Dr. Eshrat Ara
The increasing general stress level in both the industrialized and developing worlds has made personal harmony and peace a survival issue for the global community. All of us are searching for Happiness. To serve this need, therapeutic models can be derived from the indigenous sources.
The insights provided by them can serve practitioners and clinicians in counselling and psychotherapy, further contributing to the global psychology.
Happiness is an experience that everybody knows well but none can come up with a clear precise definition for it.
When experienced, the happy person is overwhelmed with highly pleasurable feelings of tranquillity, ecstasy and delightful euphoria. These feelings are projected on to the environment and the entire world looks beautiful and flowery.
But when unhappiness and hate dominate one’s psyche, the picture is reversed. Jubilation becomes discouraged dejection, tranquillity becomes threatening anxiety, euphoria becomes unbearable depression and friendliness becomes anger and dangerous aggression.
These negative thoughts and feelings are also projected onto the external environment causing the afflicted person to suffer from various psychological and psychiatric disorders and to lose any meaning for his existence. The world is seen as a very dreary and boring place or a highly treacherous concern.
When these thoughts and feelings reach their extreme, the unhappy individual may take his own life or that of the abhorred person.
Though psychology does not possess and is not expected to possess any units of behaviour such as the cell in biology, atom in physics and chemistry or the gene in genetics, but we continue to mimic the same approach of these sciences, in trying to identify the ‘building block’ of complex psychological phenomena by statistical factor analysis or by reducing them to tiny responses to specific stimuli. `
Happiness is one of the most neglected concepts. As it doesn’t fit in this model emphasizing operationalization, observation, quantification, objectivity, and verification, which has resulted in its disappearance from psychological literature.
So, we have invented new terms such as ‘well adjusted’, ‘mentally healthy’, ‘satisfied’ and ‘normal’. But ‘happiness’ as a generic concept cannot be eliminated from the everyday language of any culture.
However its use has been limited to hardly anything beyond the physical and aesthetic pleasures and their consequent psychological feelings.
Happy persons do not change colour, become taller or more beautiful or grow feathers. Changes associated with relaxation, serenity and joyfulness which are associated with happiness are not accurate observable indices.
Beauty, sense of humour, and apparent liveliness and vivacity can fool many observers to ascribe happiness to many internally sad and dejected individuals.
Further we find a dwarfed conception of happiness by sorting people into adjusted or maladjusted, psychologically healthy or unhealthy, satisfied or unsatisfied with their lives, normal or abnormal.
Happiness is a highly personal and subjective human experience. Happiness in its deep meaning is a much more complex concept which is intertwined with one’s conception about human nature and one’s worldview. We need to understand happiness from indigenous perspective, which will be helpful in counselling and psychotherapy.
For happiness to outshine the momentary pleasure and to become, more or less, a permanent attribute of a person, irrespective of sickness or health, poverty or richness, fame or obscurity it must transcend the materialistic imprisonment of this world.
Analysing the Holy texts and traditional sources of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, it becomes transparent that they are all about leading a spiritual life. We find a spiritually laden conception of happiness.
Happiness in Islamic perspective has a deep spiritual dimension linking this world with the hereafter and fostering love and submission to the God. This gives the true faithful believer enduring joy and happiness in the face of all the problems and agonies of life.
The materialistic society of the “here” and “now” very quickly breed citizens who are deluded into believing that the uninhibited pursuit of worldly pleasures and material possessions as the fastest road to happiness.
Tom Rusk, an American psychiatrist says: “In America, we have a great number of people enjoying political liberties and personal wealth unsurpassed in human history. These conditions are envied and increasingly emulated by the rest of the world. Yet certainly no one would claim that we have discovered the secret of human happiness. We are troubled, addicted, violent, lonely and afraid.”
The counsellors and psychotherapists continue to be in great demand in such societies. And in fact anybody, even without any professional training, who comes up with any new kind of ‘therapeutic fad’ or cult to alleviate unhappiness in lonely desperate individuals, however absurd these new techniques may be, the founder finds many clients and becomes rich in a very short time. The people pay huge amounts in spite of their failures because they don’t have any alternative.
Muslim psychotherapists and counsellors should know that whether a Muslim patient is a practicing one or not, he can’t avoid being strongly influenced by Islam as a way of life. He can’t avoid being in love with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and attachment to his companions. They can’t be free from this blessed influence.
In fact most of the psychological problems of Muslim patients are to a greater or lesser extent intertwined with his or her Islamic beliefs even if he or she denies this fact.
So, no real happiness or healing without relapses can be achieved without taking this conscious or disguised spiritual dimension into consideration.
The main aim of any psycho-spiritual therapy should not only be to help the client with his or her problems of adjustment or satisfaction. It must be directed towards attaining happiness.
This in no way implies that we should discard all the useful aspects of the modern psychotherapeutic methods and techniques, particularly the ones that have attained the empirical evidence as efficacious therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy. However, we need to be able to adapt them to suit the nature of the clients.
No permanent and real improvement in a Muslim client can be achieved without some form of change in the way he views himself and his environment, that is, his or her worldview.
As Muslims, the cornerstone of this worldview is our conception about the nature of God. It is sad to state that we are generally taught to see mainly the punishing Divine Characteristics of God.
But we read the Qur’anic Verse “In the Name of Allah the most Beneficent the most Merciful” again and again at the beginning of each Surah or chapter and at the beginning of every activity.
In the endlessly recited opening Surah of the Qur’an - the Fatiha, the Merciful and Loving attributes of God are repeated. Furthermore, the forgiving and Merciful love of God is mentioned in almost every page of the Noble Qur’an.
This distorted conceptualization about the nature of God is a major cause in depriving many believers from happily enjoying the spiritual bliss of a forgiving, loving and merciful Creator. Allah in Islam is the God with infinite power over His created universe. He knows whatever happens to an individual and whatever he/she declares or hides in his/her heart.
So to have a distorted belief about God, will surely deprive a believing individual from the main source of spiritual happiness. Furthermore, without an unshakable belief in God’s love and forgiveness the wrongdoer will certainly suffer from despair and depression.
The major objective of psycho-spiritual therapy must not only to solve problems or get rid of pathological symptoms or behavioural problems. It must help an individual to achieve happiness. There are many Verses in the Noble Qur’an and many sayings of the Prophet (PBUH) that generates spiritual optimism and hope.
The spiritual-behavioural-cognitive restructuring will be of real benefit to the clients. However, in applying such a therapy, it will be more effective if therapists become role models for what they preach. We must practice what we teach.