By Dr A Q Khan
March 5, 2018
In this hectic life that we lead, everyone is busy in some way or another. In our daily lives we either seek wealth or peace of mind and heart or happiness.
Those who have meagre resources are primarily worried about money and those with sufficient funds at their disposal usually worry about how to acquire more. Both are in a spin and short on happiness. Many books, articles and suggestions have been published on how to achieve happiness. Some universities even run courses on psychiatry, philosophy and psychology, to teach students lessons and techniques on how to be happy.
One such course, titled Positive Psychology, is being run as an elective at Harvard by Professor Ben Shahar. The course is so popular that about 1,400 undergraduate students take it every semester, whereas 20 percent of those who have graduated do too. According to Prof Shahar, the course focuses on happiness, self-esteem and motivation and provides the students the tools to lead a successful and joyful life. The ‘happiness guru’ has 14 key tips through which we can improve the quality of our personal status and contribute towards a positive life.
Prof Shahar begins with asking people to be thankful. He says, “Thank God for everything you have. Write down 10 things in your life that give you happiness. Focus on the good things.” He then highlights the importance of physical activity. The professor says that experts believe exercising helps improve the mood. About 30 minutes of exercise is the best antidote against sadness and stress. He then underlines the importance of having breakfast. Prof Shahar says that some people miss breakfast for lack of time or to not get fat. But studies show that breakfast gives us the energy needed to think and perform our activities successfully. It also helps stabilise glucose levels. Be assertive, he further suggests. “Ask what you want and say what you think. Being assertive helps in improving self-esteem. Being left unheard and keeping silent creates sadness and a feeling of hopelessness. (Assertiveness is not the same as being rash and thoughtless to others)”
Spend money on experiences, he adds. A study found out that 75 percent people felt happier when they invested their money in travel, courses and classes, while only 25 percent said they felt happier when buying things. Prof Shahar’s sixth tip is about facing challenges. He says that studies show that the more we postpone something, the more anxiety and tension we generate. He suggests making short weekly lists of tasks and completing them. But the lists have to be realistic or non-achievement will lead to more stress. “Surround yourself with nice memories, phrases and photos of loved ones – on your fridge, computer, desk and your room. Fill your life with beautiful memories,” the professor further adds. He advises to always greet people and be nice to them. “Research shows that just smiling changes the mood of both the parties.”
Among some of Prof Shahar’s other tips is wearing comfortable shoes. “If your feet hurt, you become moody,” Prof Shahar says while quoting Dr Kenith Wapner, president of the American Orthopaedics Association. Take care of your posture, he adds. “Walk straight with shoulders slightly pulled back. A good posture leads to a more positive attitude.” According to the Harvard professor, it is proven that listening to music encourages one to sing, which makes life happier and more relaxed. His twelfth advice is: What you eat impacts your mood. “Do not skip meals; eat lightly every three to four hours to keep the glucose level stable. Avoid excessive white flour and sugar. Eat a healthy and varied diet which includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.” Taking care of oneself is the happiness guru’s next advice. He says that 70 percent of the people have reported that they feel happier when they think they look good. “Dress how it pleases you, not according to what others think, but within the norms of propriety.” His last advice is to fervently believe in God. “Without him nothing is impossible.”
The above tips are more or less what the Holy Quran also teaches us. In Surah Rahman , the Almighty points out the innumerable favours granted to human beings by him, and then ask: “Then which of the favours of your Lord will you deny?” He, the most Gracious, then goes on to tell us about His creation – men and women, how we learnt to speak, about the sun and the moon, trees, herbs, fruits, rain, sweet smelling plants, life-giving rivers, food crops, the seas, etc. The Holy Quran further emphasises that: “Those who believe and whose hearts find satisfaction (happiness) in the remembrance of Allah; for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction” (13:28). In 2:152-153, the Almighty reminds us: “Then do you remember me, I will remember you. Be grateful to me and reject not faith.” “O you who believe, seek help (satisfaction, happiness) with patient perseverance and prayer, for Allah is with those who patiently persevere.”
Furthermore, it should be noted that positive thinking and optimism are also very important for being satisfied, content and happy. Maulana Rumi also advised to always thank the Almighty for any and all favours. Money is not the only favour to be thankful for. Good health, intelligence, wisdom, beauty, children, sincere friends, a pleasant attitude and good character are all favours and blessings of the Almighty to be grateful for and to be happy about.
One big advantage of believing in the Creator is that, whenever in distress, there is something solid to hold onto, someone to pray to and seek favour and hope from. Those who do not believe in a higher being have nothing to hold on to, nobody to seek relief from for their problems and nobody to ask for guidance and help or remain close to them when in a difficult situation. Personally, I believe I achieved tranquillity and peace by listening to the rhythmic citation of the Holy Quran (with translation for better understanding). I close my eyes, listen to the recitation, and simply forget my troubles and feel relaxed. It works wonders.