Becoming a Baha’i has helped me internalize attitudes and values that have given me a more positive – and a much happier — outlook on life.
I’ve discovered that the Baha’i Faith has a lot to say about happiness, and concluded that its Teachings are designed to help all of humanity become happier. Insights from psychologist Martin Seligman’s 2002 book Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment (from which I borrowed part of the title for this essay) also support this concept. While Seligman is not a Baha’i, his ideas are remarkably similar to many essential Baha’i principles that focus on the role of spiritual growth and transformation in achieving happiness. Seligman’s book implicitly reaffirms the spiritual truths presented in the Baha’i Writings, approaching the same concepts from a scientific perspective.
When I started researching what the Baha’i Writings have to say on the topic of happiness, I was impressed at their broad focus on the topic. Sorting through the many quotations from the Baha’i Writings that include the word “happiness,” I realized that this issue comes up in passages about every major Baha’i principle. In fact, it becomes clear by studying these Writings that happiness of a certain kind is really a primary goal of the Baha’i Revelation. For Baha’is personal happiness is not only a goal but also a duty, most fully realized in the context of active efforts to promote the happiness of all.
Baha’u’llah — the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith — affirmed that human beings are created noble and are capable of continual spiritual growth in this world and in the afterlife. Our goal in this life should be to recognize our inherent nobility, to grow spiritually through gratitude and devotion to God, and to serve the well-being of humankind. This means we’ll experience greater joy and fulfillment when we replace a focus on our own self-centered cravings, resentments, and desires with a devotion to serving humanity. By cultivating and practicing virtues such as love, compassion, wisdom, gratitude, forgiveness, and trustworthiness, we become more useful to our fellow human beings and more able to make a positive difference in the world.
In my own experience, I never feel happier or more serene than when I’m working on projects that manifest Baha’i principles such as racial unity, inter-religious cooperation and understanding, and gender equality. Abdu’l-Baha writes:
No greater blessing is conceivable than that an individual, looking within himself, should find that by the confirming grace of God he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellowmen…. There is no greater bliss, no more complete delight. (The Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 2-3)
So Baha’is actively cultivate spiritual qualities in order to become promoters of love, unity, and peace in the world. From the Baha’i point of view, this is the path to true happiness.
When I read Martin Seligman’s book, I was intrigued to see how similar his idea of the path to happiness is to the Baha’i view. In brief, Seligman argues that happiness “can [indeed] be lastingly increased” by cultivating what he calls “positive emotions.” To do this, we must learn how to increase the amount of pleasure in our lives, but more importantly, we must experience the gratification that comes from using our virtues and personal strengths to serve others. We experience positive emotions about the past and the future through gratitude and forgiveness, derive gratification from our virtues and signature strengths, and “use these strengths in the service of something larger to obtain meaning” (p. 263).
As a Baha’i, I believe that Seligman’s insights affirm the coherent, systematic, and clearly articulated Baha’i Writings on happiness. In short, religion and science agree on this subject, or, more precisely, science has now caught up with what Baha’u’llah taught over a hundred years ago. In a passionate speech made in New Jersey in 1912, Abdu’l-Baha urges us to remember that:
This is the day of Baha’u’llah, the age of the Blessed Perfection, the cycle of the Greatest Name. If you do not smile now, for what time will you await and what greater happiness could you expect? …The world has become a new world; souls are quickened, spirits renewed, refreshed. Truly it is a time for happiness. (Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 210)
I encourage you to learn as much as you can about Baha’u’llah, to study his soul-stirring and inspirational guidance, and to investigate the Baha’i way of life — a way of life intended to lead all humanity to authentic happiness. I have been a Baha’i since 1993 and I say with much gratitude that the subsequent years have been the happiest years of my life.