Vol. 3    Issue 20   01 - 15 March 2009
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The Quest for Happiness

Since the time the Scottish social philosopher and political economist Adam Smith laid the foundations of modern economics with his monumental work An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), the Western world has single-mindedly pursued the goal of economic growth and considered it the only key to human progress and prosperity. Smith’s ideas continue to dominate politics, economic planning, social policies and general outlook in large parts of the world.

Smith’s ideas paved the way for the emergence of a distinctive perspective on man’s nature and behaviour, known as Homo economicus or Economic Man. The term Homo economicus was first used in the late 19th century in critical responses to John Stuart Mill’s treatise Principles of Political Economy (1848), and later elaborated by the Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto in the early part of the 20th century.

The term Economic Man enshrines a model of man who acts rationally out of self-interest and a desire to maximise his happiness and well-being through material possessions. His actions, according to this model, are motivated purely by self-interest. Economic Man is essentially an amoral being, devoid of all social values and ethical norms, except when they serve his material interests.

An eminent American sociologist, W. I. Thomas, has proposed an insightful proposition, known as ‘definition of the situation’ or the self-fulfilling prophecy. Thomas observed that “when men define situations as real, they have real consequences for them”. In other words, subjective beliefs are as important as objective conditions and circumstances in influencing people’s behaviour. Generations of people in Western countries over the past two centuries have believed that the model of Homo economicus is true, and it has consequently produced real consequences for their behaviour and actions.

In the early 1970s some economists and policy makers began to realise that unbridled economic growth was accompanied by certain disturbing consequences for the environment and for society. In 1972 a group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology brought out an important document Limits to Growth, which showed that unchecked economic growth could threaten the planet’s limited resources. A year later an eminent British economist E. F. Schumacher wrote the best-selling book Small is Beautiful, in which he launched a scathing critique of neo-classical economics and pointed out that the single-minded concentration on output and technology had dehumanising consequences. He was one of the first economists to question the appropriateness of using GNP to measure human well-being.

The model of Homo economicus is significantly linked to factors which lie at the root of the crisis of Western societies, including extreme individualism, erosion of moral values, consumerism, breakdown of family and community, and social and cultural fragmentation.

Happiness in a globalising world: Chasing a mirage

The protagonists of globalisation claim that it has brought about unprecedented progress and happiness for large numbers of people around the world. Thomas L. Friedman, one of the prominent cheerleaders of globalisation, argues in his best-selling book The World is Flat (2005) that globalisation has flattened the world and created a level playing field in which both the developed and developing countries can compete on equal terms. This is a grossly exaggerated claim and an increasing number of economists and other social scientists, environmentalists and activists are sceptical of such claims. The eminent American economist and Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz, in his books Globalisation and Its Discontents (2002) and Making Globalisation Work (2006), points out that globalisation has the potential to bring enormous benefits to people in both the developed and developing countries. But the evidence is overwhelming that it has failed to live up to this potential.

There is a growing realisation that globalisation has brought about wide disparities and asymmetries of wealth, power and resources globally as well as within nations. The renowned economist and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has observed that “even though the world is increasingly richer than ever before, ours is also a world of extraordinary deprivation and staggering inequality”. In its 40th anniversary report, Amnesty International points out that “globalisation has led to enormous economic expansion, but has also been accompanied by debt, poverty and inequalities”. The current global downturn has led some economists to speak of deglobalisation.

The divide between the world’s rich and poor is staggering. According to Forbes magazine, there are now 1,125 billionaires worldwide. The income of the world’s three richest people is greater than the combined income of the world’s least developed countries. Despite the global credit crunch, the world’s super rich continue to wallow in incredible opulence. Some of them prefer to travel in their own private jets. The most coveted jet is the Challenger 850, which costs £27 million. But the demand for this luxury jet is greater than supply, and prospective buyers have to wait till 2011 to take possession of their cherished status symbol. In June 2008 one of the paintings of the celebrated French artist Monet was sold by the Christie’s for £40 million. There are apartments for the world’s super rich which cost £36 million. A diamond ring for the rich and the famous is priced at £3 million and a handbag, made entirely of platinum and diamonds, at £1 million. Luxury stores, which cater to the exclusive tastes of the super rich, are opening up in all the big cities of the world.

On the other hand, some 40 per cent of the world’s 6.5 billion people in the developing countries live in poverty—up 36 per cent in 1981. A sixth of the world’s people—877 million—live in extreme poverty. Almost a third of the world’s people live on less than $1 a day. The spectre of food insecurity is looming over large parts of Africa and Asia. There have been food riots in many countries, including Namibia, Zimbabwe, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Hungary and Mexico. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), nearly 854 million people go hungry every day around the world. Three million people die every year of preventable diseases.

Since human beings are greatly affected by their surroundings, happiness cannot be divorced from the social, political, economic, environmental and cultural contexts. Poverty and destitution, malnutrition, lack of safe drinking water, inadequate health care facilities, environmental degradation, tyrannical governments, oppressive customs and traditions and a conflict-prone environment are impediments to happiness and self-satisfaction.

More than one billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water and nearly half the developing world’s population does not have access to basic sanitation. In sub-Saharan Africa, the absolute number of people without access to adequate sanitation has actually increased. Unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation are associated with six main diseases, including diarrhoea, trachoma and guinea worm. About half of the global population suffers from these diseases. According to the World Health Organisation, they result in nearly five million deaths worldwide every year.

According to a major new research, carried out by the NGO Save the Children, more than 10 million children still die every year before their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable diseases. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest child mortality rate in the world at 166 per 1000. UNDP statistics calculate that more than half of the babies who die in oil-rich Angola could be saved if the country’s wealth were to be more evenly distributed.

South Asia has the highest incidence of annual maternal deaths in the world. Every year around 188,000 women die from complications in pregnancy and child birth. The majority of births in the region occur at home in rural areas without qualified medical help or adequate health care facilities. The region’s high maternal mortality rates account for almost half of all maternal deaths worldwide. In sub-Saharan Africa, a woman’s risk of dying from complications during childbirth in her lifetime is 1 in 16, compared with 1 in 3,800 in the developed world. Some studies suggest that children who are left motherless are 10 times more likely than their peers to die within two years of their mothers’ death.

Generation 2.0 and the bane of technology

An increasing numbers of youngsters in large parts of the world, especially in Western countries, are turning to the Internet as a substitute for social, face-to-face interaction. Almost 90 per cent of children in the UK have access to a computer at home and most of them use it without any supervision by parents. Some commentators describe today’s computer-savvy youngsters as “generation 2.0”, for their addiction to the social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo and the video-sharing site YouTube. The UK has the highest number of users of social networking sites compared with other European countries. In December 2008, nearly 80 per cent of Internet users in the country—some 29.3 million people—visited social networking sites. More than 60 per cent of 13-17 year olds in the UK have profiles on social networking sites.

The Internet is being increasingly used for access to pornographic material. In the UK, 57 per cent of 9 to 19 year olds going online report encountering pornography. One-third of them report having received unwanted sexual advances via email, chat or text messages. Paedophiles are increasingly using chat rooms to “groom potential victims”.

One of the highly disturbing aspects of the growing “virtual culture” is the use of the Internet for suicidal behaviour. In the UK, more than 5,500 teenagers kill themselves each year, and some cases of teenage suicides are directly linked to suicide sites The factors responsible for the alarming increase in teenage suicides in the country include family breakdown, failure to measure up to the expectations of others and to the goals set by oneself, loneliness and depression, lack of a supportive environment and bullying by the peer group.

There are now more than 9,000 suicide sites on the Internet, mostly American. These chat rooms discuss how, when and where people will kill themselves. Some of them goad each other into taking their lives. Some sites encourage starvation as a method of slow, self-inflicted death. Many of the suicide sites are replete with desperate messages from depressed teenagers. On one suicide site a depressed child asks, “What is the best way to kill yourself, when you are under 13?” Another teenager says he is unloved and is “going to kill myself tonight with an overdose”. A 12-year-old writes, “I want to die. My life is a mess and I can’t take it”. A 15-year-old writes that he tried to kill himself when he was 13 and 14 but failed because “I couldn’t make a knot”.

Many of the victims of teenage suicide had their own web pages on the social networking site Bebo, where they spent hours each day. Sometimes, a special site is set up following the suicide of a peer, where friends can leave messages, photographs and videos.

In 2004, Brandon Vedas, a 21-year-old computer technician from Phoenix, Virginia, invited his “virtual friends” to watch him commit suicide via a web cam. He swallowed a mixture of marijuana and prescription drugs, washed down with alcohol before a dozen-strong “audience”. While he was doing so, his virtual friends encouraged him to take more and more drugs. They watched as his eyelids fluttered and his eyes rolled back in his head. Finally, before their eyes, he lapsed into a coma and died (www.telegrapg.co.uk, January 28, 2008).

Global suicide rates have increased by 60 per cent in the past 45 years. According to the World Health Organisation, suicide is now one of the three leading causes of death for people between 15 and 44 years old. People in countries with high suicide rates say they are unhappier, according to the World Database of Happiness, maintained by Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and on average around 90 people kill themselves in the country every day. In 2007 there were 33,093 suicides in Japan. In 2008 the Japanese government released the results of a survey which suggested that one in five men and women in the country had seriously thought of taking his/her own life. The reasons for the high incidence of suicide in Japan include stress, depression, job insecurity, family problems, financial loss and health worries. The Internet makes it easier to find new ways to kill oneself.

South Korea, which has one of the world’s most active online communities, has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. In many cases, people turn to the Internet to find ways of killing themselves. In October 2008, one of South Korea’s most famous actresses was found dead in her home. Her suicide was linked to malicious online rumours.

Discontents of affluence

Prosperity and affluence are often accompanied by an increasing attachment to worldly possessions, an obsessive craving for fame and power, conceit and haughtiness, competitiveness, greed and jealousy, vanity, wasteful expenditure, a tendency to look down upon the less fortunate, anxiety and stress, and indifference to health. In his celebrated work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the eminent German sociologist Max Weber observed that wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. As riches increase, so will pride, anger and love of the world in all its branches.

Several studies suggest that people tend not to take care of their health and well-being in times of prosperity—drinking too much, eating unhealthy, cholesterol-rich foods and skipping exercise. Princeton University’s Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize in 2002, tried to measure people’s subjective well-being by asking them about their mood at frequent intervals during a day. His data confirm that there is little correlation between income and happiness. On the contrary, people with higher incomes spend more time in activities that are associated with negative feelings, such as tension and stress. They are often in moods which they describe as hostile, angry, anxious and tense. He has showed that being wealthy is often a powerful predictor that people spend less time doing really pleasurable things and more time doing compulsory things and in passive leisure and feeling stressed.

Grant Miller, an assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University, has studied the unintended effects of fluctuating coffee prices on health and well-being in Colombia. He observed that with rising coffee prices, which improve farmers’ economic conditions, they tend to be much less concerned about their own health and the health of their children. Miller says even though falling coffee prices are bad for the economy, they seem to have positive consequences for health and mortality rates. When prices are low, labourers have more time to care for their children. “Because the things that matter most for child health in rural Colombia aren’t expensive, but require a substantial amount of time—such as breastfeeding, bringing clean water from far away, taking your child to a distant health clinic for free vaccinations—which bring down infant and child mortality rates”.

Christopher J. Ruhm, professor of economics at the University of North Carolina, has studied the impact of recession on health behaviour. He points out that as the economy worsens, traffic accidents go down, as do industrial accidents, alcohol consumption and smoking. Population-wise, even deaths from heart disease do down during recessions.

The current global downturn has some important lessons. When Lyndon Johnson moved into the White House in 1963, he said: “I am sick of all the people who talk about the things we can’t do. Hell, we are the richest people in the world, the most powerful”. Francis Fukuyama, the most prominent cheerleader of American triumphalism, proclaimed in his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992) that the success of Western liberal democracy and capitalist institutions signalled the final form of humanity’s evolution.

With massive, unprecedented economic slump and international isolation, America’s hubris has come crashing down. Before the recession, Americans doggedly pursued the dream of endless material gratification. People would often mortgage their homes to get a loan for a holiday. The easy availability of credit cards—the average American household owns 13 credit cards—facilitated large-scale borrowing. During the past two decades, Americans have consumed more than they produced. US consumers were spending $800 billion more than they earned every year. Consequently, household debt grew from $680 billion in 1974 to $14 trillion in 2008. The total amount of debt has doubled in the past seven years. The national debt in 1990 stood at $3 trillion; by 2000 it had almost doubled to $5.75 trillion. It is currently $10.2 trillion.

While the financial crisis has eroded America’s economic and financial power, its hegemonic, expansionist foreign policy has grossly undermined its international credibility. America’s pursuit of a myopic foreign policy has landed it in an unenviable situation where, as Aaron David Miller, a former US State Department official pointed out a few months ago, it is not liked, not feared and not respected around the world.

The environmentalist Alan Durning found that in 1991 the average American family owned twice as many cars as it did in 1950, drove 2.5 times as far, and travelled 25 times further by air. Gross national product per capita tripled during that period and living became far more comfortable. The odd thing is that, though the GNP curve during the post-War years has steadily climbed, the “life satisfaction” index has stayed exactly the same. In 2006 the National Opinion Research Centre published data about “negative life events” comparing 1991 and 2004. It showed a rise in problems—for instance, the percentage who reported breaking up with a steady partner almost doubled. As one reporter summarised the findings: “There is more misery in people’s lives today”.

In 1993, the former US Secretary of Education, William Bennett, produced a study called the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, suggesting that economic growth in the US and other industrialised countries has been accompanied by social and cultural decline—as manifested in growing divorce rates, crime, serious illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, and mental illness.

Since 1985 Fordham University in the US has been publishing every year the Fordham Index of Social Health, based on 16 indicators affecting children, teenagers, adults and the elderly. These indicators include infant mortality, child abuse, poverty, suicide rate, drug abuse, dropout rates, average salaries and health insurance coverage. The Fordham Index shows steady decline in these indicators from 73.8 (out of 100) in 1970 to 40.6 in 1993.

According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll carried out some months ago, the overwhelming majority of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the country’s economic direction, and the intensity of happiness is now greater than it has been in 15 years (The Washington Post, June 23, 2008).

For nearly four decades, researchers in the US have regularly asked a large sample of Americans a simple question: “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days—would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?”. Even before the current economic downturn, Americans on average were less happy than they were in 1970, even though the country has become incredibly richer.

Economist Richard A. Easterlin at the University of Southern California was among the first to notice the paradoxical correlation between a nation’s economic growth and its happiness quotient. Esterlin attributes the disconnect between happiness and economic gains to the fact that people’s desires and expectations change along with their material fortunes. For example, Americans in the 1970s may have dreamed about owning a house; now they dream of owning two. “People are wedded to the idea that money will bring them more happiness”, says Easterlin. However, when they think of the effects of more money, they fail to factor in the fact that when they get more money they are going to want even more money. When they get more money, they want a bigger house. They never have enough money, but what they do is sacrifice their family life and health to get more money. The irony is that health and the quality of personal relationships are among the most potent predictors of whether people report they are happy—and these are often the two things people sacrifice in their pursuit of greater wealth.

This phenomenon—called the “Easterlin Paradox”—is not limited to the US or the rich Western nations. In the UK, real gross domestic product per capita grew two-thirds between 1973 and 2001, but people’s satisfaction with their life did not change at all. Japan witnessed a fourfold increase in real income per capita between 1958 and 1986 without any reported increase in life satisfaction. Researcher Hilke Brockmann and his colleagues at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, recently showed that even as China experienced extraordinary growth between 1990 and 2000, the percentage of Chinese who described themselves as very happy plummeted from 28 per cent in 1990 to 12 per cent in 2000.

The global financial downturn that shook the world in October 2008 and that continues to reverberate across the world has prompted a serious rethinking of the capitalist, profit-driven model of development and of the consumerist society. George Soros emphasises that we need to curb unbridled capitalistic growth and reckless consumerism.

Perennial sources of happiness

The happiness derived from wealth, power, fame and other material trappings or from sensuous gratification is in reality transient, ephemeral and short-lived and does not touch the core of one’s being. Real, enduring happiness comes from things which are essentially non-material, such as sincere and meaningful relationships, selfless love, contentment, companionship, a sense of meaning and purpose in life, community solidarity, humility, kindness and compassion, simplicity, sharing, self-sacrifice, and generosity and philanthropy.

In recent years, a good deal of academic attention has been focussed on happiness. Economists now concede that what psychologists call subjective happiness is a real phenomenon. Some eminent economists, including the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, have suggested that individual well-being and happiness should be measured not just in terms of the conventional indicators such as national income and GDP and GNP but also in terms of what they call a Gross Wellbeing Index. Professor Robert A. Cummins of Deakin University, Australia has conducted studies measuring subjective well-being through a Personal Well-Being Index, which is based on seven questions on satisfaction.

The London-based New Economic Foundation has devised the European Happiness Planet Index. The World Values Survey, an ongoing academic project at Tilburg University, the Netherlands, asks respondents to indicate how satisfied they are with their life as a whole. Springer, the Netherlands publishes the Journal of Happiness Studies: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Well-Being. There is a World Database of Happiness in the Netherlands. Rotterdam’s Erasmus University has the World Database of Happiness.

New research is being carried out at Oxford and Cambridge and other prestigious universities to explore ways of judging individual and national well-being. Eric Weiner travelled around the world asking people how happy they were and then wrote a book Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World (2007).

Governments in several countries, including Australia, Canada, the UK, Bhutan and Thailand, have made well-being a national policy goal. Bhutan’s King Jigme Wangchuk coined the term Gross National Happiness in 1972. The main factors considered in the Gross National Happiness Index are equitable and sustainable socioeconomic development, cultural values, natural environment and good governance. Thailand has data on Gross National Happiness.

James Montier, a global equity strategist from London, says that the road to happiness lies not in the pursuit of material wealth but in how one lives one’s life. He adds that wanting and having possessions, including cars and houses, does not make one happy. Evidence shows people who have more materialistic goals are less happy than those who focus on intuitive aims such as relationships or personal growth.

Tal Ben-Shahar, a former Israeli soldier and a national squash champion and now an instructor at Harvard University, says that economic well-being and happiness tend to be inversely correlated. Money does help serve the basic needs. But beyond basic needs, money does not contribute significantly to happiness. Happiness is not contingent on our status or bank account, but much more on our state of mind.

Happiness and companionship

By their very nature, human beings draw an enormous amount of psychological and moral sustenance from close and enduring relationships in the family, neighbourhood and community. Social support and stable and warm relationships act as a vital anchorage in the face of loneliness, stress and depression and have a positive bearing on health. Professor Robert E. Lane, a political scientist at Yale University, says in his book The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies that “overall evidence shows that companionship contributes more to well-being than does income”.

In his book Unhealthy Societies: The Afflictions of Inequality (1996), Richard Wilkinson argues that the healthiest societies in the world are not the richest countries but those in which income is distributed most evenly and levels of social integration are highest. He notes a clear relationship between mortality rates and patterns of income distribution. Wilkinson points out that the inhabitants of Japan and Sweden, which are regarded among the most egalitarian societies in the world, enjoy better standards of health than do citizens of countries where the gap between the rich and the poor is more pronounced, such as the US. He argues that social factors—the strength of social contacts, ties within communities, availability of social support, a sense of security—are the main determinants of the health of a society.

In a study of men and women between 50 and 68 years, carried out at the University of Chicago and reported in the journal Psychology and Aging in 2007, it was found that those who scored highest on measures of loneliness also had higher blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. The study found that lonely people had as much as 30 points higher blood pressure readings than non-lonely people. The morbid health effects of loneliness accumulate gradually and faster as one gets older. The study also found that lonely people who were middle-aged and older also tended to have problems with alcoholism, depression, weak immune system, impaired sleep and suicide.

The UK journal Biologist recently reported that the amount of time per day that Britons spend in interacting with other human beings has fallen by two-thirds in recent decades, from six hours in 1987 to just two hours in 2007. At the same time, the amount of time people of all ages spend doing things that remove them from physical interaction, such as watching television, listening to iPods, playing videogames or visiting websites, has doubled to eight hours a day.

The lack of real interaction combined with a dependence on technology is increasingly associated with physiological changes known to influence morbidity and mortality, including upsetting hormone levels, immune responses and blood pressure, the function of arteries and mental performance.

Several studies in recent years have suggested that social isolation and loneliness are often linked to dementia. A recent study of more than 800 elderly patients in the US, who were followed over a four-year period, has suggested that people who lead lonely lives are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

The leader of the study, Professor Robert Wilson, Professor of Neuropsychology at Rush University Medical Centre in the US, points out that loneliness may affect systems in the brain dealing with cognition and memory, making lonely people more vulnerable to the effects of age-related decline in neural pathways. Professor Wilson adds that we need to be aware that loneliness has not only an emotional impact on old people but also a physical impact.

In China, six million people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, a third of all Alzheimer’s patients in the world, and the number of diagnosed cases is rising. The increase in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in China is linked to the erosion of the country’s traditional support networks. Residential patterns in large cities in China, as in many cities around the world, are undergoing a radical transformation. Living in high-rise buildings and apartment houses breeds individualism and social isolation. This new urban ecology affects old people the most, and results in loneliness and depression. And loneliness is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

The glamorous world of modelling and haute couture has its dark side. On June 2, 2008, Ruslana Korshunova, a 21-year-old Russian supermodel, ended her life by throwing herself from the 9th floor of a New York apartment block. At the age of 17 she was on the cat walks of New York and on the cover of the international fashion magazine Vogue. Friends reported that a day before the suicide she had returned from a job in Paris and seemed to be “on top of the world”.

In the midst of her glamorous surroundings, Ruslana felt terribly lonely. She belonged to the Internet generation, using social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook to pour out her agony. “I am so lost. Will I ever find myself. I am a bitch. I am a witch. I don’t care what you say”, she wrote on the site three months before her death.

Psychologists and sociologists point out that it is the quality of family bonds and social relationships, rather than the amount of time invested in them, that has a crucial bearing on self-satisfaction and happiness. In a highly significant research, the Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman asked women how much they enjoyed the specific experiences of their day. One of the surprising results was that women did not enjoy spending time with their kids. This was because when the women were with their children, they were not really there: they were on the phone, or on email, or they were thinking about several other things.

Tal Ben-Shahar, who has conceptualised the most popular course at Harvard University, says, “We need regularly to express gratitude for all of the good things in our lives rather than take them for granted. It will not only increase our levels of happiness, but will also increase our success”.

Happiness in Islamic perspective

The Holy Quran alludes to the transience of worldly life and the ephemeral nature of material possessions in an evocative metaphor. It says: “Know that the life of this world is only play, and idle talk, and ostentation, and boasting amongst you, and competition and rivalry in respect of wealth and children; as the likeness of vegetation after the rain, whereof the growth is pleasing to the farmer, but afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow, then it is reduced to straw” (57:20).

The Prophet is reported to have said: “Contentment has nothing to do with the abundance of material possessions. Rather, it comes from within oneself”. He warned his followers about the disquieting consequences of affluence: “Verily, by God! I have no fear about you being faced with poverty and destitution. Rather, I am afraid that the (bounties of the) world would be spread out for you the way they were spread out for those who went before you and that you might get too enamoured of them the way they did, and that (in consequence of it) they might destroy you the way they were destroyed”.

Islam greatly emphasises community solidarity and social support networks based on mutual concern, sharing and fellow-feeling. The Prophet is reported to have said: “You will find believers (in respect of mutual kindness and compassion) like the organism. If one part of the organism is in pain, all other organs will be affected by it”. The Prophet also said: “A Muslim who lives in the midst of other Muslims and suffers their torments is better than the one who lives in isolation from other Muslims and has no patience to bear with their torment”. The Prophet said: “All of mankind is (like) God’s family, and the dearest of them in the sight of God is the one who is the most kind to His family”.

True happiness, in Islamic view, comes from qualities such as kindness and compassion, service to the poor and fellow-feeling. The great importance attached to such qualities is reflected in the following observations of the Prophet (SAW).

  • God has no mercy on a person who is unkind to other people.
  • None of you can become a real Muslim unless he likes for his brother what he likes for himself.
  • A person who eats to his heart’s content while his neighbour remains hungry is not a Muslim.
  • One who is devoid of kindness is devoid of virtue.
  • The best amongst you is one whose demeanour and manners are good.
  • A person who cares for widows and the destitute is like one who is engaged in jihad in the path of God or like one who spends the whole day in fasting and the whole night in prayers.
  • It is not the height of righteousness and courtesy that you treat someone, who has been kind to you, with kindness, and that you are unkind to someone who has been unkind to you. Real virtue and courtesy lies in treating every one with kindness and courtesy, regardless of whether he has been nice or discourteous to you.
  • The core of wisdom, after faith in God, is being kind to human beings.

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