The secret of influencing, happiness in this life, and a true resource is good relationships. Recently someone sent me a video about the longest running study in Harvard, on human behavior. It has been running for 84 years.
Dr. Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development and co-author of ‘The Good Life’, discusses lessons learned from the world’s longest scientific study on happiness. The object of the study is, ‘What makes a good life’. Originally there were 724 participants. 268 were sophomores at Harvard. Among the sophomores were the future President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, and future Washington Post editor Ben Bradley. Later they included in the study, 450 Boston Boys – less privileged inner-city children. Then they expanded the pool to include 1300 descendants. They have been tracking these people for 84 years and the retention rate is an amazing 84%. Every 2 years they answer a lengthy questionnaire. Every 5 years they surrender their medical records and every 15 years they have a face-to-face interview. And the lesson? Good relationships keep us happier, and healthier. How does social media factor into this? Especially given the problems with anxiety, depression, and mental illness. Waldinger says, “If you use social media to connect with people, it increases our happiness levels. But we only consume the social media of others, Instagram posts, (and I will add Twitter and worst of all WhatsApp university), happy pictures of holidays and beaches and so on then it tends to make us unhappier as we feel that we are missing out on the good life.” In their parallel case studies are two Harvard sophomores from highly privileged backgrounds. One became a high school teacher and retired. The other became a very prominent attorney, won lots of awards, and became very wealthy. In the study, the high school teacher came out the happiest and the attorney the least happy. Waldinger says that the study showed that this had entirely to do with how they maintained or failed to maintain relationships.
I submit to you that all relationships depend only on two things, appreciation and forgiveness. I want to propose to you therefore that you remove one word from your vocabulary – TOLERANCE. And replace it with another – APPRECIATION.
Why do I ask you to do this? I do because when you ‘tolerate’ someone, you are really saying to yourself, ‘This is really a nasty piece of action that I wish I didn’t have to deal with. Given a choice I would be far away from this person. But since I have no choice in the matter and I don’t want more grief, I will tolerate him/her.’ Think tolerance or tolerating and you will not be thinking of someone you love, or a double shot of espresso, or a triple chocolate Sunday, or a glorious sunset, or your dog or cat. You will not be thinking of anything that brings a smile to your face or a warm glow in your heart. You will be thinking, “O My God! Him again? Okay, let’s get it over with.” But when you think appreciation, you are thinking love, gratitude, missing someone, the pain of parting. You are thinking beautiful pictures, sounds, voices, dreams. So, I say to you, ‘Forget tolerating anyone. Ask, ‘How can I appreciate them?’
That opens a whole new world starting from enquiry in a non-judgmental way. To learn more about. Not to judge. It opens the doors in my mind and heart which may have been locked up by prejudice, racism, anti-otherism, all part of my childhood conditioning maybe. Let us remind ourselves, “I am not a child. I consider myself to be an adult. An independent, educated, discerning, intelligent adult, capable of making my own decisions. Then why am I still stuck in my childhood conditioning? Why do I allow attitudes that I developed unthinkingly even unconsciously to continue to keep me in the rut of negative attitudes preventing me from forming positive, loving, and blessed relationships?” True it is that only knowledge can set us free. We must learn about others. By doing that, we learn about ourselves. So, the question I ask myself and request you to ask yourselves is, ‘How much effort do I make to initiate and maintain relationships? What do I do to build bridges? In our context, how much effort do we make for Interfaith relations?
How do you appreciate others? By consciously doing two things. One, focus on the commonalities. Two, see difference as a joyful discovery. Alright! Not joyful, then at least interesting. We must make the shift mentally that difference between people is precisely and only that – different. It is not good or bad, nice or nasty, virtuous or evil. It is simply different. And so, it is always interesting. For most of us, our conditioning is the opposite. The one who is different is someone I can only look down upon, fear, hate, and worse. The good news is that this can end today. Right now. But only if we choose to end it. So, are you ready?
Today we live in a world where hatred is big business. Hatred and talking divisive language gets you elected and keeps you in power. What you watch on social media determines what you get on social media. So if you watch hateful divisive things, violence of one group against another, that is what you will get to watch more and more. You will never be allowed to see the other side. You will never know what your favorite group did to the ones you hate. And even if you do, you will say, ‘Good! They deserve it.’ In our brave new world, we are encouraged to despise and look down on others and to dehumanize and demonize them. Most of us swallow this hook, line, and sinker and we are drawn into the nets of the fishermen who sell us to the highest bidder. That is what we must fight because it is destroying us as a nation, as people and our world. The best antidote to this venom is to appreciate others and to express that appreciation. People are not mind readers. Even if they are, we all enjoy being appreciated.
The second requirement if we want to build good relationships is to forgive each other. Develop a selective memory. Remember the good. Forget the bad. Learn the lesson, but then forget the incident. Don’t be a garbage collector. Imagine you are riding a Harley and ahead of you is a garbage truck. As you are enjoying your ride, suddenly a piece of wet garbage flies off the back of the truck and hits you on the shoulder. You can smell its stink even through your helmet. What do you do? Two things; first, learn the lesson, never drive behind a garbage truck. Second, pull up at the next layby and wash off the garbage. What do you say about someone who instead of this, keeps the garbage where it is, and every once in a while, he bends his head down to smell it and then grimaces in disgust and curses the truck driver? What’s more, he never washes his jacket. He keeps the garbage and keeps smelling it over and over again. That is what happens when we don’t forgive others but instead carry the grudge in our hearts. The only one that hurts, the only one who gets to smell the garbage is you. Not the truck driver. He is long gone. But by your own choice, you remain with the garbage.
Allahﷻ ordered us to forgive others to gain His Forgiveness.
وَلَا يَأْتَلِ أُو۟لُوا۟ ٱلْفَضْلِ مِنكُمْ وَٱلسَّعَةِ أَن يُؤْتُوٓا۟ أُو۟لِى ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ وَٱلْمَسَـٰكِينَ وَٱلْمُهَـٰجِرِينَ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ وَلْيَعْفُوا۟ وَلْيَصْفَحُوٓا۟ أَلَا تُحِبُّونَ أَن يَغْفِرَ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمْ وَٱللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
Nur 24: 22 And let not those among you who are blessed with graces and wealth swear not to give (any sort of help) to their kinsmen, Al-Masakin (the poor), and those who left their homes for Allah’s Cause. Let them pardon and forgive. Do you not love that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
Abd ar-Rahmaan ibn ‘Awf (R) said: Rasoolullahﷺ said: “There are three things concerning which, by the One in Whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, I would certainly swear an oath: wealth does not decrease because of charity, so give charity; no man pardons another for some mistreatment, seeking thereby the pleasure of Allah, but Allah will raise him in status thereby; and no one asks of people but Allah will increase him in poverty.” [Ahmad]
Ubaadah ibn as-Saamit (R) said, ‘I heard Rasoolullahﷺ say: “There is no man who suffers an injury to his body, then he forgives [the one who caused it] as an act of charity, but Allah will absolve his sins commensurate with the extent of his charity.” [Ahmad]
Abdullah ibn Amr (R) reported: Rasoolullahﷺ said: “Be merciful to others and you will receive mercy. Forgive others and Allah will forgive you” [Ahmad]
Abu Hurairah (R) said: Rasoolullahﷺ said, “It is not lawful for a Muslim to forsake his (Muslim) brother beyond three days; and whosoever does so for more than three days, and then dies, will certainly enter Jahannam.” [Abu Dawud]
Forgiving builds friendship. Not forgiving builds enmity. Ask yourself what you would rather have, friendship or enmity?
Mu’adh (bin Jabal) (R) reported, that Rasoolullahﷺ held my hand and said, “O Mu’adh, By Allah, I love you and advise you not to miss this dua after every Salat: ‘Allahumma a’inni ‘ala dhikrika wa shukrika, wa husni ‘ibadatika,’ (O Allah, help me to remember You, thank You and worship You in the best manner)”. [Abu Dawud, An-Nasai]
Al-Miqdam ibn Ma’dikarib (R) reported that Rasoolullahﷺ said, “When one of you loves his brother, let him know.” [Tirmidhi]
Anas ibn Maalik (R) said that a man was with Rasoolullahﷺ when another man passed by and he said, ‘Ya Rasoolullahﷺ I love this man.’ Rasoolullahﷺ said to him: “Have you told him?” The man said, ‘No.’ Rasoolullahﷺ said: “Tell him.” So the man caught up with him and said: I love you for the sake of Allah. His friend replied: May the one for Whose sake you love me also love you. [Abu Dawood]
If you love someone, tell them. That is the Sunnah, and it is Mustahabb. Do it and you will see the wisdom behind Rasoolullahﷺ’s advice. Because some things can’t be described. They must be felt. They will change you. You will not be the same person again. You will be a much better person. Go out of your way to be nice to someone, to help them, smile at them, hug them. Not because they deserve it, but because you do. Like Nike says, ‘Just do it.’ Connect for no reason. Connecting is the best reason.
This Ummah is built on love. On concern and consideration for one another.
Al-Nu’man ibn Bashir (R) reported, that Rasoolullahﷺ said, “The example of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.”
[Bukhari, Muslim – Sahih Agreed upon]
Given our situation today we must ask if we are still one Ummah or not. Rasoolullahﷺ told us the symbol of being one Ummah – a body that feels the pain of any part of it. Are we like that?
The way to correct that is the way to correct any societal or global problem and that is to make the correction in our own lives. That is the only part of the universe we control. It may look like a small thing, but it is not. It is the most powerful thought because if each of us makes that small correction in our lives, we will create a world that will be based on compassion, concern, and courage to do what it takes to fight oppression.
This is not small for another reason, which you will discover when you start thinking about forgiving someone you have hated all your life and for good reason. It is not easy. But do it and you will experience relief like nothing else. A load will lift off your shoulders and you will feel light and happy. Make the effort. Take the first step. Forgive that person and ask Allahﷻ to forgive them. Then pick up the phone or go and meet the other person and seek forgiveness. Do it sincerely. Not to show anyone. Only for the sake of Allahﷻ. And Allahﷻ will make it easy.
Do this especially with blood relatives because the relationships of the womb are not like other relationships. Our relationship with our parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles are all sacred. The womb will intercede for us or against us on the Day of Judgment, so let us correct any problems with those relationships. Let us do this before it is too late.