Episode 09: How Practising Gratitude Can Make You Spiritually and Mentally a Better Person

Transcript

How Practising Gratitude Can Make You Spiritually and Mentally a Better Person

Assalamu Alaikum Warahmathullahi Wabarakathuhu, 

Welcome to the Best Versions Podcast, where I help you unlock your fullest potential to move from average to excellence in Worship, Energy, Love and Legacy.  

I’m your Host, Rushdhi Ismail. A computer engineer turned nutrition and life coach. I’m going to use my experience of over 25 years in the personal and spiritual development field to provide you with practical tools to move from average to excellence, bi’idnillah

Alhamdulillah, I’m super excited to meet you in another episode in this blessed month of Ramadan.

I hope you and your family work hard to come closer to Allah subuhanawuta’la in this auspicious month, Alhamdulillah!

Today we are going to continue our episode with another incredible tool. This tool will, insha Allah, help us become spiritually and mentally better people! 

It’s another simple tool with tremendous benefits for this world and Hereafter.

So what’s that tool?

Well, the tool I’ve chosen to discuss today is gratitude.

Yes, we’ll insha Allah look at how practising gratitude will insha Allah help us improve both our Dunya and Aakhira.

And there is a little story as to why I decided to talk about this tool.

Recently I met a good friend of mine after quite a long time.

In the short time I spent with him, he was constantly talking about the blessings of Allah. Even in minute things, he would notice the blessings and Rahma of Allah subuhanawuta’la

Occasionally, he was close to shedding tears when mentioning those blessings. I could sense that the words he uttered came from his heart.

I have known him for quite some time, and he has always been someone who sees the positive side of life. He never complained about anything in life, and he would always say, “Alhamdulillah”! 

Now, looking outwardly, you may think that Allah has blessed him with everything, and that’s why he is counting the blessings. But the truth is, he suffers from many diseases. Some are very painful and life threatening.  

As an outsider, you wouldn’t notice any of his sufferings, as he constantly looks at the positive side of life.

And I think that’s an excellent way to live our life, Alhamdulillah

If we can adopt such a way of our life, the difficulties, challenges, and sadness that happen to us wouldn’t really upset us too much.

Why do I say that? 

Well, first, think about why we become sad. 

We usually become sad because we focus on the things that don’t go well or worry about things that we can’t afford. 

However, when we are sad, how often do we look at Allah subuhanawuta’la’s blessings in our lives? How often do we thank Him for those blessings we already have?

If we can train ourselves to show gratitude to the people around us and our Creator, we’ll see that our life becomes much more enjoyable! 

And today, I would like to convince you, using the Quran, Sunnah and science, why practising gratitude is one of the most critical behaviours to adopt in our lives.

Okay, let’s talk about what the Quran and Sunnah say first.

Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim wrote an excellent book on the subject of gratitude. He summarised everything the Quran and Sunnah say about gratitude in his fantastic book “Excellence of Patience & Gratefulness”.

He says that showing gratitude for the blessings of Allah subuhanawuta’ala is half of our faith. 

Subhanallah!

And based on the Quran and Sunnah, he also proves the very purpose of our creation is that we give thanks to Allah subuhanawuta’ala.

What’s his proof? He cites a beautiful Ayah from Surah Nahl. 

And Allah has extracted you from the wombs of your mothers not knowing a thing, and He made for you hearing and vision and intellect that perhaps you would be grateful.” (Al-Quran, 16:78)

So it’s very clear from this Ayah that Allah subuhanawuta’la created us so that we give thanks to him. 

Again, the book is incredible, and I highly recommend you get a copy of it and read it! 

Based on what I’ve read from his fantastic book, I would like to mention five blessings of gratitude that I’ve extracted from it.

I hope that doing so will serve us as a reminder to be more grateful people in life.

Blessing #1: When we are grateful, Allah increases our sustenance

We spend most of our waking hours looking for ways to increase our sustenance. However, we forget that thanking Allah for His endless blessings on us is one of the easiest and fastest ways to increase our sustenance.

How do we know that? 

وَإِذْ تَأَذَّنَ رَبُّكُمْ لَئِن شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ ۖ وَلَئِن كَفَرْتُمْ إِنَّ عَذَابِى لَشَدِيدٌۭ

“And ˹remember˺ when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will certainly give you more. But if you are ungrateful, surely My punishment is severe.’” (Al-Quran, 14:7)

Subhanallah! Do you need anything more explicit than this?

That’s why when a man approached Ali bin Abu Talib (RA) for advice, he said, “bounty is attached to the giving of thanks, and being thankful is linked with an increase; they are bound together. Therefore, the increase from Allah will not cease unless the gratitude of the servant stops.

As long as we show gratitude, Allah subuhanawuta’la will keep on increasing our sustenance.

So, let us strive to say “Alhamdulillah” from our hearts for each and every tiny blessing of Allah.

We know that the Prophet ﷺ practised this habit at every single moment. He would say, ‘Al-hamdu Lillaahi’ ala kulli haal (Praise be to Allah in all circumstances)’ even if he came across something he disliked. (Hasan, Ibn Maajah)

Blessing #2: Showing gratefulness is a means of receiving Allah’s favour

Yes, Allah subuhanawuta’ala not only increases your sustenance, but he also singles out His favour upon those who are thankful to him.

In Surah An’am, Alllah subuhanawuta’la says,

“And thus We have tried some of them through others that the disbelievers might say, “Is it these whom Allah has favoured among us?” Is not Allah most knowing of those who are grateful?” (Al-Quran, 6:53)

Now, imagine you are being singled for your Rabb’s favour? You get this VIP favour from Allah subuhanawuta’la. What’s more honourable than that?

You can achieve that high status when you show gratitude to Allah. I mean, what greater blessing is out there than being singled out as a receiver of His favour?

Blessing #3: Showing gratitude protects your existing blessings

Not only you’ll get more sustenance and special favour, but also, your existing blessings will be protected when you thank Allah subuhanawuta’la for all the blessings He has bestowed upon you.

So you may say, giving thanks to Allah is your best “insurance policy”. 

Every time you acknowledge and thank Allah for His blessings, you protect the existing blessings He has bestowed upon you.

Umar bin Abd al-‘Aziz (rahimahumullah) said it so beautifully:

“Tie the favour of Allah by giving thanks to Allah”.

Beautiful, right? 

Now, what happens when we don’t thank Allah for the blessings?

Listen to what Al-Hasan al-Basri has to say. He said, “Surely Allah grants favours as He wishes, but if it is not acknowledged by giving thanks, He returns it into torment.

May Allah subuhanawuta’la protect all of us from his torment.

Blessing #4: Gratitude gets rewarded without any conditions

Allah subuhanawuta’ala made many of His rewards conditional to His will.

For example, He says, “…Allah will enrich you from His bounty if He wills.” (Al-Quran, 9:28), or when talking about forgiveness and punishment, He says, “He forgives whom He wills and punishes whom He wills.” (Al-Quran, 3:129)

Or, when mentioning the provision, He says, “Allah provides for whom He wills without account” (Al-Quran, 3:37)

Likewise, He mentions that His rewards are conditional to His will in many other instances.

However, when it comes to gratitude, He says He will reward the thankful ones, without any conditions,

“And we will reward the grateful.” (Al-Quran, 3:145)

Subhanallah, what a blessing is that!

Blessing #5: Showing gratitude is a means of achieving Allah’s pleasure.

We all want that Allah is pleased with us, right?

Listen to this beautiful hadith. The Prophet ﷺ said, “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)

Subhanallah! Look at the eternal mercy of Allah subuhanawuta’ala. He provides us with food and drink out of His mercy, and when we thank Him for that blessing, although He is no need of our gratitude, He is pleased with us.

What greater reward can we wish for than receiving His pleasure? After all, His pleasure causes us to enter into the eternal Jannah.

In another hadith that is recorded in Ahmad, the Prophet ﷺ said, “A person who eats and is thankful is like the person who fasts and is patient” (Ahmad)

Subhanallah! Shouldn’t these hadiths motivate us to strive more to be people of gratitude?

May Allah subuhanawuta’ala make us among those few who are thankful to Him because Allah warns us, “And few of My servants are grateful.” (Al-Quran, 34:13)

It’s so unfortunate, right? Allah promises us to give so much more when we are thankful; however, only a few are still grateful.

Okay, let’s switch gears and see what science says about practising gratitude.

If you wonder what science has to offer on this, you need to first get to know Dr Robert Emmons from the University of California and the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology. 

He is, in fact, one of the world’s leading experts on the science of gratitude. He has been studying this subject for more than 20 years and has written three books on this subject. 

His research focuses mostly on showing gratitude towards people. And that’s super important because the Prophet ﷺ said, “He who does not thank people, does not thank Allah.” (Sahih, Sunan Abi Dawud)

So showing gratitude toward people is an important stepping stone to thanking Allah.

In his outstanding book “Thanks!” he says, “Gratitude can literally be one of the few things that measurably change peoples’ lives.”

The book is an interesting take on gratitude and shows how gratefulness has an incredible impact on our lives.

Here are five lessons I’ve extracted from that book.

Lesson #1: Gratitude boosts happiness

From a scientific angle, Emmons argues that gratitude is key to happiness. If you want to feel happy, be thankful, that’s his simple message.

And who amongst us doesn’t want to be happy, right?

None of us enjoys being sad, or do you?

So if we can boost our feeling of happiness through thanking Allah subuhanawuta’la and others, I’m all in.

And here is the thing: happiness actually brings a boatload of benefits to our lives. Recent research studies on happiness say that happy people have a higher income, greater productivity, and a higher quality of work.

Furthermore, happy people also have larger social rewards. Now, what does it mean to have larger social rewards?

That means having more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions.

But that’s not all, and there is more to happiness.  

Happiness also improves your immune system, lowers stress levels, and improves overall physical health. 

On top of that, happy individuals are also more creative, helpful, charitable, have better self-control, self-confidence, and greater self-regulatory and coping abilities.

As you see, there is so much goodness in just being happy!

And the good news is, you can quickly boost your happiness just by thanking Allah subuhanawuta’ala and the people around you.

Now, isn’t that awesome?

Lesson #2: Gratitude can ward off negative feelings

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

Psychologists call it “emotional incompatibility”.

Now, what is emotional incompatibility? 

Well, it’s that 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. Either you are happy or sad. 

Both the positive and negative emotions won’t happen at the same time.

We can use this emotional incompatibility to our advantage by practising positive emotion during a difficult time.

Let’s say you are upset about how your child behaves with you or your boss is giving you some difficult time.

What can you do?

You can focus on the blessings that Allah subuhanawuta’la has given you in your life and start counting them. The very minute you practise a positive emotion, you’ll notice how your negative emotions ward off instantly.

In fact, this is one of the tools that I often use. Whenever I feel sad, the first thing I turn to is practising gratitude. And it really helps so well. Alhamdulillah!

Lesson #3: Practice gratitude when things get hard and challenging

This lesson is similar to lesson #2, but it’s not the same. In lesson #2, we discussed negative feelings, and here we will discuss hard and challenging situations.

You see, it’s pretty easy to feel grateful when everything is 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!

It’s those challenges that make us stronger and better.

Our beloved Prophet ﷺ beautifully summarized this concept in an authentic hadith in the Sahih Muslim. He said,  

“Amazing is the believer’s affair, surely all of his affairs are good, and this is not for anyone except the believer. If something good befalls him, he is grateful, which is good for him. If something of harm befalls him, he is patient, and that is good for him” (Saheeh Muslim)

Regardless of the situation, a Mumin always comes out as a winner.

So when things go hard in your life, or you are faced with a big challenge, think about just one positive outcome in that hard time or in that big challenge. The truth is, regardless of how worse the situation is, you’ll always find something positive.

That’s one of our fundamental beliefs as Muslims.

That’s why Umar Ibn Al-Khattab radiyallahu anhu used to say,

When Allah strikes me with calamity, I 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 is nothing.”

Lesson #4: Giving thanks improves your relationship

One of the fastest ways to improve your relationship is to thank your partner for whatever good they do for you!

Unfortunately, in most homes, husband and wife take things for granted. The wife keeps the house clean; the husband never notices it or thanks her for the efforts. Or the husband goes to work, and the wife enjoys the blessings of his income but never takes the time to thank him for it.

If I may give you a simple suggestion, it’s this. Thank your spouse for every small thing they do for you!

Cooked a meal for you? Say an authentic thank you.

Cleaned the house? Say a genuine thank you.

In fact, I ask you to proactively search for opportunities to thank your spouse and soon, you’ll see insha Allah how that transforms your marriage.

Lesson #5: Improve your sleep by writing a gratitude journal

This lesson may sound too simple to be true, but the science behind it is pretty rigid.

Listen to what Professor 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 longer, spent less time awake before falling asleep and felt 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 feel 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.

  • 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. 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.

And talking about counting blessings, it’s also good to mention your blessings verbally to your loved ones. 

Al-Hassan Al-Basry said, “constantly mention these favours, for mentioning them is giving thanks”. We can mention these blessings to our close family members to remind us about Allah’s countless blessings.

And above all, as part of being thankful servants of Allah, we should increase our good deeds as much as possible and avoid the bad deeds to the best of our ability. That’s the most fundamental part of being thankful to our Creator.

I pray to Allah that He enables you and me to be amongst the most grateful people!

That’s all from me for today.

If you want to read the transcript of this podcast, you can find it at https://bestversions.me/podcasts/09. 

Thanks so very much for listening to my podcast. I sincerely pray that this episode helps you go from average to excellence in worship, energy, love and legacy. 

And last but not least, please subscribe to my podcast, and share the podcast with your family and friends. I’m confident you can make a difference in others’ lives by sharing this information with them.

Until we meet in the next episode insha Allah next Friday, I pray that Allah subuhanawuta’la showers his choicest blessings on you and your family. 

Love you all! 

And let me end the podcast with the greetings of Jannah, Asssalamu Alaikum Warahmathullahi Wabarakathuhu.