The Alchemy of Happiness


One of the pieces of my recent TED talk that has attracted the most interest is the idea that the world’s major religions feature stories of seekers (Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Jesus…) who go off, by themselves, to the wilderness, where they have revelations that they then bring back to the community. No solitude, no revelations.

I’m always interested in different manifestations of this idea — and high school student Faique Moqeet just referred me to this fascinating passage. Hope you enjoy it:

“For instance, if a man ceases to take any concern in worldly matters, conceives a distaste for common pleasures, and appears sunk in depression, the doctor will say, “This is a case of melancholy, and requires such and such prescription. The physicist will say, “This is a dryness of the brain caused by hot weather and cannot be relieved till the air becomes moist.” The astrologer will attribute it to some particular conjunction or opposition of planets. “Thus far their wisdom reaches,” says the Koran. It does not occur to them that what has really happened is this: that the Almighty has a concern for the welfare of that man, and has therefore commanded His servants, the planets or the elements, to produce such a condition in him that he may turn away from the world to his Maker. The knowledge of this fact is a lustrous pearl from the ocean of inspirational knowledge, to which all other forms of knowledge are as islands in the sea.”

-The Alchemy of Happiness, Imam Al-Ghazali


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  1. Bryant Avery on 07.03.2012 at 23:29 (Reply)

    I really like this.

  2. Stephani on 08.03.2012 at 13:54 (Reply)

    This is eye opening for me. We have two boys - one extrovert and one introvert. From this moment forward I will forever stop encouraging our quiet one to be more outgoing. You putting it into context in your TED video has changed how I look at both of them. I guess I knew this to be so, but not realizing the potential harm my actions may cause. Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. Rabbi Larry Moldo on 08.03.2012 at 15:10 (Reply)

    Saw your TED speech since someone shared it in one of the groups I read over. Very impressed with your description of your Grandfather. As a not necessarily successful (defined as finding a congregation which isn’t in the process of dying, and being able to keep a job) pulpit Rabbi, my brain drooled at the thought of actually having enough time to read and study on an ongoing basis, and having the results of that study be appreciated (or at least put up with).

  4. Mark on 11.03.2012 at 19:20 (Reply)

    This reminds me of the Sufi principle of solitude in the crowd - “outwardly to be with the people, inwardly to be with God.” It’s a matter of where we place our attention. There is always judgment with outer appearances like is the person happy or sad, healthy or depressed. But as Rumi said “out beyond ideas of right and wrong there is a field. I will meet you there.”

  5. Andrea on 17.03.2012 at 15:47 (Reply)

    Food for thought by the forkful in your TED talk, especially regarding current teaching methods. However, I believe the case for introverts being crowded out in contemporary society to have been somewhat overstated. The counter-trend of the wise, world-weary or just highly individualistic to retreat to a more inward-looking, more innocent life has demonstrably run through history at least since the Roman emperor Diocletian chose to become a grower of cabbages in 304 C.E. Without it, would the myriads of spas, yoga retreats and creative writing courses out there and everywhere have a such a compelling business model of “Opt out with us, we can put you in touch with your inner self”, I wonder? So allow me to introduce a related but slightly different outcry against what’s wrong with society: Let’s have rationality instead of the false authenticity of emotive truth, considered debate instead of slanging matches, data instead of anecdotes, conversation instead of twittering… and the introverts and extroverts may, perhaps, share a table after all. A former scholar on medieval literature, marketing consultant by accident and Twitter novice, signing off.

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