The Key to Happiness and Cycle of Life

“It doesn’t help to live in a society that continues to worship the young. “We don’t venerate our elders as some cultures do.”

“We’ve been a pretty youth-oriented generation,” said Bob Knight, professor of gerontology and psychology at the University of Southern California, who is also a baby boomer. “We haven’t idealized growing up and getting mature in the same way that other cohorts have.”

The quotations above were taken from an article in The Guardian outlining how many Baby Boomers (those who lived during the 1950’s and 60’s in the prime of their youth) in the USA are committing suicide, primarily due to the fact that they were a youth-oriented generation who are now trying to cope with ageing (as well as experiencing disappointment with the way the country became, since it was very promising in the 1950’s and 60’s).

In my view, another possible reason for depression later on in life is the idea that the universe is one cosmic accident and that we are just a collection of random atoms that mutated to create all that we are and see; life is meaningless. This worldview gained leverage especially in the 50’s and 60’s and inevitably leads to despair. Is it any wonder when life gets tough or seems hopeless that those with this worldview take this route? This is in my view the root cause for this phenomenon, i.e. the lack of spirituality. Researchers at the Toronto Laboratory for Social Neuroscience (a lab I am a research assistant in) have discovered that religiosity is directly linked to better coping with stress and anxiety.

Having experienced depression before in my life which lasted longer than two weeks and is therefore considered “clinical”, I arose out of it due to spirituality. In the prevailing worldview espoused by Western society, spirituality is considered irrelevant or childish, while the materialistic pursuit of wealth and accolades are seen as the sole determinants of happiness. Many scientific studies show that beyond a certain income by which one is not in poverty, the amount of money you make has no correlation to your happiness level. This can be seen quite tragically by the recent passing of Robin Williams; may he rest in peace. I am fully aware of the lack of concrete evidence behind religious dogma, but it is perhaps this sense of connectivity that led scientists like Einstein to believe in a Cosmic Creator in the first place.

This subject reminded me of the following passage by my spiritual mentor, whom I consider to be the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi, Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the Appointed Reformer of the World by God for the Latter Days. In it he explains the reality of the human ageing process, and reveals the key to happiness in later life, which is through spirituality and not wealth or worldly success. He explains:

“The human foetus shows signs of life almost four months and ten days after its conception, that is, at the intermedial stage of its existence in the womb. The same laws of nature that cause the foetus to evolve from the vegetative to the animal state are also operative in spiritual birth. In other words, just as a foetus spends half the span of its existence in the privacy of the womb and then starts showing signs of animation and life, the same condition obtains in the birth of spiritual life as well.

The better part of a person’s life, before the onset of senility, can be measured at approximately eighty years, half of which is forty. Here the number forty correlates with the first four months the foetus spends in the womb prior to its first physical movements. Experience tells us that when man has lived half of his productive life—the first forty years which bear a strong likeness to the first four months of a foetus’ existence—his soul awakens and shows nascent signs of spiritual life, provided he is blessed with a pure disposition.

It is no secret that before he is forty a man’s life is mostly obscured by ignorance. The first seven or eight years of his existence are passed in infancy, and the following twenty-five or so years are mostly spent in the pursuit of learning or frittered away on libertine pleasures. Afterwards, he is married or is otherwise beguiled into chasing wealth and honour and exceeds all bounds in doing so. At this stage, even if man turns towards God his quest is somewhat tainted with material desires. His prayers are mostly for worldly gains and his cries and supplications are sullied by worldly desires. Thus, what little faith he has in the hereafter is offset by the fact that death appears only as a distant possibility.

Just as when a dam bursts its banks and destroys whatever lies in its path, so does the flood of carnal passions imperil human life. In this state, how can he ever believe in the subtleties of the hereafter? Instead, he mocks and derides religion and parades his own dry logic and sophistry…

…As man approaches forty, he starts shedding the vagaries of his youth and ruefully looks back at many of his follies from which his counsellors had failed to dissuade him. The ebullience of his youth naturally begins to subside, for his physical condition declines with advancing age. The rebellious blood is no longer there, nor is there any more physical vitality and recklessness of youth. The time of deterioration and decay approaches fast.

At this stage, he also witnesses the passing away of his elders and even the untimely death of younger people whose loss leaves him stricken with grief. His parents too are probably no more and the world begins to betray its transience in a number of ways. It is as if God places before him a mirror and says, ‘Look, this is the reality of life of which you are so fond.’

It is then that he recalls his past mistakes with regret and undergoes a radical transformation ushering in a new life, provided he is well-meaning by nature and is one of those whom God has summoned. It is in this context that Allah, the Almighty, says:

وَصَّيۡنَا ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنَ بِوَٲلِدَيۡهِ إِحۡسَـٰنًا‌ۖ حَمَلَتۡهُ أُمُّهُ ۥ كُرۡهً۬ا وَوَضَعَتۡهُ كُرۡهً۬ا‌ۖ وَحَمۡلُهُ ۥ وَفِصَـٰلُهُ ۥ ثَلَـٰثُونَ شَہۡرًا‌ۚ حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا بَلَغَ أَشُدَّهُ ۥ وَبَلَغَ أَرۡبَعِينَ سَنَةً۬ قَالَ رَبِّ أَوۡزِعۡنِىٓ أَنۡ أَشۡكُرَ نِعۡمَتَكَ ٱلَّتِىٓ أَنۡعَمۡتَ عَلَىَّ وَعَلَىٰ وَٲلِدَىَّ وَأَنۡ أَعۡمَلَ صَـٰلِحً۬ا تَرۡضَٮٰهُ وَأَصۡلِحۡ لِى فِى ذُرِّيَّتِىٓ‌ۖ إِنِّى تُبۡتُ إِلَيۡكَ وَإِنِّى مِنَ ٱلۡمُسۡلِمِينَ

And We have enjoined on man to be good to his parents. His mother bears him with pain, and brings him forth with pain. And the bearing of him and his weaning takes thirty months, till, when he attains his full maturity and reaches the age of forty years, he says, ‘My Lord, grant me the power that I may be grateful for Your favour which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and that I may do such good works as may please You. And make my seed righteous for me. I do turn to You; and, truly, I am of those who submit to You.’ (Qur’ān; 46:16)

Thus, God has made it clear that the fortieth year is a blessing for those who are righteous and it is then that the spirit of truth awakens in them. Most of God’s Prophets were raised in the fortieth year of their lives. For instance, our Lord and Master, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was also raised for the reformation of mankind in his fortieth year.”

Hadrat Mirzā Ghulām Ahmad (‘alayhi al-salām), Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, pg. 13A-13E

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