I am a pretty happy camper. I’ve been called ‘Little Mary Sunshine’, and although I am not sure it was meant in that way, I will take it as a compliment. This general happy attitude I attribute to gratitude.
Conversely, when people are unhappy, worrying, obsessed with the What If, If Only and Why Me, it may be that a cultivation of gratitude is missing. Even haters are often motivated by a lack of appreciation for what they have – no matter how much or how little – or are those who feel entitled; ungrateful and unappreciative.
For me this is where religion steps in. Gratitude, gratefulness. I believe there are simply no other attributes to cultivate that guarantee balance within ourselves and society.
After affirming God’s care and mercy, the first chapter of the Quran begins with Al hamdulillah, translated as ‘All praise is for God’. This utterance of al hamdulillah signifies gratitude in every aspect of our lives. When someone asks how we are, Muslims often respond with “Al hamdulillah” – matters of health and well-being as products of God’s mercy.
Muslims are frequently reminded to give thanks for all of God’s rizq, conjuring provisions and sustenance. We echo these words in numerous circumstances throughout our day.
Muslims believe that God provides for everyone – monotheist, polytheist and atheist – human, plant and animal alike – with no exceptions. Even for those who question or disbelieve, God still provides the same perfect environment in which to live and breathe just as He does for those who believe. He creates all with a brain to reason with and a perfect organ – the body – and all of its quite miraculous parts.
Religion and faith have stressed gratefulness throughout the ages. Even for those who question the notion of a creator or higher power greater than themselves, science now confirms the many perks of cultivating an attitude of gratitude.
Being grateful creates long lasting positive changes in the neurological structure of the brain, stimulating long term effects of feeling happy, motivated. Research done by the University of California, Berkeley, revealed that gratitude leads to a stronger immune system, healthier blood pressure, greater joy, optimism, and sense of overall well-being.
So as in so many facets of my life, God directs me to be grateful – often. Not because He needs my praise or recognition of His powers, but because being grateful is good for me.
Being thankful for our blessings seems obvious, but what about gratitude even in the midst of hardship? In the Qur’an, God reminds: “You may dislike something although it is good for you, or like something although it is bad for you: God knows what you don’t know.” (Qur’an 2: 216). Usually when things go awry, I manage my stress by accepting that God has a better plan for me than what I would choose for myself. This saves me a lot of agonizing over those What If’s and If Only’s and Why Me’s.
We are reminded that Surely with every difficulty there is ease. That hardship seldom lasts forever, grief lessens, and one can still find a silver lining even though the sky remains gray – if we seek to cultivate gratitude. How many times in hindsight I have found value and reason in a test that actually propelled me forward?
I see religion and worship as the intersection of God and Others. A saying of Muhammad is “Whoever does not thank people, does not thank God”. A simple word of sincere thanks or praise goes much farther in establishing healthy relationships between friends, family, and neighbors; in the workplace and in the public sector.
Islam speaks to me with logic and reason. I am the recipient of much that is not of my own doing, so some gratitude is logical. I find that when I thank God, I receive ever more in return. I see faith and reason, even faith and science, in agreement that gratitude is not only beneficial, it is necessary –giving thanks to my Creator and others for all the countless provisions in my life and establishing personal well-being and in those around me.