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How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You a Better Person

In part one, we discussed the five undeniable rewards of being a thankful servant of Allah. In this part, we’ll explore what the latest science has to say about gratitude and how practising this noble act can make you a better person.

Practicing gratitude is one of the utmost fundamentals of Islam. In our previous article, we discussed the importance of it and also the rewards we get from Allah subuhanawuta’ala.

In this article, I would like to explore the latest research about gratitude and show you how practising gratitude on a daily basis can make you a better person.

Enter Thanks!

Dr Robert Emmons is a professor at the University of California, and he’s one of the world’s leading experts on the science of gratitude.

In his outstanding book Thanks!, he deciphers why gratitude can literally be one of the few things that measurably change peoples’ lives.

Based on scientific research, this book validates what the Quran and Sunnah teach us about gratitude.

Here are five things from this book I’ve learned and implemented in my life:

#1. Gratitude Boosts Happiness

From a scientific angle, Emmons argues that gratitude is a key to happiness. And as human beings, we all want to be happy, don’t we?

And there are lots of benefits of being happy and here are some based on recent researches:

  • Research shows that happy people have a higher income, a greater productivity and have a higher quality of work
  • Happy people also have larger social rewards (such as more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions)
  • Happiness also improves your immune system, lowers stress levels and improves your overall physical health
  • Happy individuals are also more creative, helpful, charitable, have better self-control, self-confidence and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities.

Wow! So much goodness in just being happy! You can boost your happiness just by practising gratitude to Allah subuhanawuta’ala and the people around you. Now, isn’t that awesome?

#2. Gratitude Wards Off Your Negative Feelings

Gratitude not only boosts your happiness, but it can also ward off your negative feelings when you are clouded with them.

Psychologists refer this fact to emotional incompatibility. In simple language, this is what they mean: You can’t experience both positive emotions and negative emotions at the same time, i.e. you can’t be happy and sad at the same time.

By practising a positive emotion such as gratitude during a difficult time, you are in fact warding off negative emotions instantly.

#3. Practice Gratitude When Things Go Hard and Challenging

This point is something similar to #2, but it’s not the same. In #2 we discussed negative feelings, and here we are going to discuss situations that are hard and challenging.

You see, it’s fairly easy to feel grateful when everything’s going well, but it’s not easy to be grateful for our blessings when we face challenging times.

But here is a little secret: It’s during our challenging times we grow the most! Prophet (SAW) hints on this in the following hadith:

“Amazing is the affair of the believer, verily all of his affairs are good, and this is not for no one except the believer. If something of good/happiness befalls him, he is grateful, and that is good for him. If something of harm befalls him, he is patient, and that is good for him” (Saheeh Muslim)

So how can you practice gratitude when things go hard?

Here is a simple way to implement:

Whenever you are faced with a hard and challenging time, think about just one positive outcome in that hard time. The truth is, regardless of how worse the situation is, there is always a positive outcome.

That’s one of our fundamental beliefs as Muslims. Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him) embodied this behaviour while reacting to calamities. He said,

“If Allah strikes me with calamity I will thank Allah for four things:

  1. that the test was not in my deen (my religion)
  2. the calamity could have been worse
  3. it is an expiation for my sins
  4. any loss after losing the Prophet (PBUH) is nothing.”

#4. Practicing Gratitude Towards Your Spouse Improves Your Relationship

Leading psychologist John Gottman is an expert in marital relations. In his two decades of observational research, he concludes that unless a couple is able to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative affect (5:1 or greater), it is likely that their marriage will end (or at least the marriage won’t be a satisfying one).

So, according to Gottman, the ratio of love is 5:1, i.e. you got to have at least five positive interactions with your spouse for every negative interaction.

Gottman has become so good at spotting the strengths and weaknesses of a marriage, he can predict with 90 percent accuracy whether the marriage will end in divorce or not, often after just three minutes of observation in his marriage lab.

Guess what; there is a way to boost your positive to negative ratio instantly: Practicing gratitude in your marriage.  

Here are few ways how I practice gratitude in my marriage:

  • I thank my wife for EVERY meal she prepares for me
  • I always look for opportunities to say “Thank you” even for the little things she does for me
  • I take few minutes every day (sometimes just before I go to sleep) to share at least three things I appreciate about her

Simple practices such as these can transform your marriage. Don’t trust my words?  Implement them in your life and see how your marriage life transforms instantly, bi’idnillah!

Now, what one thing you can do to practice gratitude in your marriage or your relationship with others?

#5. Writing a Gratitude Journal Before Bed Improves Sleep Quality

Emmons says:

“It may sound simplistic, but the evidence cannot be ignored: if you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.”

He says, people who jotted the blessing before bed, slept more time, spending less time awake before falling asleep, and feeling more refreshed upon awakening.

And I can testify to this. Since I’ve read this book, I’ve been writing “Alhamdulillah Journal” just before I go to sleep and feeling a difference in my sleep.

I keep a simple notebook next to my bed and scribble five simple things I’m grateful for on that day. It looks something like this

  • Alhamdulillah for the cool, clean water
  • Alhamdulillah for the nice warm bed
  • Alhamdulillah for the healthy meals
  • Alhamdulillah for my three little princesses
  • Alhamdulillah for the beautiful view from my balcony

As you notice, I mention both the small and big blessings. That’s because I want to be a thankful servant of Allah and thank Him for every little blessing and don’t want to take things for granted.

I also write different blessings every day, as I want to avoid “gratitude fatigue” by counting fresh new blessings every day. This way you train your brain to look for new blessings, instead of focusing on new problems.

Few Other Ways to Practice Gratitude

Part of being a thankful servant of Allah, we should increase our good deeds as much as we can and avoid the bad deeds to the best of our ability. That’s the most fundamental part of being thankful to our Creator.

Apart from that, here are few more ways how we can show gratitude to Him and the people around us:

  • Each of us has been blessed with the different type of blessings. We got to practice mentioning them verbally. Al-Hassan said, “constantly mention these favours, for mentioning them is giving thanks”. We can mention these blessing to our close family members in order to remind all of us about Allah’s countless blessings.
  • While reciting the frequent supplications such as after eating, drinking, dressing etc., be extra mindful of the meaning. When you praise Allah, feel it from your heart. Don’t just parrot the words, feel the thankfulness in your heart.
  • Practicing gratitude from your heart is a noble act. Remember this hadith very often: Allah is pleased with a man who eats food and praises Him for it, and takes a drink and praises Him for it. (Sahih Muslim, No. 6932)
  • Part of showing gratitude to Allah is showing gratitude to people. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), said, “He who does not thank people, does not thank Allah.” (Ahmad, Tirmidhi) Perhaps, we should start this from our own homes. Are we thankful to our parents, spouses, siblings for all their help? How often we thank our spouse for the daily chore they do?

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