Can we be happy while being starved, emaciated, and not fulfilled with our desires?

The question of happiness is one that has been asked for centuries. What gives a human true happiness or contentment? Is it fulfilling our endless lusts and desires for money, material goods, social dominance, sexual pleasure, or is contentment beyond this worldly life? While the fulfillment of our desires grants us temporary relief and satisfaction, true happiness is not achieved through striving to the next best thing; rather, by accepting your standing and contentment with what you have been given.

In order to understand why happiness is not achieved through material gain and the lusts of this life, one must look into the past to see how this has played out in history. Wars have occurred countless times before and continue to occur. For example, the Crusades. The Crusades were a series of campaigns organized by the Catholic Church during the medieval time period aimed at dispelling the Muslims who ruled and lived in the holy land in Palestine. During this time, propaganda issued by the Church made promises to the warriors and knights going to fight; they will achieve salvation, fulfill their desires, and experience “happiness”.  The Crusades were successful, however, these promises did not come true. After their success, the Crusaders formed their own small kingdoms in the Holy Land and continued the bloodshed that had already been flowing since their inception. The Crusades, a result of the worldly desires of those in the Catholic Church, didn’t simply fail to bring happiness into the lives of millions of Catholics. It brought about the despair and killing of thousands of innocent lives in the crossfire, and caused bitterness between those who lived in the Holy Land and those who didn’t. 

So what is the answer? If not worldly gain, how should one go about living a happy and fulfilled life? Different Philosophies, Religions, even scientists believe that they have found the answer to this question. Islam, one of these religions, has developed an understanding that the purpose of this life is not to please yourself and pleasure yourself, rather to seek that pleasure from worshipping the one true God. Happiness is achieved when God is happy with you. Other religions, particularly Judaism and Christianity, follow a similar approach. If God is happy with you, there is nothing more to it- everything else is irrelevant, and therefore you feel content. In the Islamic tradition, obeying God’s rules and following the practices of his prophet will show you how to lead an ideal human life, and how to cope with doubt and depression. Once you are on the road towards this, you will have contentment with your life’s work and be happy.

But what of your “self”, your “soul”, your “ambitions”. How do you balance these things with submission to the will of God? In the book Siddhartha there are good examples of how one can do this. Siddhartha goes through a life-changing experience as he leaves his life as an affluent merchant who was not content, and comes to a realization as he awakens from his sleep. “Now, he thought, that all these transitory things have slipped away from me again, I stand once more beneath the sun, as I once stood as a small child. Nothing is mine, I know nothing, I possess nothing, I have learned nothing.”(77) Siddhartha realized that his Self is nothing, therefore to give it value is arrogant and will lead to unhappiness and pride. In Arabic, the word for the “Self” is nafs, and it has both a negative and positive side to it. The nafs can be a source of pride, ego, and therefore leads to the person having a darkened heart. The nafs can also be a source of humility, steadfastness, patience, which relates back to Siddhartha. He realized he could never fulfill his nafs and needed to retain the qualities of a humble human being. 

Chasing the world inevitably leads to unhappiness and unfulfilled desires, as you will forever be chasing the light at the end of the tunnel. Rather, happiness is attained by submitting yourself to the will of God, the Universe, Fate, or accepting that whatever may happen to you, happens for a reason, along with controlling your own Self by being humble and keeping yourself from being proud or better than anyone else.

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