{Faith Friday} Being Grateful Makes You Healthier, No Kidding

Saturday, October 26, 2013

photo: Wild flowers in South Island, New Zealand


As individuals we can be different in many ways, from our personalities to our preferences to our physical appearances. But there is one universal and fundamental element that has been encoded into our DNA. It’s the one thing we all have in common and that is the desire to be happy. Everybody wants to be happy. 

Even Aristotle believed so when he claimed, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” That’s a lot of pressure, Mr. Aristotle. But what is happiness? What does it mean to be happy or unhappy?


Happiness is subjective. What we may not realise is that when we think we are pursuing happiness, we are actually trying to create the conditions for happiness according to our understanding of it. Some chase fame and recognition, wealth, and physical attractiveness while believing these things will bring them success and happiness. 

However, the reality is, it isn’t happiness they’re really seeking but a sense of validation, power and influence. While these things can be understood as basic human emotional needs they can also be things that feed our ego. Many of us have a misconception that the way to be happy is to constantly fulfil our egos’ desires but it has been proven that feeling gratitude and expressing gratitude (verbally and physically) releases endorphins into our brains thus making us feel more optimistic about life.

According to the article ‘10 Easy Things That Will Make You Happier’, a study done by the Journal of Happiness discovered that writing ‘thank you’ notes “increased the participants’ happiness and life satisfaction, while decreasing depressive symptoms”.

“Recent scientific research has begun to indicate that positive emotions, such as gratitude and love, have beneficial effects on health. They do so by strengthening and enhancing the immune system, which enables the body to resist disease and recover more quickly from illness, through the release of endorphins into the bloodstream. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers… they stimulate dilation of the blood vessels, which leads to a relaxed heart.” Attitudes of Gratitude, M.J. Ryan

Practicing Gratitude

“We’re a nation hungry for more joy: Because we’re starving from a lack of gratitude.” ― Brené Brown 

Practicing gratitude is an important aspect of the Muslim faith. To practice gratitude is to first and foremost, recognise or appreciate a gift. It also means to literally practice being grateful and make a habit out of it by expressing thanks for blessings and blessings in disguise. It has been said that to have iman (faith and certainty in God) is to practice sabr (patience, steadfastness) and shukr (thankfulness). In several verses of the Holy Qur’an, Allah (swt) has divided people into two categories: grateful and ungrateful.
“And We had certainly given Luqman wisdom [and said], “Be grateful to Allah.” And whoever is grateful is grateful for [the benefit of] himself. And whoever is ungrateful – then indeed, Allah is Free of need and Praiseworthy.” {31:12}

God has described the disbeliever as someone who is ungrateful or kufr (one who conceals the truth) because the True Source of all blessings is God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Earth and Universes. He is the Most Merciful and Benevolent. To be ungrateful is to conceal or deny this.


Gratitude towards Allah (subhanahu wa taala)

Gratitude in itself is life-transforming but to have gratitude toward one’s Creator is the most life-transforming human condition. Human beings are in a constant quest of understanding themselves and their lives. To finally know and understand where you came from, and not just in terms of biological and cultural background, but also how life came to be and what its true purpose is, that’s when a person finally comes to terms with who they are in this world and universe.

“Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.” {2:156}

God created us and gave us life. Everything else is an added bonus. Feeling entitled to more egocentric things due to the desire to perpetually please ourselves is a symptom of self-worship and ingratitude. If we were to count His favours upon us we would never be able to. Reflect on Surah ar-Rahman: Which of the favors of your Lord would you deny? 

How can we be so ungrateful when even Allah (swt) is Ash-Shakoor (The Most Appreciative)?

"If you disbelieve [are ungrateful], then surely Allah is Self-sufficient above all need of you; and He does not like ungratefulness in His servants; and if you are grateful, He is pleased with you; and no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another; then to your Lord is your return, then will He inform you of what you did; surely He is Cognizant of what is in the breasts." {39:7} 

Having said that, Allah (swt) doesn’t need our gratitude but we need to recognise His blessings because thankfulness is our bridge to Him. When we don’t recognise the Bestower of gifts and blessings the impact is on our psyche and society more than anything else. And be sure that dunya (worldly life) will distract and seduce us with its superficial glitter and shine. Knowing the power of gratitude and how it will greatly and positively impact our lives, Shaytan has promised to try his best to make us heedless of God’s blessings. That is why it is recommended for us to recite the 3 Qul’s regularly as a way of seeking Allah’s guidance and protection.

 “Then I will come to them from before them and from behind them and on their right and on their left, and You will not find most of them grateful [to You].” {7:17}


Gratitude towards Allah's creations
“He who does not thank people is not thankful to Allah.” – Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him {Ahmad, Tirmidhi}

To be thankful towards others is a sign of good character. In fact, it is through God’s revelation in the Holy Qur’an that we know the status of parents, and the elderly in general, is very high.

“And We have enjoined upon man [care] for his parents. His mother carried him, [increasing her] in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years. Be grateful to Me and to your parents; to Me is the [final] destination.” {31:14}

However, apart from our parents we must also express thanks and gratitude towards our spouses, siblings, relatives, friends and anyone who has been kind towards us, regardless of their faith. Finding reasons to appreciate one another regardless of differences with the intention of pleasing Allah (swt) and creating a harmonious social environment is a noble deed.

After all, we can’t run away from the fact that humans are social beings and a large part of our survival and well-being, personally and collectively, depends on how well we are able to get along with others.


Finding Gratitude in Tough Times

“When Allah desires good for someone, He tries him with hardships.” – Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him {Bukhari}

It’s not easy to remain patient and grateful to Allah (swt) when hardship falls upon us. That’s when our iman and trust in Allah are truly tested. How did Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Prophet Ayub (as), Asiya, Maryam and Aisha (may Allah be pleased with them) respond to trials? They turned to Him.

The key to getting through tough times is to be grateful for everything, even the trial itself for it is a means of attaining goodness in this life and the hereafter. Gratitude is an attitude and we tend to have the wrong attitude towards life and hardships due to the excessive love of the worldly life. God repeatedly reminds us in the Holy Qur’an,
“But you prefer the worldly life, while the Hereafter is better and more enduring.” {87: 16-17} 
“Say, “The enjoyment of this world is little, and the Hereafter is better for he who fears Allah. And injustice will not be done to you, [even] as much as a thread [inside a date seed].” {4:77}

The hereafter is better! Paradise is better than dunya so strive for it! Don’t make this worldly life your only concern because that leads to heedlessness of our true purpose in life, which is to worship Allah through prayer, sincerity, steadfastness and good actions.

“He Who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deed: and He is the Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.” {67:2}


Benefits of Gratitude 

Many psychological studies have discovered that positive thinking can have a tremendous impact on individuals by building their skills, boosting their health and improving their productivity. This correlates with what Allah (swt) has told us in the Holy Qur’an,

“And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.’ “{14:7} 

Scholars have explained that when Allah said “I will increase you” He has not specified in what way He will do so and therefore the possibilities are endless. SubhanaAllah. Just as studies have proven, a person’s entire livelihood can improve by cultivating positive thoughts, and this includes being grateful towards Allah (swt) and His creations.

The second part of the verse is daunting but it also reflects what studies have said about negative thinking. People who have a negative attitude towards life create undesirable results for themselves. 

“Whatever benefit comes to you (O man!), it is from Allah, and whatever misfortune befalls you, it is from yourself…” {4:79} 

Sometimes God gives us hardship by allowing us to feel the consequences of our wrongdoings as a wake-up call but it is also a means of giving us relief in other ways, in this life and/or in the hereafter.

 “Verily, with hardship there is relief.” {94:5} 

The amazing thing about gratitude is that it is the easiest and quickest way towards happiness but it also takes us a long way in life and beautifies our journey towards Him. If you haven’t already, start practicing gratitude today. In fact, start right now. Ask yourself, “When was the last time I felt gratitude and what was I grateful for?”

2 comments:

Nurul said...

MasyaAllah,thanks kak sha for posting this.I'm now struggling with myself on certain things and it keep me a lot better now.Alhamdulillah ;')

Anonymous said...

Salam sister, thanks for this reminder, I needed it :). Also May Allah bless you, you may not know it but your blog benefits me, as well as others I'm sure.