When we talk about our life and its goal, the first thing that usually come into most of people’s mind today, is the pursuit of happiness. It is a popular idea which said that life should be about being happy and about pursuing happiness. Getting married, to be happy. Earning so much money, to be happy. Having kids, to be happy. Having luxurious car, nice house, newest gadget, playing games, watching movies, having vacation to exotic places, and enjoying other entertainments, so that we can feel happy. Happiness has become the best-selling commodity sought by almost everybody in this era. Something that everyone is willing to sacrifice a lot of things to get it. And a lot of people said, “I just want to be happy”.
But is it realistic to be just happy all the time? Since that feeling will practically disappearing soon. Then the boredom and the stress strike back. And we need to be happy again, over and over. Repeating and fulfilling the hunger of being happy. Until we become addicted to it. Regardless the fact that it last for only a short moment of time. While forgetting that being happy is only one out of many different feelings and emotions we will surely experience in this life.
The Hedonic Treadmill
Most of people today, including Muslims unfortunately, are trapped in a state, that Psychology researches called it, the hedonic treadmill. It is a state where people mis predict what will make them happy, over and over. They pursue something they think they desire, channel the whole focus and energy into this pursuit, and when they do actually get what they want, it feels almost never like what they imagined it to be like.
It turns out, that their brief burst of joy, does not change levels of happiness in the long run. Instead, people adjust their expectation to the new status quo and find themselves desiring even more to maintain the same level of happiness. So, what happens next is, they move on to their next pursuit. Yet, this never take them to the new level of happiness. The level stays where they’re at, at the same point, regardless of the effort and the energy, like the treadmill .
The pursuit of this temporary joy, has disappointed and depressed many people . We even witnessed a lot of famous and rich person such as artists or musicians, who have glamorous life, but ended up committing suicide. This happens because people often confused between being happy and being content. Two different things that look similar at a glance. One of them only provides illusion of temporary joy, while the other provides inner peace, meaning, and strength that last in the long run.
Many people who try to pursue happiness, didn’t realize that true happiness lies in their heart. That true happiness can only be achieved with a heart that always content. Rasulullah ﷺ said,
لَيْسَ الْغِنَى عَنْ كَثْرَةِ الْعَرَضِ ، وَلَكِنَّ الْغِنَى غِنَى النَّفْسِ
“Rich does not mean having a great amount of property, but rich is self-contentment.” (Shahih al-Bukhari No. 5965)
When describing the life of his teacher Shaykhul Islam Ibnu Taymiyyah rahimahullah, Ibnul Qayyim rahimahullah said that he never saw someone who was happier than his teacher. Despite the fact that his life was full of difficulties, far from luxury and worldly enjoyment. Not to mention the torture and suffering that he experienced when he was in prison, when he received threats and oppressions from his enemies. Yet, Ibnul Qayyim rahimahullah finds his teacher one of the people who have the happiest life, most big-hearted, most strong-hearted, with the most inner peace. The light of enjoyment shone from his face . And that is the true happiness.
A heart that always feel content, in whatever condition we have in life, is the key to achieve true happiness. While a heart that always neglectful of Allah’s reminder, who try to pursue happiness in luxury and worldly enjoyment, will only find a depressed life. Allah ﷻ said,
وَمَنْ أَعْرَضَ عَن ذِكْرِى فَإِنَّ لَهُۥ مَعِيشَةً ضَنكًا وَنَحْشُرُهُۥ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ أَعْمَىٰ
“And whoever turns away from My remembrance – indeed, he will have a depressed life, and We will gather him on the Day of Resurrection blind.” (Surah Ta Ha: 124)
Malik ibn Dinar rahimahullah said, “There is no pleasure that is more delightful than remembering Allah.” 
Al-Hasan al-Basri rahimahullah said, “Find sweetness in three things; in shalah, dhikr, and in reading of the Qur’an. If you find otherwise, realize that the doors of true happiness are closed.” 
And Ibnul Qayyim rahimahullah said, that there are three signs of true happiness :
- Being grateful in time of pleasure
- Being patient in time of difficulty
- Repent when we make mistakes
Having said that, a believer should not be trapped in a pursuit of fake happiness in his or her life. Since it will only lead them to a life of never-ending un-satisfaction, disappointment, and depression. A believer should instead pursue true happiness in the contentment of heart. And only in the remembrance of Allah, the heart become content. Something that can provide inner peace, meaningful life, and strength to overcome any difficulties.
- Don’t let the pursuit of happiness keep you down – Rethinking the American dream. Angie LeVan. Retrieved June 5, 2020.
- Al waabil-us sayyib min-al kalim-ith Thayyib. Ibnul Qayyim.
- As sa’aadatu – haqiiqatuhaa, suwaruhaa, asbaabu tahsiilihaa. Al Qism-ul ‘ilmiy bidaar-il wathan.