Different people have different defintions of happiness or unhappiness. Generally speaking, unhappiness is linked to sadness, misery, anger, depression... Scientists say depression is rather a neuro-biological problem. No matter: no two bucks would ever fight over whether a depressed person is un unhappy person. The key question is, what makes us unhappy? Two of the most common sources of our unhappiness are what we North Africans call 'hogra' (bitter feeling of injustice) and ingratitude. But, as we'll see later, there's sometimes a third source of trouble: overkindness on our part. We'll see all that in a moment, but let's start with ingratitude.
God made us to serve one another: you and I will never be able to return the favour to our parents, not only the tenth of it –nor our children will be able to return the favour to us even if they look after us in our old age better than the best nurse in the world. We all pay the favour forward. Couldn't that be possible with just anybody else? Why should we always expect thanks for what we do? Yes, it is painful to be treated unkindly by someone we gave so much kindness, especially if that person is a family member or a close friend. The pain varies according to each person's faith in oneself, but it can be devastating. Aperson with a strong psyche can more easily overcome the pain of being treated ungratefully, because experience taught him/her that somebody else, to whom he/she had never done any kindness, did 'compensate' him/her subsequently with an unexpected kindness. Whether you believe or not in God, He will send you, one day or another, somebody that will give you that unexpected kindness. Because "Allah loves not the perfidious and the ungrateful". (22:38)
How does one develop a strong psyche? Through self-analysis. If you are a liar, why do you complain about other people lying to or about you? If you are selfish, ungrateful, why do you expect others to be grateful to you? If you are dishonest, why do you want others to be honest with you? If you are a cheater, why shouldn't other people do the same? If you were unkind to somebody at one point in the remote past, do you think he/she will forget as you tried to forget and overlook all his/her past faults? Maybe he/she didn't go through the process (experience) that turned you into such a good, forgiving person.
As I said elsewhere, most people will either envy you if you are better off, or look down upon you if they are better off. You will rarely find people who will 'respect' you in all situations. If your superior/boss bullies or harasses you, that's because he believes he is 'better off', he believes that it's you who needs him and cannot do without him. He believes you are too weak to give up the job in such a time of crisis. Put yourself into that person's shoes and ask yourself whether you wouldn't do just the same! See if there's not something wrong with your own character (vis-à-vis other people). Cleanse your soul first, before complaining about others. Your soul is like your shoes. They may be clean before you leave home, but they may be less clean when you return home and you may have to clean (and shine) them again. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: "Every Son of Adam is a Sinner, and the Best of Sinners are those who Repent".
Now, if you are over-kind (be it natural, voluntary or compulsive), within or without the work sphere, most people will take that for a weakness or a sign of stupidity (another meaning of hogra); you will lose a lot, suffer a lot; but with resolve, sincerity and a clear purpose in your life, you will certainly prevail. You have to have kind of moral superiority. Once a man came to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and said: "O Messenger of Allah, tell me something about Islam which I cannot ask anyone else besides you." He said: "Say you believe in God then be upright (be steadfast upon that)." The meaning is, do everything you probably can to be a good person, don’t harm anybody who didn’t harm you, and then don’t care about what others will say about you or how they will react to your kindness.
Hogra may sometimes come from somebody who was very kind to you in the past. This somebody is teasing you now because he/she gave you so much kindness/help in the past, when he/she thought you might become something in the future and he/she would therefore get some kind of reward for the good he/she did to you in the past... but now that he/she is seeing you, year after year, without any real improvement in your life, he/she is playing tricks on you, beguiling you with false promises, teasing you, saying bad things on you... and you are in a hell because of him/her. You don't want to break with him/her and thus end a longtime friendship, always bearing in mind the kindness he/she gave you in the past. You strive to be faithful and grateful... But he/she doesn't care twopence about your 'friendship'... You too may have been harsh to him/her in the past, in the remote past, and he/she didn't react then and preferred patience and silence because he/she still feared you might become something/somebody important in the future.... Now that you are a 'failed' person in his/her sight, he/she is ‘punishing' you for all those small and big mistakes. If you go on dealing with such a vindictive person, you will only kill yourself.
There are people who have psychological problems that they may not be aware of or that they do not want to recognize. You deal with them in good faith, as if they are normal people, taking pains in enduring their arrogance, their lies, their fake love... You try to 'save' them, to help them in every possible way, assuming that they too can change for the better.... But in the sight of such people you are only a sucker, a naive person unable to see what's in their minds. Well, there's but rubbish in their minds, I tell you; there's but illness in their hearts. Run away from them lest they should kill you piecemeal!
Another source of unhappiness is our fear of other people’s opinion about us. People will always comment your looks, the clothes you put on, the house you live in, the things you eat, the place where you eat, the music you listen to, the kind of work you do… If you are jobless, that’s horror ! Especially if you are married and a parent. If you are unmarried, that’s hell. This will fill your heart with jealousy and a Satanic wish to harm those you are jealous of, those you believe are better or luckier than you, those who are bullying or harassing you. The jealousy may destroy your heart from within as a fire would destroy a home from within… What’s the solution, then ? I’m not a psychic, but I am confident that the first step to do is what Muhammad (the protagonist) does in my novel (THE PHILOSOPHER): accept within yourself the fact that you are exactly what people are saying about you, then say: So what ? I am jobless, that’s my problem. You’re not going to help me. I’m unmarried, that’s my problem. I didn’t ask you to find me a partner. I’m a failed person on all counts, BUT I AM FREE. I won’t do what you –society– want me to do. I will go downtown wearing rubber sandals, that’s none of your business. I will go to work on foot or by bus, that’s none of your business. This car of mine that is not good in your eyes, I will sell it off and buy a bicycle instead. It’s not you who pays gasoline for me. You don’t like the colour of my suit (of my bag, of my shirt…) because it’s not in line with the fashion of the moment ? Well, I will not wear anything else until the end of the season ! You are bullying/harassing me because you think I can’t find work elsewhere ? Well, I’m not leaving now. I won’t give you the chance to revel in my misfortune. I’ll wait until I get a better job and I’ll leave without regret… That’s how you can start liberating yourself from all the shackles people want to put on you. You will continue for some length of time to feel the hogra and the pain of ingratitude, but they won’t be as painful as before. Your moral superiority, your being true to yourself (as long as you stick to it) will impress those who until recently made you feel ashamed of yourself for the mere reason that you are not like the rest of the livestock. Your indifference to their opinion about you will kill their evil.
However, don’t think that ‘moral superiority’ necessarily means attaining sainthood. Be realistic. You can’t pretend you wouldn’t love to have a steady job for life. What more than a government could give lifetime jobs and financial security ? The problem is, government employees are partly paid by money coming from brothels, casinos, alcohol, cigarettes, potentially dangerous cosmetics, banks that strangle destitute helpless people, companies in which working conditions push employees to suicide, depression or cancer; factories that pollute whole regions, farmers that ‘poison’ underground water, big companies that enslave people with pitiless marketing campains…
If you are a State employee yourself or one of your parents, what would you say to that poor girl who works in a sex shop in order to pay for her studies ? What would you say to that person who spends most of his salary in casinos ? What would you say to that depressed person who spends a quarter of his salary on alcohol and another quarter on healthcare ? What would you say to that husband who kills himself, his wife and children with active and passive smoking ? What would you say to that young woman who develops cancer because of cosmetics or unbearable working conditions ? etc, etc, etc. Well, part of those unfortunate people’s money ends up in your pocket. And if you or any of your parents is not paid by the State, maybe you were educated in State schools which used that kind of money, or treated in a hospital which used that kind of money, etc, etc, etc.
Putting such questions to yourself, in the process of self-analysis, will not increase your feeling of guilt, though; but will only help you realize that nobody is entirely innocent. Allah says in the Koran : And if Allah were to enlarge the provision for His slaves they would surely rebel in the earth, but He sendeth down by measure as He willeth. Lo! He is Informed, a Seer of His bondmen. ( 42.27)
The English proverb goes: "People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones." The Moroccan proverb says: "A camel only sees his borther’s hump." Just as a camel doesn't see its own hump, we only see other people's defects, not ours.
If government morality is not as pure as the pre-Industrial Revoltution Era rain, then expect that morality in business can’t be more pure than our era’s rivers. Then, why be more Catholic than the Pope ? Part of our problem when we are wronged emotionally (I’m not talking here of rape, etc.) is we are quick to complain: all the evil is from somebody else. I am clean, I am pure, I am good. Tears. Sleepless nights. Psychics. Sex. Drugs. And you go closer and closer to the precipice. The father of Muhammad (THE PHILOSOPHER) says to him:
“… You lost so many years on nothing, my son. You wasted your youth on nothing. You’ve been leading a wasted life. Now you are almost forty, with no home, no wife, no children, no lands, no money, with nothing. How long will you live on, my son? When will you start your life? Were you happy the other day when the village men made fun of you? They were right in asking what you had brought with you after all these years of absence. Is it reasonable what you did?”
“Father, I want to say something.”
His father said nothing, but listened expectantly.
“I want to marry Itto. That’s what I wanted to say.”
“What! Do you want me to become the village idiot? Listen and listen well! I warn you! Don’t say that name again! Or else go back where you came from!”
His sister says to him :
“Here I am! What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”
“Is Itto married?”
“Is she married?”
“She isn’t. But why are you asking me about her?”
“I want to marry her– that’s why.”
“What! Are you crazy? Maybe you don’t know that Itto is the most beautiful girl anyone has ever seen anywhere. Men have come from miles and miles away and offered her father gold and silver and pearls and camels and all sorts of wealth and yet he has refused to give her to any of them. Maybe you don’t know that any man from this village who dared to voice his wish for her hand would immediately be turned into the village idiot. Itto is a woman only a fool would dream of. And tell me, suppose her father were willing to give her to you, what would you give her as a dowry?”
“My mule, that’s all I have!”
Yezza broke into derisive laughter. Then she said, rising to go:
“I thought you were serious. Have a nice breakfast!”
You too can develop such a strong faith in yourself, a faith that makes you believe you can reach what is impossible in other people’s eyes. The first step, as I said, is to admit voluntarily and unregretfully that you are just as failed as people are saying about you. Then say: So what ? You think I’m a failed person/writer/businessman/parent, SO BE IT ! Get off my back, right ?... Your self-analysis will help you take that first step. (Find examples of self-analysis in THE TAILOR Chapter One and THE PHILOSOPHER Chapter Four). Regard admitting to failure as a strategy, not as a fait accompli... Remember that some people have gone from prison or hideouts into the top positions in their States, and vice-versa. Remember the has-beens: those former stars and megastars, those over-mediatized politicians, who suddenly fell into oblivion. Remember those talented people who didn’t benefit from their talents in their lifetime, people such as Edgar Alan Poe, Rudolph Diesel (whose name is in oil-stations all over the world)… Remember those people who were once living in their homes with their wives and children and are now helpless, homeless people, or refugees, waiting for others to help them.
Life is fascinating, it’s dazzling. We’re all tempted by the big-strong-and-fast kind of life. The funny thing is, whatever we do, however genius we are, there’s always somebody one step ahead of us, with something a little bigger, stronger or faster than we have. It’s a Tom-and-Jerry game! What a shame! Focus on your soul: the gold is in there, the peace is in there, the happiness is in there. And few people will beat you on that front! If you’re not hungry, why rush to that trendy restaurant? Just to impress somebody (who doesn’t have your financial problems)?
Think about that…and about this: Assem, the Poet’s Egyptian master. I would describe him as a strange, informal psyche. As he explains, in the story (Chapters 19 through 26), Assem fails in his upbringing of his own son, Hassan. Well, according to our standards, Hassan is quite a successful man –unlike Muhammad, the Philosopher, at the beginning of the story. But his father is not happy with him because he gives much more importance to the material world. Assem considers this as a personal failure to which he admits voluntarily. And he does not stop here. ‘To repent’, to make up for this colossal loss, Assem decides to ‘bring up’ other men, all slaves, in the way he dreamt of. Note that the story is set in the Ottoman times. Before the Ottomans, Egypt was ruled by the Mamluks, formerly slaves from Central Asia who took power in the wake of a coup and rules not only Egypt, but also present-day Palestine and Syria from 1250 until 1517. See, those great rulers were slaves, initially! So when the Poet, originally from Morocco, North Africa, arrives in Egypt as a slave, it’s Hassan who buys him for his father. And then Assem starts on his dream upbringing process. At first, the Poet does not understand anything. But in the end, he is not only free again (he was born free and stayed so for 30 years), but he is also free of his biggest nightmare, the source of all his misfortunes: cowardice. Before meeting Assem, the Poet was a coward, a man with a womanly heart (but desired by women for his bedroom prowess). He always wished to get rid of his cowardice. Through really strange techniques, Assem succeeds in helping the Poet overcome his cowardice and become a normal man, a better man than Assem’s own son.
Another source of our unhappiness is our anxiety about the future. How long will I keep my job in this time of crisis? What about my children? How will I be able to give them the appropriate education if I lose my job? Horrible nightmares. Childless people are anxious, too. Who will look after me when I grow old? I don’t have any social security, will I have anybody to feed me when I grow too old to work?
When you think about these fragile people we see on the street (beggars, homeless people, prostitutes…), you realize how weak Man can become after all his strength and power. Hence, the importance of FAITH. For some people Faith is the weapon of the weak, the treasure of the destitute, the refuge for the mentally ill, the easy solution for people with small minds… God is seen by some as the last resort, the very last to think of when we are stuck. Why not make Him the first to think of when we are alright so that He would think of us when we need Him most? Why don’t we listen to Him when He says: “2.152. Therefore remember Me, I will remember you." ? Why don’t we acknowledge that, whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, God is always with us or against us. Take one example: the rain. The good rain after long droughts, it’s God. The terrible floods, it’s Him too. It’s Him who does that because of…our sins. Why don’t we just return to Him? Why do we always rush to psychics, to drugs, to I don’t know what? Anything but God is only an aspirin. Ask the thousands of religious millionaires in this and other Muslim and non-Muslim countries who would never save their money in interest-based banks, because they fear more for their relationship with God than for their money, which could go and come back their way. These religious millionaires are not fiction. They’re as real as you and me. Type ‘Islamic banks/finance’ in your search engine and you’ll learn more about them. Ask those millionaires, they’ll tell you: your belief in God will only strengthen your psyche and guide you to the right decisions. “64.11. No calamity befalleth save by Allah's leave. And whosoever believeth in Allah, He guideth his heart. And Allah is Knower of all things ." But then you have to be serious. Why should you be so anxious about the future if you prepare for it right now? You can’t save money to prepare for the future? O.K. Why don’t you do good to others now so that God will send you the right people who will do you good at the time of need? If you are childless with no social security, why don’t you try out ‘informal adoption’ and do it, NOW, for the sake of God? You could take care of a poor child/a poor family, not necessarily helping them financially. You could only be a good, faithful friend who always has the right, soothing words. You could volunteer during your free time to help others in any informal way. If you do that for the sake of God, this is what He says: “We suffer not the reward of one whose work is goodly to be lost." (18.30) So why be so anxious about the future if you believe that God is the God of the past, of the present and of the future? Why be so anxious if you believe in the Word of God? You know what, people who really believe in God, people of knowledge, wouldn’t care whether they are employed or unemployed, rich or poor, married or unmarried, in good health or sickly; they believe that they won’t die and leave this world before they get all that God decreed for them; they believe they will get only the material things God decreed for them, no more no less; they believe they won’t live longer than God decreed for them; they believe that what happens to other people may happen to them too, but God will help them cope with the pain and misfortune when they befall them and give them a good reward for their patience… And yet these people (of knowledge) are just as ambitious, if not more, as anybody else, and far less anxious than many, many people. These people (of knowledge) are not afraid of illness or extreme poverty, because they are not ashamed to implore God for help, and when they get that help, after very, very hard work (or after long suffering), they thank God for it.
Mohamed Ali LAGOUADER