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Every human being wants to be happy. When you seek happiness, this is Baha’u’llah’s advice:
O SON OF SPIRIT!
My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting. (The Hidden Words)
In my quest to be a happier person, I was trying hard to work on that radiant part, because that seemed to be the key. The people I met who were radiantly joyful – well, I wanted some of that. It was obvious to me that their radiance came from real inner joy, which in turn comes from transcending life’s inevitable tragedies and struggles. Radiance, the quality that shines out of a pure, kindly heart, occurs most often in children, whose innocent purity and happiness inspires everyone. Behavioral scientists tell us that children laugh hundreds of times every day, and that adults laugh an average of 17 times a day. Maybe that’s what Christ meant when he said “Become as little children.”
In the Baha’i teachings, writings and prayers, one of the prevailing themes involves recognizing the qualities, or names, of the Supreme Being. Names like the Generous, the Bountiful, the Helper, the Loving, the Kind all give the Baha’is a sense of the attributes of God, and the qualities we can each individually strive to develop in our own spiritual character. One of the things that helped me in my happiness quest was discovering a short tablet from Baha’u’llah that begins “In the Name of God, the Humorist.” I was fascinated and intrigued, so I did some research. In the original Arabic, Baha’u’llah used the word “mazzah,” which had been provisionally translated as “the humorist”. However, “mazzah” has multiple shades of meaning – not necessarily a jokester or a frivolous person, but instead a humorist in the highest and noblest sense of the term, someone who spreads joy and humors others in a playful, loving way. That title gave me an entirely new perspective on how I could think about the Creator – and how I might possibly try to emulate that quality.
Then I began to notice that lots of Baha’is around the world had already developed it. Many people have remarked on this, but for some reason, maybe Baha’u’llah’s and Abdu’l-Baha’s example, or their steadfast encouragement to be happy and joyful, Baha’is everywhere practice the fine art of comedy as their profession. Actors, stand-up comedians, even musicians and writers and many other artists who are Baha’is seem to gravitate toward the great, gracious gift of making people smile.
One of the first and best-known Baha’i humorists was Carole Lombard, the renowned movie actress and comedienne who starred in the wonderful screwball comedies of the 1930’s. Lois Hall followed in Lombard’s footsteps, in delightful musical comedies like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and many other films and TV shows. Lloyd Haynes, the breakthrough Baha’i African-American television actor who starred in the ABC sitcom Room 222, appeared in both comedy and dramatic roles; as has Alex Rocco, in his roles in The Godfather and in several comedic films and TV shows, as well. Today Baha’is Omid Djalili and Inder Manocha have won comedy awards in England; and like Canadian Pardis Parker, all three comics have built very successful stand-up careers around hilarious, gentle observational humor about their multicultural heritage. Rainn Wilson, the American TV and film actor, is well-known for his roles in the comedies Six Feet Under and The Office and in multiple feature films, and he also co-authored a website, a TV show and a book with a light-hearted approach to spirituality called SoulPancake.
So what is it that makes the Baha’i Faith such a happy religion? It probably came directly from Abdu’l-Baha:
…the foundation of Baha’u’llah is love. …you must have infinite love for each other, each preferring the other before himself. The people must be so attracted to you that they will exclaim, “What happiness exists among you!” and will see in your faces the lights of the Kingdom; then in wonderment they will turn to you and seek the cause of your happiness. You must give the message through action and deed, not alone by word. Word must be conjoined with deed. You must love your friend better than yourself; yes, be willing to sacrifice yourself. May everyone point to you and ask, “Why are these people so happy?” I want you to be happy… to laugh, smile and rejoice in order that others may be made happy by you. (Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 218)
I’m still trying for as much happiness as possible, but I’ve learned that Baha’is are genuinely happy for lots of reasons. We celebrate the arrival and the beautiful message of a new Manifestation, Baha’u’llah, and that in itself generates immense joy and happiness. We all participate in a diverse global Baha’i community with literally every nationality, racial group, culture, class and age; which lowers the barriers between people everywhere, emphasizes oneness and makes Baha’i community activities fun and interesting. Baha’i festivals, holy days and celebrations are meant for hospitality and humor. Baha’i communities gather every nineteen days for a Feast, which has both spiritual and social purposes. And Baha’is are generally interesting, thoughtful, fun-loving people — not dour, literal or fundamentalist, because their faith emphasizes service to others, progressive revelation and unity. Ultimately, the Baha’i teachings point the way toward a plan for a new unified world free of war, racism and conflict – which makes Baha’is optimistic, enthusiastic and hopeful about the future of the human race.