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Each day you wake up and strive to achieve a level of happiness. But what exactly are you looking for? What is it that you seek that will ultimately give you a sense of satisfaction? Is it money, relationships, status, or a particular accomplishment? What is it about your current situation that you are unhappy about? And what are you currently happy about? If your happiness is dependent on something materialistic then you will find yourself in a never-ending journey of trying to find happiness where it does not exist. Certainly, there is a level of happiness and joy in materialism, but it is very fleeting and temporary.
It is like chasing a mirage. You have a deep sense of urgency to acquire a certain thing with the expectation that it will quench your desire and make you happy. However, immediately after obtaining what you wanted you find yourself disappointed and perhaps even thirstier. The Qurʾān provides a beautiful analogy concerning this pursuit: As for those who disbelieve, their deeds are like a mirage in a desert. The thirsty one thinks it to be water, until he comes up to it, he finds it to be nothing, there indeed he finds God, and He pays him his account in full; and God is swift at the reckoning (Q. 24: 39).
This image is not speaking of physical thirst, but of spiritual thirst. If one lives their life searching for happiness in a newer car, bigger house, most recent technology, or better social status, that will never find true happiness. There is often a hype, or we have an unrealistic expectation of the thing we wish to acquire. When we finally acquire it, we are disappointed because it was a mirage, it looked like something but turned out to be the opposite, or perhaps it did not meet our expectations. Then we move on looking to quench our thirst in the next new item and the cycle never ends because there will always be more that needs to be acquired. One might have the latest and newest car, but soon enough there will be a newer car they will want. The Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him said “If the son of Adam had a valley full of gold, he would want to have two valleys. Nothing fills his mouth except dust, and Allah will forgive whoever repents to him.” (Bukhari).
This is not to say that one should voluntarily live in a state of poverty, because it is only natural to want nice things. However, the pursuit of materialism should not consume us and become the purpose of our life. Ultimately, Islam teaches us that, while having nice things is good and permissible, there is a higher purpose to life. That purpose is to go on a journey of self-discovery and connection to God the Creator. Accordingly, Islam establishes a way of life that, though pursuing actions and intentions for the worship of God, brings true happiness. This is because, while everything else disappoints and withers away, God remains forever. The happiness achieved through such spiritual connection with the Creator is a strong force of motivation to do good and to face the turmoil of this life, while at the same time affirms that the promise of a Just God is waiting in the next world. Whatever you have will end, but what Allah has is everlasting. And We will surely give those who were patient their reward according to the best of what they used to do (Q. 16: 96).