieving goals (I am referring to Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project" which I reviewed in April 2012 in this blog). The paradox is that we have limited resources and unlimited wants. Thus, we can never be happy unless and until we control our wants. In particular, we need to be able to deal with problems effectively. For the last 30 years, many psychologists have worked on understanding the psychological processes linked to happiness (i.e. people like Martin Seligman). Underlying all of this, the assumption is still that people can create happiness for themselves. Most people assume that you won't find happiness by referring to Revelation. I now come to the Happy in Islam project. In 2008, I had a Malay student that was having problems in his academic performance. I tried all the usual stuff - explaining the need for setting goals, managing time, learning more effective study skills - and so forth. Nothing worked. Not giving up, I asked him to watch Islamic videos. It turned out that his difficulties were rooted in his pessimistic view of the future. If you believe that tomorrow is going to be worse than today, there is no reason for you to plan for tomorrow. You just want to enjoy today. When I joined the International Islamic University Malaysia in 2010, I tried to get my class to watch Islamic videos on a weekly basis. It worked for 75% of students. I have now done this project with over 700 students and the results are almost always the same. I have used questionnaires that measure spiritual intelligence so I have an idea of which constructs change significantly every semester. With the launching of the Productive Teens project starting in 2014, we will see whether we can see a similar pattern with Malay youth. If we do, then the data will confirm the ayat in 13:28 "Those who believe and whose hearts are set at rest by the remembrance of Allah; now surely by Allah's remembrance are the hearts set at rest."

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