‘Try hard to be happy’ – Khawaja Hafiz Shirazi
Hidden in Plain Sight.
The secret of being happy is so simple it is often overlooked, like a picture on the wall of your lounge. You always
knew it was there but never really looked at it before. The secret is this - to get happiness give happiness to others.
‘Ah! Yes I know all that very well’ you may say.
Then why have you not been acting on it, pray?
So now you want to know just how to do that – how to make others happy. This is the question that you should seek
to keep at the forefront of your mind and as the adage goes –‘ the seeker is a finder’.
Seeking to give happiness to others, which can also be called altruism, has its origin in love.
Love has many degrees and levels of intensity. It may be experienced as simple compassion for the suffering of
others: it may be affection for the familiar: it may be affection for family or friends: it may be a passing liking for
something or someone. It may also be something much deeper and more pervasive. It maybe just a general sense of
kindness for mankind or it may be feeling intensely the flow of energy that can pass between human beings –
Mevlana Rumi says – ‘There is a way between heart and heart’.
It may be so intense that it becomes a love of something not seen or physically tangible – the love of the Divine.
Whatever level it is experienced at, its fount, the source from which it flows, is Love itself and the actions and
attitudes which bring real and abiding happiness flow from it.
The fact is if you concentrate your energies on Love with heart and mind you don’t need anything else to find
happiness, but I know you will say “‘This is all very well but how? What should I actually do? Be practical!”
So with sympathy for this need you have for specifics, but with the important proviso that you do not allow yourself to
get stuck in the detail and lose sight of the essence, here are some general guidelines. Bear in mind, however, that to
follow them without the spirit of love is of little value. As the holy Qur’an puts it – ‘Prayer without faith is nothing but the
futile wanderings of the mind’.
1. Listen to anyone who opens their heart to you without judging them. Khawaja Muinuddin Hasan Chishti the
great Sufi Saint of India calls this a form of prayer. He says: ‘to hear the prayer of the afflicted is a prayer indeed’.
2. Empathise as well sympathise – try to discover exactly how it is the other person sees things from their
3. Respect confidentiality.
4. Be professional. Do not be drawn in to the situation of the other person – you cannot help a person in
danger of drowning by jumping in after them if you yourself cannot swim.
5. Learn to swim:
6. Evaluate without passing judgement. It is not wise to become entangled with each and any person you may
meet. Khawaja Hafiz Shirazi, the perfect poet of Love puts it this way:
And my own thoughts-
There are sadly some persons who have gone so far in their loss of a sense of common humanity that they are
beyond the help of all but God. They are to be pitied and where possible avoided. Nevertheless show politeness to
all. At all events do not rush to judgement.
7. Be detached. The difficulties that others have may, when you listen to them with attention, may throw up
comparisons with situations in your own life. Recognise this when it happens but distinguish between your situation
and theirs. if you cannot remain detached gently withdraw. Do not be drawn into carrying a burden for someone else
when you have your own. The holy Qur’an says that the one who is burdened cannot carry the burden of others.
8. Don’t be nosy! If people don’t seek your help just give them a smile or a nod.
9. Learn to know yourself – your strengths and your weaknesses; trying to push a boulder that is too big for
you up a steep hill only results in the boulder rolling back down the hill and possibly squashing you on the way.
10. Get support. Try to have someone older and wiser that you can refer to. Hafiz Sahib puts it this way – ‘Take
no step on the path of Love without a guide’.
11. Keep good company. This means not just the people you befriend or meet but the ideas that enter your
mind through books, films, the internet and so on. As the wise say – a good book is a good friend – a bad book is
poison. If you use social media use it with care – it can be good but also very bad for you.
12. Be grateful to the person you imagine you are helping for the truth is they are really helping you too.
13. Guard your own heart. Rudyard Kipling in his poem IF says:
14. Walk it off. If problems of your own or others weigh on your mind too much persuade yourself to take a long
brisk walk even when you don’t feel like it. It is a good tonic.
15. Be human. Irrespective of any specific religion or world view you may have bear in mind there is
something deep inside all of us that is completely precious – call it soul or call it your humanity – it is there cherish it.
16. Value yourself but not too highly – you may have a long way yet to go on the way to self-realisation.
17. Develop your own set of values. Be completely clear in your own mind about your own ‘core values’ and
re-visit them from time to time. Sympathy with others does not mean sacrificing these values but neither does it mean
imposing them on others. As the holy Qur’an puts it – ‘there can be no compulsion in religion’ and by extension there
can be no forcing your values on others.
18. Be a giver. Whatever situation you are in, try to be a net contributor and not in deficit.
19. Intelligence is useful but only if guided by wisdom – do not overvalue it.
20. Avoid going too deep into abstract philosophy unless it happens to be your profession – but find a
practical philosophy that suits your needs.
21. Try to keep your own life in perspective. It may seem to you right now that life goes on and on – it does
but not your part in it unless you are a saint. Think how your present actions will look viewed from the perspective of
your death bed. If they don’t look good change yourself accordingly. You can only help someone else to gain
perspective if you have it yourself.
22. Avoid excess – it is a killer even in helping others.
23. Be patient. That doesn’t mean just waiting in a queue without losing your temper. It means trying to do
whatever you are doing as perfectly as you can with attention and care – you can even say with love. The results may
not be immediate but they will emerge. An impatient person repeats the same mistake again and again but because
the circumstances differ does not see this. Helping others may not yield immediate results but will only have any result
if you get it right. You might try watching the movie 'Ground-hog Day' to get this.
24. Make allowances. Avoid being too much of a perfectionist and make allowance for others. In his poem IF
Rudyard Kipling puts it this way:
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too.
25. Quietly develop your intuition – you can do this by sensing what is happening inside you – being aware of
your feelings without getting involved in them. You may find you are being affected by the feelings of others. Mevlana
Rumi says ‘Empty your heart of any other thoughts but love – then whatever comes into your heart other than that
comes from another’. Intuition allows you to help others – it means you do not have to rely just on what is said openly.
26. Manage your thoughts: if you recognise a negative thought such as one of malice or hatred or prejudice,
thank it for its time and politely show it the door. There is another practice that is very effective – think of its opposite
and replace the original thought with that. Thoughts are not just some sort of unalterable thing that happens to you –
you can and should manage them just as your try to manage your behaviour. In fact if you manage your thoughts
your behaviours will be automatically managed. You have that much free will at least.
27. Pray. If you have religious faith then pray but with conviction that your prayer will be heard – but don’t be
flippant – you probably will not get that sports car. Also allow that your prayer may not be answered because it is
inadvertently asking for something that would harm you. Pray for others especially the poor and oppressed before
you pray for yourself.
28. Get real. Be modest in your expectations from this material universe but greedy in seeking spiritual
29. Smile generously but mean it when you do.
30. Keep concentrated. Don’t let your mind wander too much – bring it, like a wandering sheep, back to the
fold. You can be of little help to others if your thoughts wander all the time.
31. Be active. Keep your mind and body active as much as you can but when they have been working hard be
kind to them. You can help others better if you are in good shape yourself.
32. Be humble in attitude. Truth is the monopoly of no one – do not assume you have it and others do not.
33. Do not expect gratitude. Often the person you seek to help may appear to take your help for granted.
Good! Your reward comes from within you – and it is the best kind of reward. Be grateful for their lack of gratitude.
Context is of great importance and so is the person within that context.
This means the surroundings one is in must be taken into account – these surroundings may be physical but they
may also be social and they may appear quite abstract - about social, political or religious values for example. These
surroundings or the context we are in should not be allowed to overwhelm our uniqueness as individual souls – when
this happens great evils can ensue as happens for example when people submerge their identity into a state identity
as can happen in totalitarian countries resulting in inhumane acts and depravity.
|n our daily life we cannot avoid finding ourselves in a whole series of differing fields of activity. There is family, work,
personal relationships, financial affairs, domestic matters, health, sex, education, religion, morality, art, technology,
transport and so on. Each of these areas of life necessarily have their own concerns and rules. Do not dismiss these
out of hand. We cannot function without them. The challenge is to establish a relationship with each that enables us
to flourish as individuals. Often people seeking help do so because they find themselves in conflict with one or many
of the contexts they find themselves in.
So to help someone it is necessary to understand the context they are in as much as to understand their individual
needs. Contexts are not usually easy to change but it is in our power to change our way of relating to those contexts.
To take a specific simple example; if we are obliged to undertake work that we do not like due to the need to make our
living we can choose to do it with a great deal of inward complaining and resentment or we can choose to make the
best of it while we look for ways to better our circumstances. The likelihood of bettering the circumstance is greater if
we take the latter approach.
'Making the best of it' means we learn the rules in which we have to function and see how we can make use of these
to better ourselves. To take a simple example if we are obliged to labour physically we may decide to do so in a way
that benefits our physical health and stamina. The change of mental attitude towards something forced on us makes
all the difference. It may also give us the opportunity to train out thoughts in how to deal with the mental boredom it
involves. To take another example – suppose our journey to and from work is unpleasant – involving queuing and
crowds and so on. We can boil inwardly with resentment or decide to use it as a opportunity to train our mind.
This is straightforward enough but there are more complex situations that require deeper thought but which are
nevertheless subject to the same principle.
There is the thorny issue in some societies of the individual who finds the family structure they are in oppressive and
at odds with their individual needs. In such cases what is required is to assist that person to view their situation in a
detached manner; both to know themselves better as individuals and to see themselves in the context of the family
structure. To do this requires moving from self-pity to taking an intelligent and considered approach to the problem.
Self pity is destructive and unhelpful.
Wherever there is a problem there is a solution. To become engrossed in the problem is to lose sight of the solution.
To begin with become a net contributor to the family structure. While you receive more from it than you give you are
in a position of weakness from which you cannot easily effect any changes. This does not have to be financial it can
be in terms of becoming someone the family looks to for help in other respects too. To do this – change yourself from
within. Human society as with almost everything else, is interconnected – change from within and you begin to change
the context and others around you.
The key to this all is love of course. Mevlana Rumi a great saint buried in Konya found divine Love through his
relationship with another saint called Shemsuddin Tabrizi. He became a changed man and he effected a great
change in the surrounding society that is still felt hundreds of years after he passed from this world. Khawaja
Muinuddin Hasan Chishti taught the same message of love and tolerance and the impact he had on Indian society
remains potent till today.
Rasulallah – the holy Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) was one man but the world was never the same again. Lord Jesus
gave a sermon on a mountain and the world changed forever. Change yourself – not merely to benefit yourself but to
benefit others around you. Change yourself – and change your context for the better.
‘But these are saints and prophets,’ you complain, ‘far above me!'. The holy Qur’an says that holy prophet
Muhammed is a model – you may not be a prophet or even a saint but you can follow this example in your own quiet
Dr Sharib wrote these lines:
Let love in above and around you flow,
In forgiving and forgetting do not be slow.
Finally a short poem of mine.
In the Sufi way it is said – first deserve, then desire.
May you deserve, and get, the happiness you desire.
JMZ Aug 2013
This air we need to breath and so,
Keep your head above the water flow,
And if some current drags you down,
Move arms and legs so you don’t drown!
If in this life you want to truly live,
To negative thoughts no place give‘
But divine grace contemplate,
And only your own self berate!
Rise to the surface once again,
And from gratitude do not refrain,
See where you are, and then forward go,
Towards the goal you could not see below.
O friend! Prevent your heart from engaging your enemy,
And with your beloved sparkling wine absorbed be;
You can unbutton your collar with the lovely one,
But out from under the worthless one pull your robe free.
An open heart can soon become a real shambles,
Into which many a stranger so casually ambles!
Hard work it is to move them on, clean up, and mend,
Better open it only to those with scent of the Friend.
“If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
and all men count with you but none too much”
Poor old Self-pity sought me out and said:
"By me to destruction many are led!’
"To the One Who sent you please return," I said,
"And say, by me you were well treated and fed,
But wherever gratitude and love have their bed,
Old Self-pity finds no space to lay his head.”
The days come and go – just so,
This we all do well know – no?
Young bodies mature and grow,
And older ones become slow,
The sum total of this we know,
Is that our life passes - just so!
But this secret you should know,
If the seed of love you sow,
And daily nurture it - just so,
It will continue to steadily grow,
And its effect will surely show,
Then real life you will truly know.