Looking for Happiness (Part 1)

Written by: Dr. S. M. Mesbah Moosavi

Published on: September 16th, 2019

Click here for Part 2 | 3 | 4

In spite of all our differences in race, language, religion and culture, we are bound together by our pursuit of happiness. Although our perception of happiness and the ways of achieving it vary significantly, the desire for happiness is considered one of our most basic and fundamental needs. As if, our principal quest in life is how we achieve happiness. Western religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as Eastern religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Shamanism, have been attempting to answer this question. However, their suggestions are often contradictory. The vitality of the concept of happiness is the very reason that so many scientific articles are being published. It is ironic, then, that very few articles have been written in Farsi. Moreover, most of the literature focuses on minor issues and does not provide appropriate solutions, or are unreliable because they are not scientifically based.

This paper is an attempt to address this issue from a scientific perspective by examining recent theories and findings of today’s prominent psychologists. The last section of this article presents Islamic and Quranic views of happiness and the issue of happiness in traditions (hadiths) from the holy prophet and imams (peace be upon them). This article begins by representing some questions about happiness, and continues by examining possible answers to clarify the reader’s perception and understanding of this subject. Several sources, especially the article “Exploring the Ingredients of Happiness”, have been consulted to write this article. By carefully reading this article and future ones, the reader will become familiar with paths and means of achieving happiness in life.


1. Psychological Perspective vs. Social Perspective

Please answer the following questions as either “right” or “wrong”.

1) Although wealth does not guarantee happiness, wealthy people are, generally, happier than others.

2) People who have children are happier than people who do not.

3) Being healthy is an important element in happiness.

4) Beautiful people are happier than other people.

From the psychological point-of-view the answer to each of these questions is considered “wrong”, although, from the social perspective the answer is right.

Studies have demonstrated that most of what people believe to be influential in their happiness does not have a significant effect on them. In the following sections, the role of money, age, parenthood, intelligence, and physical attractiveness with respect to happiness will be discussed.


2-1. Money

There is a definite correlation between poverty and unhappiness. However, when individuals move from the low class of poverty and become middle-class members of society, this correlation begins to decline and finally diminishes. When we consider both middle class and upper class members of society, we observe that the latter do not appear to be any happier than the former. Psychologists, such as Diener and Myer, have reported that people choose a lifestyle by which they consume all their money regardless of their income. For example, they purchase a larger house, or a faster car, or take more expensive vacations, and so on. Therefore, in the end no one has enough money. This is observed even among members of the upper class.

In an attempt to explain why money does not guarantee happiness, psychologists mention two important principles: adaptation and comparison. Kaneman suggests that people adapt to their surrounding environment and this adaptation is progressive and continuous. If our income increases, we create a condition in which we use all of our income to upgrade our lifestyle in such a way that we will continue to need more money to feel happy in our new way of life, Kaneman adds. He believes that this type of adaptation, which is called the hedonic adaptation, puts us on a hedonic treadmill, on which we never reach the state of happiness. This occurs because the neutral point or the baseline of happiness continually shifts in a way that our expectations and demands increase. As a result, whatever happens in our real life is always lower than our expectations and desires, amplifying the feeling of unhappiness. For further clarification, let us consider the following example: a company pays a bonus of $2000 to its employees at the end of the year. Those employees who did not expect this money were ecstatic, but who expected to receive more money, for example $5000, were distressed. Therefore, hedonic adaptation increases our expectations and alters our judgement of our lifestyle’s conditions. The prominent psychologist, Meyers, suggests that our judgment is based on a neutral point that has been created by our past economical situation (Meyers 2004, 525). Therefore, the individual’s income which was sufficient in the past is no longer enough.

Besides the principle of adaptation, comparison is a pivotal element in weakening our belongings and emphasizes our shortages. Since wealth is a relative concept, there will always be wealthier people in our society. If we compare ourselves to people who are richer than us, our abilities begin to fade and are manifested as weaknesses. The large and beautiful house, which was purchased to achieve happiness, is now a source of dissatisfaction if the house is compared with a mansion next door.

A case study of Jim Clark, the founder of Netscape, provides one of the best examples psychologists use to prove their theories about wealth. In his book, “The High Price of Materialism,”, Tim Kasser says that Jim Clark had once said if he had $10M, he would be happy. Later, when his fortune reached that amount, he said if he had $100M he would be happy. After founding Netscape, Clark wanted his fortune to reach $1B to feel happy, but once again, after having $1B he now says I feel happy only when my wealth reaches to that of Larry Ellison, the founder of the software company Oracle. There is no doubt that if Clark’s wealth reaches Ellison’s, his expectations will go up and he may never become happy and satisfied.

2-2. Age

There is no distinct connection between age and happiness. Psychologists such as Inglehart believe that the effect of age on happiness is only one percent. Although at higher ages the issue of health, compared to that of job, is more critical. According to Wayne Weiten, the role of age in achieving happiness, generally, remains constant, and one could say that it does not have a significant effect on happiness

2-3. Parenthood

Having children could be a great source of joy and happiness in life; however, it could also be a great source of troubles and worries. Argle believes that when compared to couples without children, parents have more worries and deal with more troubles in life. According to Wayne Weiten, children present equal positive and negative aspects that balance each other out. It should be noted that the previous statement may apply to western societies; but childless couples, in my view, experience many problems in Iranian and Arab families. This is because the strong ties among family members in these cultures can transpose the issue of fertility to one of blame. The issue of children is much more pivotal to happiness within eastern societies. It is surprising that in these types of cultures; even those who have delinquent children are likely to feel happier than those who do not have children. Therefore, psychologists’ opinions are true only if others do not interfere with childless couples and let them live their own life. It is only in this condition that having or not having children does not have a major effect on happiness.

2-4. Intelligence

Intelligence is highly valued, but, the psychologist, Diener, has not found any relationship between

What is important in Islam is the freedom and wealth within our spirit. The rich person is the individual who feels richness from inside and is not attached
to any thing in this world a high IQ and happiness. In fact, some researchers such as Ross and Van Willigen 1997 deny that there is any relation between academic achievements and satisfaction in life.

2-5. Attractiveness

Attractive people enjoy many privileges in societies because, typically, our perceptions are based on physical attractiveness. Scientific studies by researchers such as Eagly (1997) and Kim & Wheeler (1997) demonstrate that people typically associate social positive characteristics such as sociability, friendliness, and warmth with attractive people, rather than unattractive ones. Langlois’ studies in 2000 indicate that society considers attractive people as more competent, and as a result, they will enjoy higher job security and a larger income. This can also be found in studies by Collins & Zebrowitz (1995) and by Frieze, Russel & Olson (1991).

What has been stated here is just a part of the privileges that society offers to physically attractive people, although, scientifically, there is no connection between physical attractiveness and positive personal characteristics. Physical attractiveness has nothing to do with personality and competence.

Whether it is true or false, physical attractiveness “buys” more privileges in society, but, does it affect happiness? Studies by psychologist Wayne Weiten, Diener, Wolsic, and Fujita (1995) indicate that physical attractiveness does not have a major effect on feeling happy. There are many attractive people who do not feel happy, and many happy people who are not physically attractive.

3. Conclusion

In conclusion, from the psychological perspective, wealth, age, parenthood, intelligence, and physical attractiveness do not play a substantial role in happiness. We need to look for happiness somewhere else. It will be explained in future articles that happiness is subjective, not objective. Wayne Weiten, the famous psychologist, referring to a picture of the actress, Halle Berry, states in his book, “Psychology, Themes and Variations”, that if attractiveness, wealth, fame and success result in happiness, then Halle Berry should be one of the happiest members of the society. However, her struggles with depression reflect that the elements of happiness are far more complicated than expected.

The elements of happiness are divided in two parts by psychologists: moderate and strong. Scientists believe that religious beliefs are among elements of happiness. In addition, it is scientifically shown that people with religious beliefs are happier than those who consider themselves as irreligious. Further discussion of the elements of happiness, from psychologists’ point of view, will be presented in
future articles.


4. Islamic Perspective

Happiness is not objective, according to Islamic point of view, and not a function of our belongings or wealth. Wealth or physical attractiveness have never been considered to be elements of happiness in Islamic sources. What is important in Islam is the freedom and wealth within our spirit. The rich person is the individual who feels richness from inside and is not attached to any one thing in this world. Our first Imam, Imam Ali (p.b.u.h), says in a narration that “whoever makes himself detached from this world is the true rich”. Therefore, happiness and richness are subjective, connected to our feelings and minds, and are not functions of a person’s savings or investments.

Here are some questions for you to consider:

1. What is the meaning of happiness?

2. How can we become truly happy in life?

3. Is money related equal to richness? Who is the real rich?

4. Is the role of money positive or negative in happiness?

5. Should we reject money and a comfortable life?

6. Does detachment (Zuhd) mean that we have to avoid highly paid jobs?

7. What does subjectivity and objectivity mean?

8. Are we supposed to compare ourselves to the poor or to the rich?

9. Is comparing ourselves to the poor is an obstacle for our success and progress?

10. How does this help you have a better understanding of happiness in life?

11. How do you rate this article?


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