This is a concept and topic that I’ve noticed a lot recently, during my mentoring sessions, and in the lives of the people I care for. We are so often compelled to make decisions towards what will suffice our current conditions, instead of pursuing what we want. We’re okay with settling with “just enough” because we’re not willing to put in the extra work to follow through on our dreams and on what our hearts truly want. This is truly a depressing condition to be in, and eventually, it will eat away at you. I know this sounds harsh, but it’s a true reality that I’ve experienced myself.
For years, I lived my life following things by the book; go to school for the degree everyone wants me to get but I’m not at all passionate about, go to work to make money even if you hate your job, listen to your elders without ever asking questions, do everything you can to make others happy. Through all of that time, there was always one major thing missing: my own happiness. It began to eat away at me, and I began to resent those people who encouraged and pushed me towards doing those things, even though I knew that their intentions were good and sincerely because they believed it to be what was best for me. Sometimes, I even resented those who were simply a result of or a part of that life, even if they had no role to play in making the decisions I made to please others over myself. I had convinced myself that I was doing the right thing, when deep down, my heart couldn’t let go of what I truly wanted, despite the fact that I didn’t even completely know or understand what it was I wanted, because I had never put myself first.
Don’t get me wrong. At first, I loved everything I was doing, because it made everyone happy, and I felt comfortable and content with that. But, as time progressed, things changed. Not externally, but internally. Externally, everything was the same, and I had as much reason to be happy then as I did when I began working towards the happiness of others. But internally, I felt like I was dying. I felt like my soul was being ripped away from me. I felt as though I was no longer my own person, with dreams, ambitions, and a sincere smile. Instead, I was like a robot, living for others because it was what seemed to be the easier and smarter way out.
That’s when someone gave me some advice that changed it all: “You have to be selfish when it comes to your happiness, but you have to seek out that selfish happiness through pleasing Allah in everything you do. Please Him, and the others around you will be pleased with you. Displease Him, and not only will He be displeased with you (which is scary enough as it is), but those people will in fact never be pleased with you. Focus on Allah’s Pleasure and seeking out your happiness, and He will handle the people around you. This concept is based on the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW). The point is, you have to account for your own happiness and the decisions you make. Ten years from now, if you look back at your life, you want to feel the sense of contentment and satisfaction in knowing that you did what made you happiest. You don’t want to be resenting your parents for insisting on you choosing the career you did. You don’t want to resent your spouse for not living up to the kind of person you wanted to marry. You don’t want to resent your parents, siblings, or friends for the decisions YOU made. Ultimately, on the Day of Judgment, YOU will have to answer for your decisions, and you can’t pass that blame on to anyone else. If you are unhappy, it’ll lead to misery, and the one we know to be most miserable is Shaitaan. And as we know, misery loves company. Personal happiness is a major part of Islam, because when you are happy, you are more satisfied with life, and when you are more satisfied with life, you’re more inclined to be grateful to Allah, and more inclined to do things that will please Him. Being happy doesn’t come easy. It takes hard work. The world is filled with content people, but very few are truly happy, because very few are willing to put in the work, pain, suffering, difficulty, and struggle it takes to truly be happy. As they say, ‘Nothing worth having in life comes easy,’ so you have to ask yourself if the actions you take and the decisions you make will truly make you happy in the future, and if it will help you in fulfilling all of your dreams and ambitions. Don’t settle for anything less than what you want, as long as it’s halal. The people around you, your family and friends (if they truly love you and care about you), simply want one thing for you: to see you happy. So, follow your dreams, don’t settle for less than what you want, and surround yourself with those who will help you make every single one of those dreams a reality. The people who truly love you and care about you will not only understand, but they’ll be happy for you as well. You have to put in every ounce of your being into your dreams and passions, be it towards your career, school, the person you’ll marry, your health…everything! What comes from your efforts is in Allah’s Hands, but you have to do your part by not resting until you get what you want.”
During these times, I was afraid that I would upset my family, or that I would hurt the people I love and care about, or that I would lose all of my friends. But, I decided that I would trust in Allah and do my best to fulfill my dreams and goals. I knew that He wouldn’t overburden me with anything in life, and that my solutions will come through pleasing Him. The process was difficult. I upset family members, friends became distant, and I was constantly reminded of how I was a disgrace for taking the steps I took. For once in my life, I truly did something just for me, and it upset almost everyone because they expected me to never do anything outside of what they wanted. These people included those closest to me and those I hardly even spoke to, amongst both family and friends. They would try to make me feel bad by showing me how hurt they were, or by distancing themselves from me. They would try to use the love I had for them towards doing what made them happy. They may have thought that they were doing what it took to make me happy, but it was doing the complete opposite. They didn’t fully understand how important it was to my sanity and survival in the future, for me to do what made me happiest. It was a major struggle, perhaps the greatest struggle of my life thus far, but it made me who I am today: strong, confident, focused, determined, ambitious, and ultimately, happy. Alhamdulillah.
Today, I look back and have no regrets. And all those people who were upset with me? Well, some drifted away, others stayed (including my direct family, and quite literally 2-3 friends), but that was fine with me because it meant that I had filtered out the cream of the crop when it came to the companions I had in life. Sure, since making that decision, I have gone through more downtimes than up, but ultimately, I felt good knowing that I worked hard towards my dreams and ambitions, and that the decisions I made were to please Allah and to fulfill my own happiness. I look back and realize that I wasn’t being selfish. I was doing what I needed to do in order to truly be happy, because it’s only when I’m truly happy that I can be at my best for those I love, and can live life without any resentment towards anyone.
So, take a look at your life. Look at the decisions you are making or have made. No matter how far along you’ve come with that decision, ask yourself if you’re truly doing this for yourself and Allah, and if what you’re doing will help you towards fulfilling your dreams. If you want to get into medical school, work hard towards it and don’t rest until you’re in medical school. If you want to get married, solidify yourself as an individual and marry that person who will help you fulfill all of your dreams and ambitions, and settle for nothing less than that. If you have any goal or dream, do not rest until you get it, and then once you do, set an even bigger goal.
Now, I won’t tell you that this is all easy. It will perhaps be the most excruciatingly difficult thing you will ever do. But you HAVE TO follow through on your dreams and what makes you happiest. Don’t make that happiness dependent on the happiness of others, because you can’t rely on others to help you survive. Happiness is a major component of survival. You may live the most lavish life, but if you aren’t happy, it will always be a unrelenting source of depression until you make a change.
“Do what is required of you, and remain a slave. Do more than what is required of you, and become free.” – Marcus Garvey
Don’t worry about those around you, or who you feel will be influenced or hurt by your decisions or actions. Do what makes YOU happy. Cut everyone else out of the equation. What makes YOU happy? How can YOU fulfill YOUR dreams? Don’t rest until YOU get that internal happiness. Don’t let others determine YOUR happiness. The people who truly care about you will be happy just knowing that you’re happy. Sure, they might be upset for a little while, but as time progresses and they see how happy you are, they’ll be happier for you than you are for yourself.
This is honestly such an important idea and concept to understand, that I can’t express it in enough words, and I’m not sure if I’ve even touched the tip of the iceberg in expressing how huge of a component this is to you living happily in life. Happily ever after exists, but people think it’s a fairytale because they fail to recognize that there are a lot of bridges to cross, trolls to outwit, and dragons to slay, in order to achieve it.