The Pursuit of Happiness 1


‘Abdu’l-Bahá was known to spring this disarming question on unsuspecting Americans. They had agreed to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” when declaring their independence from rainy England. Happiness, it seemed, was an important instrument in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s repertoire.

On June 19, 1912, he tried it out again in New York. Mrs. Hinkle Smith came from a well-off family in Philadelphia. Her husband, William Hinkle Smith, was the director of a large copper mining outfit. When she first met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, she had asked him to give her a Persian name. He called her Tábandih, which means “Light-Giver.”

Today she had a headache.

After suggesting a particular type of medicine, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá offered an additional remedy. “You must always be happy,” he said. “You must associate with joyous and happy people … . Happiness has a direct influence in preserving our health, while being upset causes illness.” 2

But ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s philosophy on happiness ran deeper than platitudes or sentimentality. “The basis of eternal happiness,” he said, “is spirituality and divine virtue, which is not followed by sorrow. But physical happiness is subject to a thousand changes and vicissitudes.”

Talk at 309 West Seventy-eighth Street, New York 3

No matter how much the world of humanity advances in material civilization, it is nevertheless in need of the spiritual development mentioned in the Gospel. The virtues of the material world are limited, whereas divine virtues are unlimited. Inasmuch as material virtues are limited, man’s need of the perfections of the divine world is unlimited.

Throughout human history we find that although the very apex of human virtues has been reached at various times, yet they were limited, whereas divine attainments have ever been unbounded and infinite. The limited is ever in need of the unlimited. The material must be correlated with the spiritual. The material may be likened to the body, but divine virtues are the breathings of the Holy Spirit itself. The body without spirit is not capable of real accomplishment. Although it may be in the utmost condition of beauty and excellence, it is, nevertheless, in need of the spirit. The chimney of the lamp, no matter how polished and perfect it be, is in need of the light. Without the light, the lamp or candle is not illuminating. Without the spirit, the body is not productive. The teacher of material principles is limited. The philosophers who claimed to be the educators of mankind were at most only able to train themselves. If they educated others, it was within a restricted circle; they failed to bestow general education and development. This has been conferred upon humanity by the power of the Holy Spirit.

New York, Philadelphia, New York 4

Tuesday [June 18] was the day of movie-making. Previously, a motion-picture company had filmed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at the entrance of the Hotel Ansonia for national distribution. This gave the Bahá’ís the idea of making a more extensive film. On June 18, at the home of Mr. MacNutt, five different sequences were photographed. After that Mahmúd noted, “He went to see a Jewish friend who was ill at his home, which was forty miles from Brooklyn, He returned exhausted at night to New York.

 Rejoice! Rejoice! The Sun of Reality has dawned. 5

At the request of the friends to take a motion picture of Him, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá went to Mr MacNutt’s home in Brooklyn. The first scene is a hurried one, showing a ride in an automobile and the respectful reception of the friends. The second scene shows the Master walking, moving gracefully about and talking with His servants, saying:

Observe the power of the Ancient Beauty and the influence of the Greatest Name through which He has united us with the people of America in this way. If all the powers of the world had joined forces, still it would have been impossible that hearts could be attracted to such a degree and that we should be assembled in a meeting such as this with so much love, loving one another heart and soul. See what the power of Bahá’u’lláh has done! He has made the people of the East and of the West love one another. But for His power, the holding of such an assembly would have been impossible. Praise be to God that we are united and that we are of one heart and soul.

In the third scene ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is shown walking alone, speaking in a melodious voice, saying: ‘His signs are manifest, His might is established, His bounty encompasses all and His mercy is infinite.’

A fourth scene shows the beloved Master sitting among the children of the American friends, both black and white, while the Persian friends stand near Him.

The fifth scene shows a public meeting as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá moves about addressing the audience. Then follows a scene of farewell, with the friends shaking His hand.

The friends were very happy at this large meeting. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s address was this:

Rejoice! Rejoice! The Sun of Reality has dawned.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The New Jerusalem has descended from heaven.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The glad tidings of God have been revealed.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The mysteries of the Holy Books have been fulfilled.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The Great Day has come.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The banner of the oneness of humanity is hoisted.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The tent of universal peace is pitched.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The Divine Lamp is illumined.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The breezes of the Merciful are wafting.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The joyful tidings and promises of the Prophets have come to pass.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The Glory of Carmel has shed its effulgence on the world.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The East and the West have embraced.

Rejoice! Rejoice! America and Asia like unto two lovers have joined hands.

  1. Jones, Caitlin Shayda. “The Pursuit of Happiness.” 239 Days in America, 18 June 2012, [return]
  2. ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. [return]
  3. ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 205-206. [return]
  4. Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 91. [return]
  5. ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. [return]