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5 Obstacles to Happiness

We discussed in a previous article some of the causes of happiness, the most important of which is faith. Now we will turn our attentions to some of the obstacles that get in our way of attaining the happiness that we desire.

The first of these is envy. Happiness is impossible for a person whose heart is engaged in the envy of others. How can a person hope to be happy when he sees Allah’s blessings being bestowed other and feels hostility towards them because of it? Allah asks us:

{Do they envy the people on account of what Allah has given them from His grace?} (Quran 4: 54)

A poet once wrote:

Truly I feel pity for those who envy me,
For how their breasts in burning rage do swell;

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They refuse to accept what Allah has done for me,
So they gaze upon Heaven while their hearts are in Hell.

The second obstacle to happiness is greed. An avaricious person can never find contentment, even if the whole world were placed at his feet.

The third obstacle to happiness is boredom. Monotonous repetition, even of the most pleasant and beautiful things, is tiresome.

I recall here the story of the Andalusian king al-Mu’tamad ibn ‘Ubbad with his wife and daughters. They had lived in a grand and luxurious palace. Despite its opulence, the women grew tired of it. One day, they said: “We wish to experience the life of the desert dwellers.” So each of the women started to carry a waterskin on her back and walk in the mud in order to emulate the lives of the desert dwellers in their daily work. This is one of the things that al-Mu’tamad mentioned while he was in prison.

A person is sometimes beset by boredom so that the most pleasant of things vex him.

This is why Allah has made variety an important part of life. To alleviate boredom, a person merely has to vary his activities. He can vary what he eats and drinks. He can select a variety of different books for his reading. He should introduce variety into his relationship with his wife. He can travel to different locations. He can vary his studies and interests. Having a wide variety of interest and activities is the best guarantee for keeping away boredom.

Take a lemon. If a person eats it the same way day after day, he will soon grow tired of it. However, if he tries it on its own on one occasion, makes a juice of it on another day, cooks with it on a third, and candies it on a fourth, he will find its flavor interesting and exciting for a much longer period of time.

This, at least, is one approach. The other is to deprive oneself of something for a while. Allah, in His wisdom, has prohibited us from indulging some of our pleasures so we can better appreciate their value. When we eat some food after fasting all day in Ramadan, we really enjoy it more. This is because we were deprived.

We know the pleasure we feel when we meet a dear friend or a loved one after a long absence. It is far more poignant than what we feel when we meet that same dear person every day.

Even our normal, daily routine becomes a joy if we are prevented from living our lives for some reason, like when we are bound to a hospital bed or a prison cell for a number of days. Think about how happy we feel when the electricity in our homes comes back on after a blackout.

If Allah prevents us from something, then we should know that there is wisdom in His doing so that concerns our own development. We should also become accustomed to denying ourselves on occasion. Sometimes, this is embodied in some religious practice like fasting three days every month.

The fourth obstacle to happiness is a sense of sinfulness. The sins that a person has committed and those that he is in the habit of committing can prevent him from being happy. Many people, whenever they try to feel happy or try to sleep, they find their sins coming to haunt them. They think about the unlawful sights their eyes gazed upon, the unjust things that they had spoken, or the evil pleasures that they indulged in for an hour.

We must learn how to deal with our mistakes so that we do not become vanquished by our sins. We need to constantly and earnestly seek the forgiveness of our Lord. We should know that none of us will find salvation on account of our deeds, but only by the grace of Allah.

Allah describes the righteous as:

{…those who, having done something to be ashamed of or wronged their own souls, earnestly bring Allah to mind and ask for forgiveness for their sins.”} (Quran 3: 135)

Allah says:

{O My servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of Allah’s mercy.} (39: 53)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“I swear by Him in whose hand is my soul, if you were never to sin, Allah would remove you and replace you with a people who would sin and then earnestly seek Allah’s forgiveness so He could forgive them.” (Sahih Muslim)

The fifth obstacle to happiness is a feeling of repression or of being treated unjustly. Many people have at their disposal every reason to be happy. However, they feel that society has wronged them of that the people around them do not give them their just due or hold them in the proper esteem.

The first step in remedying this problem is to realize that any true and sincere deed that we do will ultimately be acknowledged and recognized for its true value.

The second step is to refrain from exaggerating our own goals and our personal feelings. We are invariably mistaken in our assessment of these matters. Not everything that we do is of global importance and often our personal interests and desires compromise our most noble efforts. Sometimes what we feel is our most noble and selfless gesture usually has some dimension to it that serves our personal interests. This is why we should never exaggerate the importance of what we are trying to achieve.

The third step is not to expect people to give the same weight and recognition to us and our needs as we do. In the same way, we generally show more concern for our own activities and problems than we do for those of others.

The fourth step is to refrain from interpreting matters as if there is a conspiracy out to get us.

These are some of the obstacles to happiness.

We should remember that happiness comes from obeying Allah and in living our lives according to the Quran and Sunnah.

Allah says:

{And those who strive in Our cause, We will certainly guide them to Our paths. For verily Allah is with those who do right.} (29: 69)


About Salman al-Ouda
Muslim scholar. Al-Ouda is a member of the International Union for Muslim Scholars and on its Board of Trustees. He is a director of the Arabic edition of the website Islam Today and appears on a number of TV shows and authors newspaper articles.