She opens her wardrobe. Two dozen dresses— red, yellow, orange, pink, and you name it— are hanging there. After a cursory glance, she bangs the door shut. “Mom, I have nothing to wear for the party,” she whines. “I’ve been begging you to take me shopping for ages— you never listen to me! What do I do now?”
He’s rummaging in the fridge for the fourth time. Pizza, chocolate, ice-cream, fruits, and juices are stuffed inside. He closes the door despondently and leaves the kitchen, saying, “There’s nothing much to eat in here. Let’s go to the café and get some decent food.”
She wakes up with the same strange feelings she’s been experiencing for some time now. She’s married to a handsome man and has two lovely kids, a home, and a car— everything most women would ask for. Life seems perfect, but something is missing; how come her friend has shifted to a western country and she is still stuck in this third world!
He’s seventeen years old. He has an iPhone X, and 1000 bucks monthly pocket money, but according to him his life sucks. He can’t focus on his textbook. He slams it shut and starts pacing the room as he thinks aloud: “If my friend can own a Jaguar, why the hell can’t I? Everything sucks.”
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
The Ingratitude Habit
As we grow up, we become attuned to be ungrateful, to be blind to the blessings in our lives. We focus all our energy and attention on looking for what’s lacking in our lives. This is ironic, because the more we focus on scarcity, the more we get it.
How to Become a Black Hole of Despair
Gratitude is one of the best and quickest ways to break the pattern of negativity. Negativity builds up in a specific pattern. In other words, whenever you’re being ungrateful or have negative, self-defeating thoughts (for example, I never seem to have enough money, or I can never be healthy, or I’ll never find a practicing husband) or worry about issues beyond your control, and you do not consciously choose to break the pattern of this negativity, you’ll end up becoming a black hole of despair. All the worries, arguments, and frustration just lead to more of the same.
Don’t you want to have more peace, joy, harmony, ease, and prosperity? Then choose to focus on positive thoughts consciously and carefully.
Open Secrets in the Quran
Today non-Muslim researchers have discovered these secrets in the name of natural laws, while these “open secrets” were given to us in the Quran 1400 years ago.
Psychologists and philosophers have painstakingly conducted researches and come up with new theories and ideas. All this “newly discovered” stuff was presented to us in the Quran in no uncertain terms. Allah (سبحانه وتعالىٰ) promises us: If you are grateful, I’ll give you more.
This is a ready-made formula for getting more of what you want in life.
Surah Fatihah: A Pillar’s Pillar
It is well-known that prayer, an important pillar of Islam, is incomplete without Surah Fatihah. Surah Fatihah begins with the expression of our gratitude to our Lord for the countless blessings He has showered upon us. (What book can be more positive than the one starting with Praise and Gratitude? It is indeed only the Quran).
Have you ever noticed that a lot of duas taught by the Prophet ﷺ also start with the same expression of gratitude alhamdulillah? The day starts with the supplication Alhmdulillahilazi ahyana (All praise and thanks be to the one who gave us life.)
Allah (سبحانه وتعالىٰ) wants you to start your day in a super-charged state, receiving ample happiness and abundance in life. The meal ends with the supplication Alhmdulillahizli at amani (All Praise and gratitude for the one who gave us food and drink). Why? Because He always wants you to have an appreciation of the food you eat. The same expression— alhamdulillah; it’s not a coincidence, is it?
Getting Back on Track
Gratitude is one of the quickest ways to regain our focus. When we feel stuck it means we’re giving too much attention to something that doesn’t deserve it. Most so-called problems are usually mundane preoccupations and mental obsessions (of course, not all of them). We focus so much on one area to the exclusion of everything else that we create and thus magnify our problems.
Surprisingly, when we focus so much on what’s not working, we can’t even access the part of our brain that provides us with solutions. So, when something is not working, we should focus on what is working and say alhmdulillahi rabbil 3lameen aloud.
What do you think you’re doing by saying this? You’re freeing your mind from those thoughts that bog you down and reinforcing strong, positive beliefs that even if some areas are not working in life, others are. In this way, you’ll be able to access the solution providing areas of your brain and be able to think in a quicker and better way to find the solutions to your problems. Try it out!
It’s reported that some of the companions of the Holy Prophet ﷺ were even grateful for the calamities they faced and presented their gratitude to Allah (سبحانه وتعالىٰ) for not letting something worse befall them. Now that’s the attitude of gratitude!
Being grateful to Allah (سبحانه وتعالىٰ) changes life in many ways. When you’ll acknowledge His presence in your life, miracles will happen. You’ll be in the middle of a problem, not knowing what you should do next, and suddenly the solution will dawn upon you. You might be in dire need of money and someone might, for example, return to you an old loan that you completely forgot about. Or you might be missing your loved ones and you receive a call from them at the same time. It is said, what you focus on expands. The more you focus on what’s working, the more things start working.
We usually ignore many things that are readily available to us and need a big reason to be grateful. Our family, friends, body, health, job, leisure time, education, food, wisdom, smiles, children, and even the painful lessons that life teaches us (and the list goes on) are huge blessings to be grateful for. If you don’t have the same feeling, just close your eyes and imagine one of these blessings vanishing from your life. How does that feel? This is exactly the reason we all need to be thankful each day, at every moment.
Gratitude in Relationships
When you are grateful to the people around you, your relationships improve. There are many gestures to express your gratefulness, but verbal gratitude is very important. Most of us feel shy to say “thank you” to our loved ones for doing us a favor because, well, it just sounds odd. That’s what I call tuning. We have been attuned to focus on and announce what wrong they are doing but we feel too shy to announce what good they are doing. This way relationships lose their spark and feel like something you are dragging in life. Some gratitude, verbal especially, adds flavor to a relationship.
The Prophet ﷺ said: ❝He who does not thank the people is not thankful to Allah.❞
Research also shows that gratitude reduces aggression and promotes empathy. When you see your children fighting, one of the ways to resolve it is to ask them three good things about each other, it helps to resolve the fight, and this technique works equally well for grownups.
All of us need a bit of fine-tuning, so below are some tools that I am sharing with you to enable you to be grateful to Him and let the magic unfold.
Essential Tools for a Grateful Life: Gratitude is just like a muscle, the more you exercise the stronger it becomes. Similarly, the more grateful you consciously become, the more of an unconscious habit it will become.
Gratitude Walk: Go on a nature walk. Barefoot on the grass. Someone said that, “Walking with our soles is walking with our souls.” While walking, mindfully choose to count as many blessings as possible.
Gratitude Journal: I have maintained a gratitude journal for many years where I chose to write all the positive stuff happening in life. Sometimes after a very tiring and psychologically debilitating day, it was really hard to find things that one is thankful for. I still did my journaling anyway and every time after encouraging my brain to take out at least one positivity from the day, I felt better. You can’t be stressed and grateful at the same time, and going to bed with a positive mindset has innumerable benefits on our overall wellbeing.
Make a list of twenty things you appreciate right now. Write alhamdullilah in front of every blessing. Make a list of the things you feel good about and why you’re grateful for that thing, situation, or person in your life. How did you feel doing this? Here’s the good news: the more you’ll be grateful for happiness, contentment, and prosperity in your life, the more Allah will bless you with them.
Sharing Gratitude: Start looking for everything you can be grateful for in life and start talking about it all the time no matter how insignificant it is. If you find a buck from your old shirt’s pocket, celebrate. Go around and tell your loved ones how grateful you are for that. That’s how you are tuning your mind to show gratitude for even the tiniest blessings in your life.
At least once in a while, share a gratitude status on Facebook and Twitter (or whatever social media you use) and ask others what they are grateful for. Insha Allah, you’ll get ajar for your shukr and theirs too.
Gratitude during Pain: Try to seek the positive in every negative situation. Take out at least three good lessons from every painful experience and be grateful that life threw that situation at you so that you could learn. My children, little psychologists they have turned into, on seeing me sad, come and ask me what are the three things I am grateful for, this brings an instant smile on my face and helps me focus on the positives in my life. You see, sometimes when you are down, it’s hard to remind yourself to be grateful, and if you have inculcated this habit in your loved ones during good times, they’ll help you by reminding you of the same practice during tough times.
Gratitude Ritual: Over meals, we ask each other, what are you grateful for today? This one practice has allowed us, as parents, to inculcate gratitude in our children (we are still imperfect struggling parents).
Do share with us a list of some blessings in your life in the comments below and how do you choose to practice gratitude.