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The science of gratitude

In this installment:

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– Why teaching your kids/students gratitude is an awesome way to give them character 

– 7 scientific benefits of gratitude 

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– A fresh perspective on [Qur’an 14:7] 

Have you said thank you to anyone today? After reading this, you’re likely to walk to your mom’s room or pick a phone to call your dad and say thank you. 

Or you can say thank you to your friend, children, siblings, colleagues or bosses. And don’t forget to give gratitude to the one who deserves it the most: God. 

Towards that, MUSLIMS pray five times a day – 17 units of prayers in total. During which they stand and say “thanks be to Allah, the Lord of the world” 17 times. 

But it’s one thing to say it mechanically and another to say it with conviction and enjoy the benefits listed below. 

A very important verse from the Qur’an says:

“If you’re grateful, I will surely give you more and more.” Surah Ibrahim, verse 7. 

We can extract two questions from this verse: one, “grateful for what?” And “give us more of what?”

With the first question we can unpack three things. 

One, we should be grateful for all that Allah has given us. 

Two, in Islam, however, we’re  not only grateful to Allah but to others too. 

Indeed the prophet said: he doesn’t thank Allah, who doesn’t thank people.

Three, if we’re truly grateful, that would be seen in our deeds. If you are grateful for your wealth, you would give Zakat and charity. If you’re grateful for your knowledge, you would share it with others. 

Now let’s attend to the final question: Allah will give us more of what?

If we’re grateful, according to what science has discovered so far, Allah will give us more of physical health, mental health, friends, compassion, happiness, improved sleep and self-esteem. 

Let’s take a deep dive into the science. 

Dr. Robert Emmons is the world’s leading expert on gratitude. Emmons and many others have documented the incredible benefits of the oft-neglected gratitude. 

In July 2017, when I was invited to give a keynote speech at Cherry Hearts Academy Kaduna and a guest speech at Jordan Academy (also in Kaduna), I included gratitude among the five proven strategies the students could use to be the best in any classroom anywhere in the world. 

Now let’s list some of the benefits of gratitude. 

One: It makes you friends 

In a 2014 study published in the journal Emotion, it was found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them want to continue with the relationship. If people want to associate with you, that would open doors of opportunities. 

Thank a friend who helped with your home work or your mother for that delicious meal or a business associate for that connection. And people would want to hang around you. 

Two: It increases empathy and reduces aggression 

According to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky, people who rate higher on gratitude scale, are likely to behave in prosocial way and are more likely to show kindness to people even when others are less so. 

They also show less aggression and don’t seek revenge even when presented with negative feedback. 

Three: Improves physical health 

A 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences reported that grateful people are healthier and reported fewer aches and pains. 

Four: Improves psychological health and happiness 

“Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions,” Amy Morrin, a psychotherapist, wrote in Forbes, “ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.”

Five: Improves sleep 

Keeping a gratitude journal and writing in it what you’re grateful for, may improve sleep, according to a 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. 

Six: Makes you more confident

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology reported that gratitude improves self-esteem among athletes.  

It also reduces social comparison, a factor that leads to low self-esteem. This makes you more grateful for what you have instead of envying others. 

Seven: It improves mental health 

At least two studies have reported that people who are more grateful are more resilient.  In 2006, a study published in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy discovered that Vietnam War Veterans who had higher gratitude experienced lower PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). 

Another study published in 2003 by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reported that gratitude was a significant contributor to resilience after the September 11 attack. 

Conclusion

If gratitude, something so simple to do daily, can foster social relationships, reduce stress, make us happier, improve physical health and self-esteem, then it makes sense to cultivate the habit of being grateful. 

The Qur’an says if you’re grateful, Allah would increase you; and equated ingratitude with disbelief. Further, Islam requires us to pack our five daily prayers full of gratitude. Unfortunately, many don’t pay attention to what they are saying, therefore don’t enjoy the benefits enumerated above. 

Jeff Goins, in his book, “The In-Between,” counsels that we should be grateful for every moment because we don’t know how much time we have left. 

Actionable Tip: You may want to start by saying thank you to the nearest person to you right now. 

Actionable Tip 2: Next time you meet someone, find one thing for which to thank them. 

Actionable Tip 3: Teach children to keep a gratitude journal and to list three things that went well daily. The father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, said it fosters positive behavior in children. 

(Continuation of the Social Science of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) series by Ibraheem Dooba)

To be continued.

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