By Sheikh Mohammed Mahmoud, Senior Imam at the East London Mosque

It is in the nature of every person, regardless of their ethnicity, colour, religion, language, or age, to seek one thing: namely, happiness. Happiness in their homes, in their marriages, with their families, with their friends, in their workplaces.

But most people differ in their understanding of happiness. What defines happiness?

Consequently, most people differ in their way of pursuing happiness. Whether they are nations, societies, communities – large or small – families or individuals, everyone has a theory as to the attainment of happiness.

Some look for happiness in status and position. Having influence and power over others might bring them happiness, they think. Such people, even if they do achieve the position they desire, fear being dethroned in their dominions, whether a large country or a small home. So they suffer from suspicion, anxiety and nervousness, needing medication to sleep and wake up. Status alone then, is not a means to happiness.

Some seek happiness in fame and celebrity: “I want to be a YouTuber, or an Instagrammer, to be an influencer. Surely the love and adoration of my fans will give me purpose and make me happy. I’m going to ‘create content’ and give back to help people” – or so they think. Then with the fame comes exposure. Their private lives are no longer theirs, not least when they opened up their homes and bedrooms for the online world to see. With the likes come dislikes. With supporters come detractors. With praise comes attack. That poor soul set out a goal based on how he or she is perceived by people. Their self-worth and value are determined by views and admiration, both of which they have no control over. So offensive comments act like thorns to their already vulnerable hearts, demoralising them. There has never been, nor will there ever be, happiness in sought-after fame.

For some, laughter is the means to happiness. When they feel down they watch a comedy show or comedian. Their joy is temporary, so they watch more, and laugh more, but are never satisfied. In fact, they feel worse. And this shouldn’t come as a surprise, because the Messenger ﷺ instructed us not to laugh excessively, for doing so kills the heart. Laughter is a reaction to an amusing situation. But life is not one amusement after the other; life has challenges and obstacles that can only be overcome with strength of faith and character. Hence, those who seek only to laugh, struggle to deal with even minor difficulties in life. Some famous comedians are evidence of this: alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts, etc., plague them. So laughter, although healthy in small doses, alone is not the means to happiness.

Many chase the ‘highs’ of intoxicants. “Drugs and alcohol will unlock my true potential, my creativity, and unveil the reality of existence” – or so they think. All lies. They do nothing but dim their senses, cloud their judgement, destroy their minds, and ruin their bodies. What is experienced during the periods of inebriation is a temporary escape from reality, a false sense of comfort in feeling no worries. But the drug never lasts, so they sober up. Then reality hits, and it isn’t as rosy as the dream they woke up from, so they look for the next opportunity to disappear into a fantasy world, while their reality collapses around them.

For some, happiness is sought in something healthier and more wholesome: family and wealth. None can deny that we love our wealth and our children; they are what beautify the life of this world and we all seek them. Allah confirmed the attraction to both where He said:

“Wealth and children are the adornments of the life of this world.” (Qur’an, 18:46)

But the problem with these things is that they don’t last. Our children grow up and leave. We stress over their upbringing and education, and suffer anxiety in their ill-health.

Wealth comes and goes. We eagerly seek it, assuming the convenience it will afford us is the formula to happiness. But then when we spend it, we constantly fear its diminishment. So, the wealth doesn’t come without causing great stress in our lives.

The most decadent gourmet food will be digested and perish. The finest designer clothes will wear out. The fanciest car will break down, rust and be written off. The grandest house will need maintenance, and eventually crumble away with time. Nothing lasts, except what we put away, and will return manifold its original value in the hereafter – and that is charity.

So there’s no pure, absolute happiness in either of wealth or offspring. In fact there’s no pure happiness in every material thing we race after in our lives. We spend our lives chasing after different things that we want; and the reality is, all these things, although they bring us joy and pleasure, are always temporary.

And there is a huge difference between happiness and joyfulness. All of us experience occasions of joy: when we succeed in our studies, or land a good job, or get married, or have children. But these are moments. The difference between them and happiness, is that happiness is continuous, whereas these moments are finite, and fleeting occurrences.

This happiness that all of mankind searches for, Allah described as the “good life”:

“Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer, We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will award them their reward for the best of what they used to do.” (Qur’an, 16:97)

Ibn ‘Abbas, the cousin and companion of the Messenger ﷺ, said the “good life” is a happy life.

When we set ourselves goals – a big house, a car, children, wealth, a great career – we do so to seek what will make us happy. But these are future plans; they may come to fruition, and they may not. If they don’t, is that then a cause for despair and depression? Allah informs us that happiness comes first, it comes now. Happiness doesn’t come when you’ve attained these things, No! Happiness is already here with you, inside you, in this world, and all you have to do is discover it.

“And it will be said to those who feared Allah, ‘What did your Lord send down?’ They will say, ‘[That which is] good.’ For those who do good in this world is good; and the home of the Hereafter is better. And how excellent is the home of the righteous.” (Qur’an, 16:30)
Therefore, the good life begins in this world; and the life after is infinitely greater.

So how do we attain this good life promised to us, this happy life? Through the conditions specified by Allah alone. He created man as a complex being, with a divinely originated soul, with its values and principles: an earthly body with inclinations, appetites, ambitions; an intellect with a thirst for knowledge and understanding; a nafs (ego) with desires, whims, ideas, and dreams. A highly complicated organism that requires a manual to operate smoothly, to operate without malfunction. Any complex piece of machinery needs a manual provided by the manufacturer. Is it not then obvious that only the Creator of such an incredible being knows what is in its interest, knows what will bring it happiness, and what will bring it sadness?

So He said:

“Those who have believed and done righteous deeds – joy is for them and a blissful return.” (Qur’an, 13:29)

So He stated the first condition is Iman – faith, the foundation on which everything stands. Allah, Glorified is His Majesty, will guide his heart to what is pleasing in not only the next life, but this life too.

Belief is the basis on which the second condition is accepted. That second condition is doing righteous deeds.

But the first and greatest deed of all must be fulfilled: taqwa – consciousness, mindfulness, and fear of Allah. Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) defined taqwa as: fear of Allah, the Most Sublime; application of the revelation; contentment with little; and preparation for the day of departure.

Taqwa is indeed the reason for all happiness in this life and the next. Allah says:

“And whosoever fears Allah, Allah will appoint a way out for him, and will provide for him from whence he had never expected.” (Qur’an, 65:3)

The one who fears Allah the Almighty, performs the obligations, refrains from the prohibitions, adheres to the guidance of the Messenger ﷺ, Allah will surely grant him a good life:

“… then whosoever follows My guidance, he will not go astray nor come to grief.” (Qur’an, 20:123)

No misery, no sorrow, no anguish or unhappiness afflict the one on the path of Allah, the Exalted in Might.

Taqwa necessitates, as Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) said, contentment and satisfaction. For indeed contentment is one of the secrets of a happy, good life. It is the acceptance of what Allah has allotted for us: being content with our rizq (provision), our spouses, our children, our health; content with everything in our lives, even if it is little by our consideration.

The content are calm, complete, fulfilled, gratified and pleased. They look not at what others possess, nor do they desire it, and thus they become loved by Allah and by people

But those who look towards what others possess will never be satisfied. They hate that others have happy marriages, for example, and that is one of the most prevalent causes of hasad (envy). They hate that people have many children. They hate that people are healthier, wealthier, more educated, more beautiful, and more loved than they are, etc. They grow bitter and resentful towards others, and eventually resent Allah. They develop jealousy of others, and wish that their blessings be withdrawn. Those people will never experience happiness, as they will never be content.

Allah has instructed us to cultivate a nature of contentment:

“And do not extend your eyes toward that by which We have given enjoyment to [some] categories of them, [its being but] the splendour of the worldly life by which We test them. And the provision of your Lord is better and more lasting.” (Qur’an, 20:131)

With righteousness a condition for living a good life, one of the most righteous deeds a believer can do is dhikr (remembrance of Allah).

It is one of the widest doors of happiness. It is an immediate remedy for unsettled hearts. Allah said:

“Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured [find peace, rest, solace, comfort] by the remembrance of Allah. Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured.” (Qur’an, 13:28)

Remembrance of Allah expels anger, hatred, envy, sadness, depression, grief, anxiety and distress from the heart, replacing them with happiness, love, assurance, security, trust and reliance.

Our body has its nourishment, and that is food, drink and sleep. Our intellect has its sustenance, and that is education. And our soul too has its own unique form of nutrition, and that is remembrance of Allah. If we go a day without food, drink and sleep, our bodies suffer; our immunity weakens, making us prone to illness; our cognitive functions deteriorate, causing us to make poor decisions; our entire bodies are in imbalance. So what happens then when we deprive our souls from what they need? A weakness results. Anxiety, distress, depression and sadness consume us. We might remain physically alive, but spiritually, we are dead!

The Prophet ﷺ said: “The likeness of the one who remembers his Lord and he who doesn’t remember his Lord is like the living and the dead.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

And our homes too, void of remembrance, become like graves. TV from the moment we wake up until we sleep. Music videos, soap operas, TV boxsets, movies, all consume the family’s time. While no dhikr is uttered before they sleep, or when they awaken, or before they eat, or after they eat, or before entering the toilet, or after leaving, or after wudu, or before and after prayer, or when they leave the house, or when they get in the car, or when they go shopping, etc. Consequently, the Messenger ﷺ said:

“The house in which Allah is remembered and the house in which Allah is not remembered are like the living and the dead.” (Sahih Muslim)

Turning away from the remembrance of Allah is to cut off the lifeline of our hearts from the real cause of happiness and a good life:

“And whoever turns away from My remembrance – indeed, he will have a depressed life” (Qur’an, 20:124)

So in the remembrance of Allah is a life of happiness, expansion in provision, and blessing in all that we have been given.

The greatest dhikr is the recitation of the Qur’an:

“And We send down of the Qur'an that which is healing and mercy for the believers” (Qur’an, 17:82)

It is the cure, the antidote, the remedy, the medicine for the debilitating conditions of the heart. It is the means for uplifting us, for raising our spirits, for bringing us unparalleled happiness and a good life.

With the Qur’an, the believer is good and pleasant and attractive, on the inside and the outside.

Life is good and happy if you know where to find that happiness. Allah has not created us in vain and without guidance. By His Grace, He has paved for us the path to Him – the path of worship, righteousness and virtue. It is the path of happiness, with no parallel, no shortcut, and no alternative.

The good life doesn’t mean a life free of problems, difficulties, tests or trials. The believer who lives the good life meets these with an open heart, patient, content and assured that Allah wants the best for him.

This life is a life of challenges and difficulties, but just as immense pressure creates precious gems, the believer revels in the weight of life’s burdens as they shape him in to a greater and more resolute human. He tires with pleasure, and not begrudgingly.

Imam Ahmad was ask, “When will the believer finally rest?” He answered “When he places the first foot in Paradise.”

Sheikh Mohammed Mahmoud OBE is the Senior Imam at East London Mosque & London Muslim Centre. In addition to leading prayer and deliverng Friday sermons, he provides religious guidance to congregants, runs Islamic classes and engages in various outreach and interfaith projects. His outstanding courage during the Finsbury Park terror attack of 2017 was recognised around the world.