Individualism has caused the “pursuit of happiness” to give rise to an aggressive and boundless sense of personal entitlement.
No aspect of contemporary civilization is more directly challenged by Bahá’u’lláh’s conception of the future than is the prevailing cult of individualism, which has spread to most parts of the world. Nurtured by such cultural forces as political ideology, academic elitism, and a consumer economy, the “pursuit of happiness” has given rise to an aggressive and almost boundless sense of personal entitlement. (Bahá’í International Community, 1999 Feb, Who is Writing the Future)
The moral consequences have been corrosive for both individual and society alike; and devastating in terms of disease and drug addiction.
The moral consequences have been corrosive for the individual and society alike – and devastating in terms of disease, drug addiction and other all-too- familiar blights of century’s end. (Bahá’í International Community, 1999 Feb, Who is Writing the Future)
Correcting this will require us to call into question some of our most deeply entrenched assumptions about right and wrong.
The task of freeing humanity from an error so fundamental and pervasive will call into question some of the twentieth century’s most deeply entrenched assumptions about right and wrong. (Bahá’í International Community, 1999 Feb, Who is Writing the Future)
God has made provisions so that everyone on earth has access to everything they need for all humanity to be in the utmost happiness, the utmost comfort and the utmost well-being. Sadly, we’ve created a world where conditions are such that some are happy and comfortable and others are in misery; some are accumulating exorbitant wealth and others are in dire want. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that under such a system it is impossible for man to be happy.
God is not partial and is no respecter of persons. He has made provision for all. The harvest comes forth for everyone. The rain showers upon everybody and the heat of the sun is destined to warm everyone. The verdure of the earth is for everyone. Therefore there should be for all humanity the utmost happiness, the utmost comfort, the utmost well-being. But if conditions are such that some are happy and comfortable and some in misery; some are accumulating exorbitant wealth and others are in dire want—under such a system it is impossible for man to be happy and impossible for him to win the good pleasure of God. God is kind to all. The good pleasure of God consists in the welfare of all the individual members of mankind. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 41)
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.
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. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 109)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá shares a story which illustrates this point:
A Persian king was one night in his palace, living in the greatest luxury and comfort. Through excessive joy and gladness he addressed a certain man, saying: “Of all my life this is the happiest moment. Praise be to God, from every point prosperity appears and fortune smiles! My treasury is full and the army is well taken care of. My palaces are many; my land unlimited; my family is well off; my honor and sovereignty are great. What more could I want!”
The poor man at the gate of his palace spoke out, saying: “O kind king! Assuming that you are from every point of view so happy, free from every worry and sadness—do you not worry for us? You say that on your own account you have no worries—but do you never worry about the poor in your land? Is it becoming or meet that you should be so well off and we in such dire want and need? In view of our needs and troubles how can you rest in your palace, how can you even say that you are free from worries and sorrows?
As a ruler you must not be so egoistic as to think of yourself alone but you must think of those who are your subjects. When we are comfortable then you will be comfortable; when we are in misery how can you, as a king, be in happiness?” The purport is this that we are all inhabiting one globe of earth. In reality we are one family and each one of us is a member of this family. We must all be in the greatest happiness and comfort, under a just rule and regulation which is according to the good pleasure of God, thus causing us to be happy, for this life is fleeting. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 41)
Other reasons for unhappiness include racial and religious prejudice, the competitive struggle for existence and inhumanity toward each other.
The obstacle to human happiness is racial or religious prejudice, the competitive struggle for existence and inhumanity toward each other. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 468)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá was happiest when people of all races were present:
Joseph Hannen records: “On Tuesday, April 23rd, at noon, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed the student-body of more than 1,000, the faculty and a large number of distinguished guests, at Howard University. This was a most notable occasion, and here, as everywhere when both white and colored people were present, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá seemed happiest. The address was received with breathless attention by the vast audience, and was followed by a positive ovation and a recall.” (Hannen, “‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Washington, D.C.” p. 7; Agnes Parson’s Diary, p. 29, Footnote 44)
Looking for happiness in the wrong places
We’ll never find happiness until we attach ourselves to the eternal:
Therefore the heart is never at rest and never finds real joy and happiness until it attaches itself to the eternal. How foolish the bird that builds its nest in a tree that may perish when it could build its nest in an ever-verdant garden of paradise. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 136-137)
Living in a hedonistic, materialist, consumer-driven society, many of us grew up believing happiness could be found in possessions or activities or substances.
Many people go from one thing or another, looking for happiness and when it eludes them, they move on to something else, but so far, very few find happiness or peace of mind this way:
A great many people embrace these cults which become fashionable for a time. But when the Novelty wears off or dissatisfaction sets in, or the movements become impotent and disintegrate, then they look for another saviour, another movement or another sect, and there are many to turn to throughout the world. And so the experiment to find peace and tranquillity in one’s life continues. But so far few have found happiness or peace of mind. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 4, p. 71)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá makes a link between happiness and the equality between men and women that might surprise you:
And let it be known once more that until woman and man recognize and realize equality … the happiness and felicity of mankind will not be a reality. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 76)
This suggests that we’re responsible for making each other happy, not in a codependent way, but by recognizing and working towards the equality of the other person.
Shoghi Effendi says it more clearly:
The more we make others happy the greater will be our own happiness and the deeper our sense of having served humanity. (Shoghi Effendi, The Light of Divine Guidance v I, p. 45)
This story also illustrates the point:
The Master wanted people to be happy not only because then they could come to know the spiritual life, but also because in that condition they could make others happy too. Similarly He once told one of His daughters who was to travel with her aunt that she should be a cheerful companion. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 168)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us our responsibility to bring happiness to those who are sick:
If there is a sick person and one wishes to cure him, let one cause joy and happiness in his heart. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 417)
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