By Mona Siddiqui
In this day and age of excessive sharing on social media, it is commonplace for people to fixate on what they don’t have over what they do and feel dissatisfied with their lives. It might be pictures of someone’s new car, a foreign holiday, or even just a dinner cooked at home – encountering such dazzling shots from other’s lives often leaves people feeling unhappy and frustrated with their own. Unfortunately though, it is a well-known fact that like attracts like. Focusing on negativity will only end up in breeding more negativity – it is an endless, vicious cycle to be stuck in, but not impossible to break out of. All that’s needed to combat it is a little dose of gratitude.
What is Gratitude?
In simple terms, gratitude is the quality of being thankful and appreciative of the good in our lives. In reality though, it is so much more than just that; gratitude is accepting that what we have today, in the present, is good and worthy of having; it is also accepting that this good comes from outside of ourselves, while affirming that most things in life do, in fact, lie outside of our control.
And this is the one thing that allows gratitude to materialize in our lives. As long as we feel like we hold the reins – that we are in ultimate control of what we have and what we don’t – we cannot truly be appreciative of our lives in the present moment.
In recent times, gratitude has become the focus of many psychological studies, exploring the many benefits it has on our well-being – mental, physical as well as social. Research has shown that cultivating gratitude can help us reduce stress in our lives, increase our self-esteem, and distance ourselves from negative emotions such as envy and regret. Physically, exercising gratitude ensures that we take better care of our health, and that we are more mindful of what we put into our body, and how we use and rest it. While in the social sphere, grateful people attract more people in their lives and are able to maintain healthier relationships.
These studies prove that practising gratitude begets positivity and good in our lives – for every good that we focus on, we attract more of it. Needless to say, this very concept has been highlighted in the Quran as well.
Gratitude in Islam
Shukr, the Arabic word describing the concept of gratitude in Islam, is an important principle that is highlighted over and over again in Quranic ayaat, as well as in the ahadeeth. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him), himself prayed much of the night, swollen feet and teary eyes, despite knowing that he was forgiven and already granted jannah, only to express to Our Creator his immense gratitude.
Allah tells us in the Quran (14:7),
This is a promise that Allah has made to us; if we count our blessings and are grateful for them, He will increase for us the goodness in our lives. The beauty of this lies in the fact that Allah, in His Infinite Love and Mercy, tells us to let go of our worries, stress, and negative thoughts and emotions. He tells us to focus on the good, so that He can give us even more of it, subhanAllah!
This increase in good could translate to a multitude of things – ease in accepting the situation, possible improvement of the situation itself, and ajr for practising both sabr and shukr in ways we cannot even begin to imagine, just to name a few. For us, as believing muslims, the benefits of gratitude far exceed the worldly ones, since we are assured of receiving rewards in our aakhirah as well.
The end of the ayaah also promises that, by being grateful, we will be saved from Allah’s punishment. In yet another ayaah, (4:147) Allah (Exalted be He) reminds us of this blessing, “What would Allah do with your punishment if you are grateful and believe? And ever is Allah Appreciative and Knowing.”
As the old adage goes though, ‘no pain no gain’. Thus, it is a given that cultivating gratitude will require hard work. This is because gratitude goes against our nafs, the human need to constantly increase – even hoard – what we have; it goes against the need to feel like we are in control of our lives, and against our basic need to take credit for the good in our lives. Cultivating gratitude is one surefire way of ensuring that we are in control of our nafs, and not the other way around.
Shukr, according to Islamic scholars, can be expressed in three ways:
- Shukr of the heart, which is the satisfaction in having what we have, whilst wishing the best for those around us,
- Shukr of the tongue, which is verbally expressing our thankfulness (saying alhamdulillah, for instance), and
- Shukr of the limbs, which is when we choose to share the blessings that Allah has given us through our actions
Having looked at what an attitude of gratitude implies, here are some practical ways to implement it in our lives on a daily basis.
- Ask for Allah’s Help
As with everything else, the first step is always to ask for Allah’s help. This, the Prophet made easy for us through a dua that he has instructed us to recite after every prayer:
اللَّهُمَّ أَعِنِّيْ عَلَى ذِكْرِكَ وَشُكْرِكَ وَحُسْنِ عِبَادَتِكَ
Allahumma a’inni ‘ala dhikrika wa shukrika wa husni ‘ibadatika
“O Allah! Assist me in remembering You, in thanking You, and in worshipping You in the best of manners.”
The fact that this is a dua that we should be making after every single prayer again just highlights the importance of cultivating shukr in our lives.
- Show Gratitude to People
In another hadeeth, the Prophet said, “Whoever is not grateful to the people, he is not grateful to Allah.” We should make it a habit to thank the people in our lives, from those who hold doors open for us, to those who bag our groceries, to all those who form an important part of our lives – namely, our parents, spouses, children, extended family, and friends. Expressing our appreciation in small ways will help us in staying positive, spreading positivity, as well as in being more loving, kind and gentle with our loved ones.
- Maintain Dhikr through the Day
Dhikr is a powerful way of staying connected to Allah through the day, to remind ourselves who is really in control and whom we should be thankful to. The easiest way to show our gratitude is to praise Allah by saying alhamdulillah for the sights and sounds around us. We should also read through the meanings of the prescribed sunnah adhkaar – the ones we say when we wake, before we eat and after, during the mornings and evenings, and the ones we say before bed – to really feel them in our hearts as we recite them.
- Hunt for Silver Linings
As we go through the day, we might receive good news and bad news, and may have things that happen to us that we perceive as negative. We should get into the habit of taking a minute, after thanking Allah for whatever has come our way, to look for possible silver linings. There is always a silver lining – especially if we’re looking for it. This will increase our ability to always look at the bright side of things, giving us a more positive outlook towards life and helping us deal with the curveballs thrown our way with grace and patience, inshaAllah.
- Pray Sajdah Shukr Often
This is a simple and beautiful sunnah that we should strive to maintain. The Prophet would prostrate in gratitude to Allah whenever he heard news that made him happy. Sajdah Shukr requires no wudoo, nor that we face the qiblah – it is just one sajdah made to thank Allah. Combined with the previous step, we can hope that every news that comes our way will be perceived as happy news and followed by a sajdah shukr. I remember reading about a family who fell in prostration of gratitude on hearing of the passing of their child after a long illness. They did so in gratitude for the love they’d shared and for having been allowed to care for her. SubhanAllah, what a beautiful way to look at things!
- Keep a Gratitude Journal
There are many people who are visual, for whom just going through the list of things to be grateful for isn’t enough. Writing them down, 3 or 5 or even an unset number, at the end of the day can really bring the day we’ve had into focus. It helps us become more self-aware, and helps us realize what is really important to us. Going to bed with a positive mindset, minus the stress, will help sleep better as well.
- Pay it Forward
Studies have shown that giving also makes you feel happier and more grateful. Help out whenever, wherever and in whatever little way you can within your community. Volunteer if you have the opportunity to, whether it is working with people or even with animals. Make sadaqah a daily habit, no matter how small, even if it is just a smile given with the right intention.
Allah says in the Quran (16:18),
And if you should count the favors of Allah , you could not enumerate them. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.
We may never be able to thank Allah for the blessings He has bestowed upon us in the way that He deserves to be thanked, but what we can do – and should – at least, is try our best to be grateful servants to the Most Generous and Gracious of Masters.