Is happiness the ultimate objective of our existence? What is the definition of happiness? Is happiness limited to the carnal pleasures and comforts of life, or are there bigger meanings attributable to the concept of ‘happiness’? Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari (1972) answers all of these questions, as we explore them in the following article.
More than 6 billion people currently living on earth, must have, at some point in their lives, come across one of the biggest questions of life: “What is the purpose of my existence?” One popular answer given in response to this question is that man is created to be happy. Happiness is commonly perceived as the attainment of the maximum possible joys of life and living a comfortable life on earth, full of blessings and empty of all possible problems and threats from the surroundings. Same idea has been presented in the rational choice theory about the world, which adheres to man focusing only upon maximisation of personal interests and minimisation of personal losses in all the choices he faces.
The implications of the idea that the purpose of man’s existence is to be happy also extend into the theosophical grounds, claiming that even the meaning behind the coming of all the prophets and their preaching was to make man attentive towards the pleasures and happinesses of life and to make them rid the pains; of course, in this case, happinesses and pains extending beyond the life of this world. According to the thinkers who position the pursuit of happiness and the avoidance of pain as the ultimate objective of human existence, man was created and is functioning merely to be happy and to enjoy to his maximum. Because of this assumed inclination of man towards what pleases him, it is also supposed by this group of thinkers that the people who were claimant of having been sent from God, would, through their work, either try to secure this internal need and natural objective of humans to be happy, or would capitalise on this inclination by enticing men to attain eternal pleasures or avoid eternal pains in the next life.
There is no question that the apparent theological presentation of the next life can easily be thought of as based around the mentioned pleasure-centered objectives, which are imagined as being guarantees of happiness. However, when we extrapolate the mentioned objective of the creation of human and jinn alike in the Holy Quran, we certainly reach a conclusion that there is a certain disagreement between our explanation of ‘happiness’ and that which God mentions as the purpose of our creation. It reads that:
“And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” (Quran 51: 56)
This verse of Quran, that strictly destroys any thought of vanity in the creation of humans, is also demanding of a greater explanation than its apparent meaning.
The view of Islam does not negate the importance of happiness as the most cherished thing for a human, but defines happiness in a very unique and novel way. In the sight of Islam, the happiness found in worship is the highest objective of existence. Worshipping God is basically no different than happiness and, in fact, worship, knowledge about God and happiness are intertwined in an inseparable way. According to Mutahhari (1972),
“If there is no question of knowing God which is the preface to worship, then man has failed in his advance towards the goal of creation, and from the viewpoint of the Qur’an he is not happy.” (Mutahhari, 1972: p. 6)
We can conclude from the above discussion that happiness can be defined in a number of ways and that happiness, which is commonly taken as the goal of man’s life, is perceivable through different perspectives, varying in their degrees of perfection. Happiness is not limited to drowning one’s self in lowly pleasures, but it is the worship of God which is the highest form of happiness. From the Islamic point of view, God has created man to be happy but has tied the greatest form of happiness and pleasure to worshipping and knowing Him. Worshipping God is the goal of life, and happiness is a product of it:
“He is created to worship, and the worship of God is in itself a goal. The prophets, too, are sent to guide him towards that happiness which is the worship of God.” (Mutahhari, 1972: p. 6)
Contrary to the commonly held misconception of seeing happiness as something other than worship, Mutahhari (1972) unites the two and makes it possible to infer that worship of God is actually the very sought after happiness, and basically there is no concept of happiness outside the premises of worship of God. What we initially thought of as happiness, is completely redefined by Islam, as explained by Mutahhari (1972), who has positioned the highest form of happiness in the worship of God.
Mutahhari, A. M. (1972). Goal of Life. Islamic Republic of Iran: Foreign Department of Be’that Foundation, Someyeh Avenue.