Types of Happiness
By: Shaheed Ayatullah Murtuza Mutahhari
If we attribute happiness to man who is a combination of body and spirit, there is only one type of it. But if we suppose body and spirit as something separate, then, there are two types of happiness: physical and spiritual. Physical happiness is the overall and complete attainment of physical pleasures with regard to the duration, intensity, strength or weakness of pleasures and the maximum banishment of physical pains. Spiritual happiness is the overall and perfect attainment of spiritual pleasures and the maximum removal of spiritual pains.
We may also separate the happiness of each organ from that of the other organs, and divide it on the basis of each power and organ, such as the happiness of sight, hearing, reason, etc. However, in any case, happiness is different from pleasure. Happiness of sight is different from the pleasure of sight.
Something may give pleasure to the eye, but as it may involve a loss to the eye, it cannot be considered happiness. Unlike pleasure, when we attribute happiness to anything, whether it is to man, body or spirit or an organ, we must not ignore its overall significance.
Stages of Happiness
Pain and pleasure, which are the main bases of adversity and happiness, respectively ,have stages. Their impact differs from individual to individual. Individual differences in feeling pleasure, or perceiving it, are evident not only in physiological satisfaction and enjoyment, but in intellectual, aesthetic and religious perceptions. Human beings are created with naturally different capabilities and talents. Accordingly, the degree and stages of happiness are different, and individuals do not attain the same level of happiness. Moreover, external factors which give activity to talents or check pains and sufferings are not equal for all people. So, happiness which depends on these factors will be different. Happiness is an overall attainment.
This overall attainment may take place in a perfect manner and to its utmost limit or it may be otherwise. For this reason there appear stages and degrees of happiness.
What we have explained so far shows that happiness is wholly dependent on the motion and evolutionary course and human attainment of perfections for which he has potentiality. So happiness is related to perfection, but motion and movement are not in themselves perfection but the means of attaining perfection, that is happiness. Happiness and perfection are of the same order.
Now we can approach a higher meaning of happiness, and consider happiness and essence as fellow-riders. Each creature in proportion to his capacity for development enjoys happiness. This capacity for development is proportionate to his proximity to the descending or ascending curve to the everlasting source and origin of existence, and human beings benefit from happiness in proportion to their proximity to this origin, and suffer from adversity in proportion to their remoteness from it. The ability of man for attaining happiness with all its various manifestations consists of his ability to attain Divine proximity.
Factors of Happiness
One of the important topics especially from a practical point of view are the factors of happiness.
There are a number of questions here, such as those which follow:
l) Do factors which make man really happy exist at all, or is happiness only a dream and fancy? Are pain and suffering and adversity and their causes the only things that are created in this world? A great number of ancient and modern philosophers of the world who have adopted cynicism, think so. Obviously this way of thin king is by no means in harmony with divine philosophy, and no such people can be found among theological philosophers, while material philosophy has produced a great many such people. But this is not a place to discuss this point.
2) Is the factor of happiness only one thing which must be found, or does it depend on several factors?
3) Is that factor (or factors) inherent in human existence itself or in the external world where it should be secured? Or is one part of the factors internal and another part external?
If all those factors or some of them are inherent in human nature, are they in his body and in his physical powers, or in his spirit and spiritual powers? Or are some parts in his body, and some in his spirit?
These are among numerous questions which lend themselves to discussion, and about which much has been said, and briefly all of them ask: "Where is the source of happiness?"
As we know, some have claimed that happiness must be sought within oneself. Most of these thinkers consider happiness freedom from pains, and believe that contamination with the external world produces pains and sufferings, and the more one frees oneself from the external world, and severs one's relation with it, the more one benefits from happiness, which is nothing but deliverance from pain.
In Indian philosophy and mysticism and Buddha’s thoughts, as well as in the philosophy of Greek cynical philosophers the most famous of whom is Diogenes, and in the teachings of Manes and his followers we come across such ideas.
Unfortunately this way of thin king which is the product of philosophical cynicism and quite contrary to Islamic monotheism has, as a result of association with and propagation of the ideas of nations accustomed to them become prevalent among the Muslims under the name of asceticism, piety, renunciation of the world or even Sufism, and take such a root that it is supposed to be an Islamic necessity by some ignorant people.
Another group considers the source of happiness to be the external world, and say that man is a part of the world, and is influenced by its forces, and it is for this reason that he continues to live and enjoy its pleasures - what man possesses of his own is poverty and need. Pleasure is produced by a kind of nervous susceptibility and reaction against some material actors, such as the reaction produced by optic nerves at seeing, or those of the mouth, tongue and digestive organs at contact with food, or the sense of touch at the mutual touch of a man and woman. The only thing that can be said to be produced internally in a human being is pain and suffering caused by insufficiency of food or other deficiencies.
In the opinion of this group, happiness depends wholly on external factors, but adversity may have an internal cause produced by the shortage of material necessities, or it may have an external cause, such as the pain one suffers at being beaten or imprisoned or by the usurpation of his rights. That is what materialists believe about the factors of happiness.
There is a third view, and that is that a belief in thinking happiness to be only due to internal or external factors is an exaggeration. Man is built so that he cannot do without external factors and attain perfection and happiness without their aid (or in philosophical · terminology, man is not independent of the essence and its interior').Nor is he so subsidiary and parasitical that all his joys should be provided from without. In his spiritual interior a man has centres of pleasure which, if he can exploit, are much richer and greater than material centres. It should be wrong to assume that pleasure is solely produced by material nervous reactions. There may be pleasures which have no external or nervous root, and no connection with external material factors either.
Here we cannot refute or accept this claim or give reasons, but spiritual scholars hold this view. Great Gnostics have tried to introduce such pleasures, and to consider material pleasures as trifling compared with them. In their opinion, man is such an original creature that he is able to make himself a centre of pleasure and a bound less sea of happiness.
Mowlavi in introducing this centre and hinting that the external sources of pleasure are trifling and nothing against this great fountain-head and ocean of the interior, addresses him who seeks pleasure in wine and drinking, and says:
"What do you wish to make of self with all that sea?
What non-existence do you seek with all that existence?
You are happy and good and a mine of every joy, Why do you, then, beg favor of wine?
What is wine, or coition or music, From which you seek joy and benefit?
Are you seeking knowledge from unworthy books?
Are you seeking taste from the sweetmeat of bran? Man is the essence and the world a form, All are shadow and subsidiary, but you the purpose.
When did the sun beg a particle for a loan?
When did Venus beg a vat for a cup?
You area soul without joy, imprisoned by inebriation, And a sun jailed by perplexity; what a pity!"
Most of the learned men of the world consider happiness related to both internal and external factors, though there is a great difference of opinion concerning the degree of the value and influence of the factors.
Aristotle has divided these factors into three kinds: external, physical and spiritual. each of which has been limited to three subsidiary factors:
1 - External factors: Wealth, rank, family and tribe.
2 - Physical factors: Health, strength, beauty.
3 - Spiritual factors: Wisdom, justice. courage.
Obviously the factors of happiness cannot be confined to the above ones, and in each of' the three factors, other factors may be mentioned such as the social environment suitable for progress, freedom, security, favorable natural and geographical conditions, fine race, children, worthy consort, sincere friends all of which are external factors; then there are a good voice, work, good deeds which are physical factors; and lastly there are faith, noble sentiments, mental health, a strong will, artistic and technical talents etc.. which are spiritual factors.
There are some factors common between the body and spirit, such as worship, and some, like books, which are common to all the three main factors.
An Overview of a Series of Discussions
There are a number of other topics, which will not be discussed here to avoid lengthy explanation, such as the value and degree of the influence factors, namely which one is of the first ran k and which one is of the second rank; in other words, the percentage of each: one percent, ten percent, or more?
Another point is, which factor is basic for happiness which cannot be done without , and which one is not basic, which may add to the perfect ion of happiness, yet its absence does not change happiness into adversity?
Still another point is, which of these factors are direct and which indirect, that is factor of factors?
Furthermore.arc these factors changeable or constant? Is something which has at one been a factor of happiness for men, has always been and will always be so, or is it possible for it to be a factor of happiness in one era or period, and in another era a factor of adversity?
Is it possible to have a comprehensive plan of happiness for man, even through revelation and prophethood, to be adequate for all times? Or is this fundamentally impossible? Those who are against religion have offered this argument and have claimed that, in the past, religions have been the factors of the happiness and progress of mankind, but in the present era, unlike the past, they have been factors of misfortune, retardation and decadence. This topic is worthy of attention and investigation from the view point of Islam, especially as a last religion the injunctions of which are offered for all times.
There is no doubt that some factors of happiness are changeable, in the same way that some others are constant. But a criterion must be found to see which is changeable and which constant. Can it be said that direct factors are constant, and indirect ones changeable and that the laws of happiness, in so far as they are related to direct factors, are unchangeable and when they are related to determining factors, they are changeable? If we wished to continue this discussion in connection with Islamic rules, we would have a long chapter before us.
Another question is whether happiness is absolute or relative. Is something which creates happiness exactly the same for all individuals, all nations, every zone and every race, or must they be different for individuals or at least for nations, zones and races due to differences in their ways of thinking, habits and bodily and mental structures?
Is it possible to have one single law for the entire world, all individuals, all nations and zones equally productive of happiness or not? This subject too is extraordinarily noteworthy in its application to Islamic rules.
These are the topics for which we are compelled to offer only a panorama; otherwise a book will hardly be adequate to do justice to them.
Does Man Need Guidance to Attain Happiness?
If happiness consisted only of pleasure, and adversity of pain, and if both pains and pleasures were confined to limited physical pains and pleasures within the bounds that an animal has of which it is instinctively aware parallel with its natural and bodily growth, there would be no need for guidance. Again, if human needs were limited to at least what he himself could understand through his intelligence and knowledge and thus obtain a panorama of his happiness and distinguish it, it would be enough for him to follow his way gradually through knowledge, technique, development of civilisation and collaboration.
But happiness is not only a question of instinctive pains and pleasures. Neither is it a number of noticeable needs such as illnesses or insecurities which might allow us to say that man will eventually, by his endeavour, find the way of safety and secure the means of happiness. The needs are not limited to one or two.
The most obscure fact for man is man himself and his inherent talents and potential abilities. With all the great progress man has made in Science and industry, and in spite of all the discoveries made in the world of the solid, plants and living creatures, man is still an unknown quantity.
Mankind is now able to agree on the physical contitution of an atom and on the nature of outer space. Views on problems concerning the atom or outer space are identical everywhere, including in the Soviet Union and the United States. However there is no agreement as yet on the question of what constitutes happiness and the way man should choose to attain perfect happiness. The differences that existed in the minds of the scholars and philosophers twenty-five centuries ago on such questions still exist why?
Because the interior of the atom has been recognized, but man is still unknown. Preparing a plan for human happiness depends on the recognition of all the talents, capacities and accomplishments of man and his evolutionary process, all of which lead to infinity. Is happiness anything but the blossoming of all talents, and filling up of all capacities and activity of all powers and following the direct way which takes man to the highest peaks of existence?
On the other hand, can it be agreed that if such a great need exists, the lack of fulfillment of which would cause perplexity or even the destruct ion of mankind, would the great and regular system of Creation which always exhibits its master pieces in the way of needs, accept such a vacuum, and ignore this need, and refuse to guide mankind from the horizon which is beyond human foresight, that is, the horizon of revelation, through chaste and well-prepared individuals, for spiritual enlightment?
Avicenna says at the end of his book An-Nejat (Salvation): "The need of mankind for a man who can guide it with supernatural aid is much greater for human survival than that of eyelashes created for the eyelids, or eyebrows for the eyes, or for the hollows on the sole of the feet or similar other things which are in themselves useful, but do not represent any special or urgent necessity for their creation."