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Are you physically happy, spiritually happy, or both? The Baha’i writings say that there are two kinds of happiness: physical and spiritual.
“But if material happiness and spiritual felicity be conjoined, it will be ‘delight upon delight,’ as the Arabs say,” said Abdu’l-Baha, one of the central figures of the Baha’i Faith, at a talk in New York in 1912.
So, what is the difference? And, how can we be both physically and spiritually happy?
What Is Physical Happiness?
The physical happiness is limited; its utmost duration is one day, one month, one year.
This fleeting feeling of physical happiness comes from four neurochemicals: dopamine, endorphin, oxytocin, and serotonin.
“Dopamine produces the joy of finding things that meet your needs—the ‘Eureka! I got it!’ feeling. Endorphin produces oblivion that masks pain—often called euphoria. Oxytocin produces the feeling of being safe with others—now called bonding. Serotonin produces the feeling of being respected by others—pride,” explained Dr. Loretta Graziano Breunig in her book, “Habits of a Happy Brain.”
For example, we feel a surge of dopamine when we taste a really good meal for the first time, endorphins after a new strenuous and satisfying workout, oxytocin from hugging a loved one, and serotonin after a big promotion.
But, the happy feeling that each of these neurochemicals gives us is temporary. The ninth bite of that same tasty meal won’t taste as good as the first bite. The same workout won’t give us the same amount of satisfaction the next week. Someone we once felt close to could betray our trust the next day. And the emotional high from that promotion will soon subside and have you working towards the next one.
All mammals have these neurochemicals. Our limbic systems release these happy chemicals to tell our bodies what we should approach or avoid to increase our chances of surviving and reproducing.
What Is Spiritual Happiness?
The physical happiness of material conditions was allotted to the animal. …This is the honor of the animal kingdom.
But the honor of the human kingdom is the attainment of spiritual happiness in the human world, the acquisition of the knowledge and love of God. The honor allotted to man is the acquisition of the supreme virtues of the human world. This is his real happiness and felicity.
Our true happiness is based on our spiritual behavior. When we know and love God and acquire all the virtues that we will need in the next world, we make it possible for our souls to “find happiness both in this world and the next.” This eternal spiritual happiness appears when our hearts are illuminated with the light of the love of God.
How to Be Physically and Spiritually Happy
Our material progress leads to our physical happiness, and our spiritual progress leads to our spiritual happiness.
But, Abdu’l-Baha reminded us:
If man is bereft of the divine bestowals and if his enjoyment and happiness are restricted to his material inclinations, what distinction or difference is there between the animal and himself? In fact, the animal’s happiness is greater, for its wants are fewer and its means of livelihood easier to acquire.
Although it’s important to satisfy our physical needs and strive for material comforts, acquiring divine bounties and spiritual susceptibilities is essential. Through the “breaths of the Holy Spirit,” our conscious soul is awakened, enabling us to spiritually progress and perceive divine reality.
Material progress ensures the happiness of the human world. Spiritual progress ensures the happiness and eternal continuance of the soul.
How Humanity Will Find Happiness
The Baha’i writings say:
No matter how far the material world advances, it cannot establish the happiness of mankind. Only when material and spiritual civilization are linked and coordinated will happiness be assured.
This spiritual civilization will be attained when humanity is bonded by a divine and spiritual fraternity that leads to unity and amity amongst all people.