Serving joyfully

Someone asked: What is happiness? What does the Bahá’í Faith say about being in a good mood? About being in a bad mood? What is the chief means of achieving a happy, good mood in the Bahá’í Faith? Are cognitive or other approaches or methods to mood elevation besides prayer wrong?

I don’t think anything connected to joy, that is not denied by the laws of Bahá’u’lláh, is “wrong”. } There are many people who will answer the above question by saying “serve the Cause, pray”. But this does not result in joy for everyone. Deriving pure joy from serving of others is a spiritual station that takes time and insight to achieve. It is not automatic.

In the meantime, learning how to be joyful is an important element of one’s life, since people who are joyful typically provide better service than those who aren’t!

So if the essence of life for human beings is love and service, and if joy is an important element to serving others, and not everyone derives joy just from serving, what is the answer?

It’s simple: Life is meant to be organic, to grow in stages. Don’t expect perfection at every turn. It’s certainly VERY OK to look for fun and joy in places other than prayer and service, so long as the Divine Laws are observed (and these are really quite few in number).

I once was involved in a service project with a Bahá’í friend who had an excellent attitude: We serve, then we play. Every Saturday we would go to another town, teach and serve people there for several hours, and then spend the rest of the day doing things that were purely for enjoyment – going out to movies, dinner, taking a trip to the ocean, etc.

The result? We looked forward to serving every weekend, because we knew the whole day would be rewarding – both to ourselves and to others. I would always look forward to SOME part of the day. After awhile, this fun spirit began to permeate the whole day, until even the time spent in service had a joyfulness to it.

Anyway, my advice is to avoid Puritanist ethics like the plague. It is good to spend money on yourself1 and to enjoy one’s existence. While doing so, begin to factor some kind of regular service into your life. You will find that as your reserves of joy increase, your capacity and your desire to serve will also increase. Once this cycle reaches the point that the service itself is fun, you will begin fulfilling those quotations that have already been mentioned.

The point is that life is a process of growth, not a leap into imitating a perfected existence. And happiness and joy water that growth far, far more effectively than guilt and self-recrimination.

  1. “The beginning of magnanimity is when man expendeth his wealth on himself, on his family and on the poor among his brethren in his Faith.” – Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 156