Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Are You Happy?

Members of the Dawn of Carmel Choir in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 2003. They are happy to praise the Lord!

The Concord Monitor has a short and sweet piece about the opening of a Ph.D program in Positive Psychology, a nifty new area of research that I was first introduced to at a Baha'i Association of Mental Health Professionals Conference a couple of years ago. Here's a snippet:

Although the desire to live a better life is fundamental for ordinary folks - think pursuit of happiness - researchers long have devoted their energies elsewhere.

"Most research on human behavior has focused on what goes wrong in human affairs: aggression, mental disease, failure and so on," said Claremont professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ("Mike" to his friends). He is one of the pioneers in positive psychology and a leader of the doctoral program.

Csikszentmihalyi, whose 18 books include the 1990 best seller, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, calls the study of human pathologies essential but adds, "We don't know enough about what makes life worth living, what gives people hope and energy and enjoyment." (Read the whole thing here)

So I pose this question to my readers out there: Are You Happy? This was a question that 'Abdu'l-Baha, was famous for asking people who he would meet. The Baha'i Writings are filled with references to joy and happiness (more than any religion that I've studied, in my humble opinion). Here's just a few examples:

"...No breeze can compare with the breezes of Divine Revelation, whilst the Word which is uttered by God shineth and flasheth as the sun amidst the books of men. Happy the man that hath discovered it, and recognized it, and said: "Praised be Thou, Who art the Desire of the world, and thanks be to Thee, O Well-Beloved of the hearts of such as are devoted to Thee!"
(Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 42)

"Happy are they who act; happy are they who understand; happy the man that hath clung unto the truth, detached from all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth."
(Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 139)

"The time foreordained unto the peoples and kindreds of the earth is now come. The promises of God, as recorded in the holy Scriptures, have all been fulfilled. Out of Zion hath gone forth the Law of God, and Jerusalem, and the hills and land thereof, are filled with the glory of His Revelation. Happy is the man that pondereth in his heart that which hath been revealed in the Books of God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. Meditate upon this, O ye beloved of God, and let your ears be attentive unto His Word, so that ye may, by His grace and mercy, drink your fill from the crystal waters of constancy, and become as steadfast and immovable as the mountain in His Cause."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 12)

"Say: True liberty consisteth in man's submission unto My commandments, little as ye know it. Were men to observe that which We have sent down unto them from the Heaven of Revelation, they would, of a certainty, attain unto perfect liberty. Happy is the man that hath apprehended the Purpose of God in whatever He hath revealed from the Heaven of His Will, that pervadeth all created things. Say: The liberty that profiteth you is to be found nowhere except in complete servitude unto God, the Eternal Truth. Whoso hath tasted of its sweetness will refuse to barter it for all the dominion of earth and heaven."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 336)

"By the Ancient Beauty! -- may my life be a sacrifice for His loved ones -- Were the friends to realize what a glorious sovereignty the Lord hath destined for them in His Kingdom, surely they would be filled with ecstasy, would behold themselves crowned with immortal glory and carried away with transports of delight. Erelong it shall be made manifest how brilliantly the light of His bountiful care and mercy hath shone upon His loved ones, and what a turbulent ocean hath been stirred in their hearts! Then will they clamour and exclaim: Happy are we; let all the world rejoice!"
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 309)

"Let all your striving be for this, to become the source of life and immortality, and peace and comfort and joy, to every human soul, whether one known to you or a stranger, one opposed to you or on your side."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 256)

"In this world we are influenced by two sentiments, Joy and Pain.
Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded. We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness. But when sadness visits us we become weak, our strength leaves us, our comprehension is dim and our intelligence veiled. The actualities of life seem to elude our grasp, the eyes of our spirits fail to discover the sacred mysteries, and we become even as dead beings.
There is no human being untouched by these two influences; but all the sorrow and the grief that exist come from the world of matter -- the spiritual world bestows only the joy!"
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 109)

"Do ye know in what cycle ye are created and in what age ye exist? This is the age of the Blessed Perfection and this is the time of the Greatest Name! This is the century of the Manifestation, the age of the Sun of the Horizons and the beautiful springtime of His Holiness the Eternal One!...If we are not happy and joyous at this season, for what other season shall we wait and for what other time shall we look? This is the time for growing; the season for joyous gathering! Take the cup of the Testament in thy hand; leap and dance with ecstasy in the triumphal procession of the Covenant! Lay your confidence in the everlasting bounty, turn to the presence of the generous God; ask assistance from the Kingdom of Abha; seek confirmation from the Supreme World; turn thy vision to the horizon of eternal wealth; and pray for help from the Source of Mercy!"
(Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith - Abdu'l-Baha Section, p. 351)

Anticipating a joyous celebration of the Baha'i New Year, Naw Ruz, I especially like this last selection from the Baha'i Writings. What I find common in all these selections is that happiness and joy are more than just ephemeral emotions based on the chances and changes of this world, they spring organically from the soul's response to the Word of God, the Knowledge of God and the Love of God. It is through striving to live according to the Word of God that we are able to know and love God and thus become empowered to better know and love our neighbor as well as our selves. As psychology and social science become increasingly liberated from materialistic assumptions about human experience, psychologists and social scientistics will be able to use the power of quantitative and qualitative research to advance our understand of the relationship between spirituality and happiness, for "human happiness is founded upon spiritual behavior".

I pray that I can make my own contribution to this kind of revolutionary, emancipatory research. It would make me really happy.