Why did you write The Spirit of Happiness?
In my book, The Art of Serenity, I identified six tenets of soulfulness and spirituality as the basic requirements for happiness: The Love of Others, The Love of Work, The Love of Belonging, Believing in the Sacred, Believing in Unity, and Believing in Transformation. I emphasized that a secular person may cultivate these extraordinary tenets but it will be difficult to maintain them without divine inspiration.
This book begins where the Art of Serenity ended, with the belief in and the love of God. This book will guide you to the next and final step: To become godly.
To believe -- to have faith -- in God means trusting that there is a reason for the existence of everything in this world and beyond, and that there is meaning in its mystery. It means believing that there is a Holy Purpose. To be godly means to resonate with God's Holy Purpose, to bring all your personal and mundane purposes under its umbrella. If you not only have faith, but also become godly, you'll be a recipient of God's help, friendship and boundless generosity in every aspect of your life.
In this book I use the Bible as the only source of reference. Throughout the centuries, men and wisdom have praised the Bible's guidance for truthful living; its cheerful urgings of love and compassion; its eternal lessons of serenity amidst the tribulations and adversities of the world; its tender teachings of the mysteries of life. As Heinrich Heine says in Ludwig Boerne (1840), "Great and wide as the world, rooted in the abysmal depths of creation and rising aloft into the blue mysteries of heaven...sunrise and sunset, promise and fulfillment, birth and death, the whole human drama, everything is in this book. It is the Book of Books, Biblia."
I am not a man of the cloth, merely a student of the human dilemma. Any theologian who reads this book will easily see the hand of a layman at work and I hope will forgive any of my shortcomings. With that proviso, I will present how you can find God's Holy Purpose and become godly. I will describe what godliness means in all aspects of your life, ranging from your career to relationships with your spouse, children, friends, colleagues and even strangers.
Only by being godly can you be strong and successful, find joy and happiness, and live an extraordinarily meaningful existence while leading an ordinary life.
What is your definition of happiness?
How is happiness in adulthood different from the happiness commonly associated with the lost paradise of childhood?
Your book revolves around the concepts and actions of soulfulness and spirituality. Could you explain what you mean by being a soulful and a spiritual person?
The spiritual person "kneels at the feet of all creatures," values everything but holds them loosely. He seeks simplicity and the wisdom of ordinariness. The spiritual individual gratefully wants what he already has and smiles with a sacred optimism.
The spiritual person believes that we all share a common well, a divine womb. In a state of feeling oneness with the universe, he doesn't capture things but beholds the world as one might look at stars. His or her love is a love with no object. It is just love. By such love, passion is transformed to compassion, with joyful recognition that no seed ever sees its flower.
The spiritual person believes in continuity, that we are finite in our presently expressed form, eternal in all other potential forms, that humans, animals, and vegetation all are one product, that eternity is living everywhere and everything.
Why is self-love the first step toward true joy? What distinguishes this vital quality from self-serving narcissism?
What are some of the key mistakes men and women make in their quest for a soulmate?
Given today's unstable economy and competitive pressures, work has become a source of anxiety for workers across the board. Is it possible to find real satisfaction in any job?
On the other hand, there are people who have jobs but are unhappy in what they do or where they do it. It is true that some jobs are easier or better paying than others or better located. However, these factors do not determine one's happiness or unhappiness at work. Such people need to self-reflect, to tease out the unsatisfactory aspect of the job as they perceive it from their personal disposition for dissatisfaction. Some people who complain about their jobs tend to be simply less competent in their specific tasks (thus not rewarded or praised by their superiors) or/and less competent in interpersonal relationships (thus either rejected by their co-workers or frequently in conflict with them). Therefore, inevitably unhappy, they will have the same situation no matter what job they take.
Some other people expect their jobs to provide everything that is missing in their lives, including the meaning of life. They complain about the "meaninglessness" of their work. There is no meaningful or meaningless work; there is only work. The meaning is extracted from any type of work by making a full commitment to it. Meaningfulness is a by-product of one's engagement with one's work. The magical process of transmuting ordinary work into something of true merit requires love of one's work (even seemingly unlovable work) and putting one's signature on it with full energy and singular attention. Such people, whether a doorman or a CEO, have glitter in their eyes. This is the glitter of self-love and self-confidence because as Thomas Moore says, "the love that goes out into your work comes back as self-love."
Why is a sense of belonging crucial to happiness? How can people who live in a guarded suburb or fragmented city far away from their families and close friends begin to create a sense of community?
People in fragmented communities have to make even greater efforts to belong. The cohesiveness of their immediate family becomes even more important for their wellbeing. Through various media, they have to attempt to establish contact with their extended families, schools, social clubs, and/or religious affiliations.
How can life's greatest challenges -- failure, illness, loss -- actually bring people closer to experiencing lasting, joyful serenity?
Losses are partly self-losses. There is no comfort and consolation needed. The divine light is embedded in the darkest shadows that can transfigure that unbearable pain into quiet serenity. Each person who comes through this world is called upon at some time or other to bear some of the weight of the pain that befalls the world, says Gary Zukav. You must learn to hurt better and you must be worthy of your suffering. Illnesses are just extensions of one's health. Everyone gets sick sooner or later. It is the most beaten path. Illnesses are also sacred signals, telling us of our need for realignment and giving us the opportunity to reframe our lives. They may contain messages from the depths of one's psyche that one may be on the wrong track, in the wrong profession, in the wrong relations, in the wrong town, etc. The person must first shift the valence of his life from suffering to calling. One must also focus on not what is wrong with one's body, but on what is right; not with what is broken but with what is not, and remain in harmony with one's divine discontent.
But what happens when one does not tolerate life's challenges well?
What do you see as the toll of our national loathing of old age? What advice can you offer for aging gracefully, in body and in spirit?
Why do nature and history matter to personal happiness?
What words of wisdom can you share for coping with the ultimate fear – dying? How can the terminally ill and their loved ones still find happiness in life?
It is difficult to find happiness at the time of one's own terminal illness or that of a loved one, if the person has not cultivated a philosophy of life and death earlier in his/her life. Such a philosophy can be highly personal or communal, i.e., religion. My personal philosophy is as follows: "eternity" -- permanency -- is the result of a combination of transitory factors; becoming "nothing" is the path to being everything; primordial dissolution is the ultimate serenity. Life is an eternal recycling. We are finite in our presently expressed forms but eternal in all potential forms. Meanwhile, I would suggest that you should not waste time by despairing in thinking of your end, just come to terms with it, and drink deep from the well now.
In your book, you make a powerful case for the importance of religion. Why can't a person live a good and genuinely happy life without adhering to any church's doctrine?
Why do you believe that people all over the planet overwhelmingly and innately believe in God?
What would you most like readers to gain and put into daily practice from their encounter with The Spirit of Happiness?
Ultimately, I would want them not to be afraid of illnesses, despair, losses or death, to give an aim to their life (fortunes as well as misfortunes) and death. This is a wonderful world!
In the winter of 2003, T. Byram Karasu, M.D., answered some of our questions"
What was the book that most influenced your life?