Real happiness from the perspective of a faithful individual is achieved when he performs an act which draws him one step closer to his Lord. However, human beings can benefit from lawful and diverse worldly pleasures so as to satiate his natural desire. At times, these actions which lead to corporeal pleasures can also pave way for promotion of spiritual happiness and delight of believers.
Meanwhile, it is necessary to know that Islam does not approve of some superfluous and extravagant joys and which stems from offensive, immoral and illogical behaviors. It is accepted by all civilized communities across the world that one cannot, for happiness sake, commit all kinds of offensive actions.
In order to analyze and study the subject under question, we must know what the meaning of "happiness" is. It can be said in the beginning that "happiness" by itself cannot be conceived and regarded as something material. In other words, the things which lead to happiness can be material as well as spiritual. However, happiness is always spiritual as it is a state of mind or feeling characterized by contentment, love, satisfaction, pleasure, or joy about what has taken place. The position is the same with the concept of "sadness" or "unhappiness". Finally, it is the human beings who, depending on their attitudes and worldview, become happy or sad at the occurrence of something. That is why a particular incident makes one individual happy and another individual sad. For example, let's look at the superstitious Charshanbeh Soori celebrations which take place on the last Wednesday of the year in Iran. The sound of the crackers, the explosions and the fires which are ignited in the streets and on roads here and there are very enjoyable for some people but, there is no doubt that the same euphoric behaviors hurt and even torment ailing and weak people and those who are in need of peace and calm.
Having said that, it becomes clear that expressing any kind of joy and happiness which is not fraught with haram actions, is permissible according to Islam. Hence, with this assumption in mind, we shall now study Islam's perspective about happiness under three categories (real happiness, allowable happiness and forbidden happiness):
1. Real happiness: Considering that one of the principles of the religion of Islam is belief in resurrection and eternal life in the hereafter and that death, in this perspective, is not destruction and annihilation but a bridge between this world and the next world, happiness gains its true meaning when human beings consider it effective also in their eternal life. For the same reason, any good conduct adds up to his happiness without making him haughty or selfish. The happiness and pleasure which a believer feels by giving charity, offering prayers, fasting and performing hajj can never be compared with the transient mundane pleasures. In other words, the pleasure of relationship with God is such that it overwhelms all other pleasures and joys to the extent that the sadness which results from separation of the friend is also pleasing. Hafiz Shirazi says in his poems:
Since your sadness cannot be found anywhere other than in a happy heart,
In the hope of sadness, do we look forward to becoming happy.[i]
The Quran says in this regard:
: "قُلْ بِفَضْلِ اللَّهِ وَ بِرَحْمَتِهِ فَبِذلِکَ فَلْیَفْرَحُوا هُوَ خَیْرٌ مِمَّا یَجْمَعُون"
Say: "In the bounty of Allah. And in His Mercy,- in that let them rejoice": that is better than the (wealth) they hoard."[ii]
It is for the same reason that Imam Sajjad (a.s.) says in his supplications:
"إلهی من ذا الذی ذاق حلاوة محبتک فرام منک بدلا"
"My God, who has tasted the sweetness of your love and then sought a replacement?!"
2. Allowable worldly happiness: Given all the foregoing explanations and in view of the fact that the sweetness of the relationship with God cannot be replaced or compared with anything else, man's innate nature desires to experience other pleasures and happiness – not as a replacement – but as something new. Therefore, he cannot be reproached for this innate tendency in his nature.
This feeling of man, as the best of creatures, to experience diverse pleasures cannot be regarded by itself a point of strength or weakness. What actually changes this God-gifted tendency into a positive or negative point in a person's life is the way he manages such feelings.
Islam considers intelligent and clever believers as people who, when overwhelmed by sadness and grief, behaves with others with happy and smiling faces and by so doing they inject happiness into society.[iii]
Keeping the above into consideration, how can one describe a religious society as a sad and grief-stricken society? There are too many allowable joys and happiness which not only Islam has not opposed but in many cases it has endorsed and underscored them e.g. the happiness which arises from:
1-2. The educational and social progress achieved by a person himself or by other affiliate individuals;
2-2. Discovery of a scientific phenomenon;
3-2. Journey, voyage and trip to enjoy the beauties of nature;
4-2. Sports and the arts which not only provide entertainment but they also influence the individual's character and his soul;
5-2. Eating different foodstuffs and wearing different types of dresses;
6-2. Choosing friends and living together with them and also establishing various social associations and groups;
7-2. Consummation of a marriage and establishment of a new family;
And dozens and hundreds of other similar instances!
There is a tradition from Imam Ja'far Sadiq (a.s.) who says that worldly happiness can help a person attain spiritual happiness.
Quoting Aal-e Dawood advice, he says: "It is befitting of a sagacious Muslim to be seen doing one of these three tasks: Either be doing economic activity and earning his livelihood or pick up his luggage for the afterworld and engage in joyous activities that are not haram. Also, it is appropriate of every Muslim to allocate part of his time communicating with his Lord and another part associating with his friends, those who remind him of the hereafter and the remaining time he should engage in halal enjoyments which help strengthen him for the other previous two activities."[iv]
In fact, it goes without saying that there are some people who are in a high spiritual relationship with God. It is possible that at times such people may not consider some allowable pleasures to be permissible for them but that does not imply general prohibition of such things. For some people, perhaps this category of enjoyments can be regarded, if accompanied with remembrance of God, to be of the first group.
Forbidden enjoyments: The Holy Quran says: "إِنَّ اللَّهَ لا یُحِبُّ الْفَرِحین" [Surely Allah does not love the exultant.][v] "وَ لا تَفْرَحُوا بِما آتاکُم" [Do not be exultant at what He has given you].[vi]
Do these verses refute any kind of happiness from the Islamic perspective?! No, we reply to the above question in the negative very decisively, because only those joys and pleasures are forbidden that entail negative individual and social effects.
It is necessary to know that Islam does not approve of some superfluous and ostentatious joys which stem from immoral and illogical behaviors. It is accepted by all civilized nations and communities across the world that one cannot, for happiness sake, commit all sorts of offensive actions.
The ecstasy and exultations which come from various destructive sexual relations and which destroy the foundations of the family and society, the rapturous mood which emanates as a result of alcoholic beverages and using drugs that paralyzes the body and make the mind numb, the pleasures which emanate from sadistic feelings in one's social relations (e.g. improper driving, aggression, destruction of public property etc.) the pleasures emanating from being wasteful and extravagant and improper use from God's bounties, the happiness which emanates from arrogance and elatedness towards others because of wealth or social position, the joy which emanates because of escaping from Jihad,[vii] the hypocritical happiness emanating from the apparent defeat of the faithful are some of examples of happiness and joys which are not endorsed by Islam. Many of them are abhorred and not accepted by other human communities also.
A remorseless individual who beats up an innocent child and laughs at his cries and wailings is condemned by all of us because we easily perceive and understand the meanness of his action but in many other cases in which the meanness of an action is not known to all, it is perhaps a bit difficult for some people to accept the prohibition of happiness emanating from them but it is necessary to know that there is a strong logic behind the prohibition of every pleasure or happiness which can be understood through adequate contemplation.
Some people magnify those transient pleasures out of all the pleasures which are not important in the eye of non-religious communities. They want to wrongly inculcate the idea into society that Islam is opposed to all kinds of happiness and joys whereas the truth is not as such.
Contrary to Islam's idea that endorses moderate happiness and sadness, such people resort to unconventional and extremist behaviors in order to jubilate. In fact, they do not become happy in the true sense of the word but they just have momentary pleasures. When sadness befalls such people, they start getting depression because of the fact that they do not believe in the hereafter. And when depression overtakes them, they then resort to other immoderate and extreme actions like suicide, an action which is forbidden according to Islam under all circumstances. That is because according to Islam, in the same way that happiness should not detach a person from God, happiness also should not distance him from God and His commandments.
Now, compare the happiness of true believers with that of these people and see the difference. The difference is poles apart. If we are a bit realistic, we will easily understand that only morally offensive happiness and jubilations have been prohibited by Islam. Other types of spiritual and natural happiness and joys are not only permissible but they are also very necessary in many cases. Wherever there is an argument about human beings being questioned for their exultations, it is where the exultations are unjust and untrue:
"ذلِکُمْ بِما کُنْتُمْ تَفْرَحُونَ فِی الْأَرْضِ بِغَیْرِ الْحَقِّ وَ بِما کُنْتُمْ تَمْرَحُون"
"That is because you exulted in the land unjustly and because you behaved insolently."[viii]
A faithful individual can have the happiness of this world and the hereafter together with each other as it has been stated in a tradition that a fasting person has two joys at the same time: One at the time breaking his fast with food and drink and another when he meets his Lord to get the reward for fasting.[ix]
Now, if there is a specific case of happiness which you think Islam is opposed to, you can give us the details and let us know about it so that we may have to study and come back to you with an answer.
[i] - Translation of the Farsi poem:
چون غمت را نتوان یافت مگر در دل شاد
ما بامید غمت خاطر شادی طلبیم
[ii] - Yunus, 58
[iii] - Kulayni, Muhammad Ya'qub, Al-Kafi, vol.2, pg. 226, hadith 1, Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyah, Tehran, 1365 A.H.
[iv] - Al-Kafi, vol.5, pg. 87, hadith 1.
[v] - Al-Qasas: 76
[vi] - Al-Hadid: 23
[vii] - Al-Tawbah: 81
[viii] - Al-Ghafir,75
[ix] - Shaykh Saduq, Fadhail al-Ash-hor al-Thalatha, pg.134, Al-Dawari Library, Qom (date missing).