Gratitude Way Happiness
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Gratitude – The Way to Happiness

Gratitude – The Way to Happiness
Being grateful can have a profound effect on health and happiness.

Part 1Part 2 – Part 3

Introduction

Did you know that March 20th was International Happiness Day?

In the second decade of the 21st century, in 2012 to be exact, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution declaring that the conscious pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal.

Part of the rhetoric surrounding this day included a High Level meeting on Happiness and Well Being. In this meeting the following religious figures, Jesus, Abraham, Moses and the Prophet Muhammad, were mentioned as among those who theorized about the purpose and meaning of life as well as the definition of happiness.[1]

In this series of articles we are referring to Prophet Muhammad as a “man for all seasons”. A man for all seasons is one who very successful in several different areas. Because of Prophet Muhammad’s success in life and his knowledge over a wide variety of topics he is a perfect guide for those of us who desire happiness and success in this life and the next.

We know that Prophet Muhammad’s wife Aisha described his character as the Quran[2], meaning that his behavior was the words of Quran in action. Imam An Nawawi said that this meant that he acted in accordance with it (Quran), adhering to its limits, following its etiquette, paying heed to its lessons and parables, pondering its meanings and reciting it properly.

Now days many people, from famous neuroscientists to happiness gurus, think they can teach us how to achieve happiness. And their methods and evidence may well be correct but a very long time ago Prophet Muhammad was teaching us how to be happy. Those of us who have emulated Prophet Muhammad’s actions, or taken his advice, know that this, combined with following God’s commandments is the way to achieve sustainable happiness.

Perfect happiness will only exist in everlasting paradise for it is only there that we can be free from the trials and tribulations associated with being human. We can however seek happiness in this world and Islam tells us how. Scientific evidence tells us what Islam has been telling us for quite some time. According to the findings of 21st century neuro-science one of the easiest and quickest way to be happy is to practice gratitude.

The feeling of gratitude activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or chemical, responsible for transferring signals between nerve cells in the brain. There is evidence to suggest that too little dopamine can cause depression, insomnia, mood swings, and lack of motivation, among other undesirable effects.

Gratitude boosts the production of dopamine, and increasing dopamine elicits feelings pleasure. It also plays a role in other areas such as memory, movement and motivation. Dopamine makes us feel good and plays a role in initiating action. Increased dopamine makes you want to repeat the action that caused the increase.

Being grateful, releasing dopamine causes a memory loop and you are more likely to do the action over and over. Being grateful can have a profound effect on health and happiness. A Chinese study that looked at the amount of gratitude people show in their daily lives and found that higher levels of gratitude were associated with better sleep, and with lower levels of anxiety and depression[3].

National Institutes of Health researchers examined blood flow in various brain regions while subjects summoned up feelings of gratitude.[4] They found that subjects who showed more gratitude had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus controls a huge array of essential bodily functions, including eating, drinking and sleeping and it has a huge influence on your metabolism and stress levels.

From this evidence it can be seen that improvements in gratitude could have wide-ranging effects, from increased exercise and improved sleep to decreased depression and fewer aches and pains. All these things contribute to a higher level of happiness and contentment.

Let us see what Islam says about gratitude and happiness. One of God’s commandments involves remembering Him and being grateful to Him. And one of the best ways to worship Him is to do so in the manner that he describes. God says:

{…remember Me (by praying, glorifying, etc.). I will remember you, and be grateful to Me (for My countless blessings) and never be ungrateful to Me.} (Quran 2:152)

And He goes on to say, {…if you are grateful I will give you more of my blessings…} (Quran 14:7)

If we look back at what we just read and understood we see that being grateful releases dopamine, dopamine sets up a loop, we find more things to be grateful for because it makes us feel good.

This is the perfection of God the Creator. He tells us how we can be happy and wires our brain in order for us to create the happiness by obeying Him. Not only that, the core of our religion, our way of life, tells us that to be happy and content we must be grateful to God; not just for those things we perceive as blessings but for all the circumstances in our lives.

Now, let’s think about dopamine again. The trials and tribulations of life have us feeling down and depressed, not a lot of dopamine zapping away. In order to feel good again, in order to be motivated to crawl, walk or stride into this life, we need to be grateful, for the air, for the sun that rises, for any of the amazing blessings that fall down upon us every second of the day. Be grateful, find the time to ponder and set up a loop.

Prophet Muhammad made it clear that expressing our gratitude to God not only involves thanking Him but also thanking others. He said that the one who does not thank the people does not thank God.[5]

He also said:

“When someone does you a favor, then reciprocate and if you cannot find anything with which to return the favor then pray for him until you feel you have reciprocated enough.”[6]

In a third narration Prophet Muhammad said that whoever says Jazakallhu khairun, (may God reward you with good) to the one who has done him a favor has done enough to thank him.[7]

Prophet Muhammad was able to take God’s commandments and weave them into the fabric of the society that he built. The people who followed his way of life were grateful to God, showed gratitude towards one another and were able to find blessings even in the direst circumstances.

The inbuilt gratitude in Islam paves a way to happiness and contentment in this life and the next.

Read Part 5.

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[1] http://en.wiki2audio.com/wiki/International_Day_of_Happiness+Gross_Global_Happiness_and_the_First_UN_High_Level_Meeting_on_Happiness_and_Wellbeing

[2] Saheeh Muslim

[3] Ng et. al. , 2012 quoted in https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201211/the-grateful-brain

[4] The Neural Basis of Human Social Values: Evidence from Functional MRI

Roland Zahn, Jorge Moll, Mirella Paiva, Griselda Garrido, Frank Krueger, Edward D. Huey, and Jordan Grafman

[5] Imam Ahmad, At Tirmidhi

[6] Abu Dawud

[7] At Tirmidhi


About Aisha Stacey

Aisha Stacey is the mother of three adult children. She embraced Islam in 2002 and spent the next five years in Doha, Qatar studying Islam and working at the Fanar Cultural Centre. In 2006 Aisha returned to university for a second time and completed at Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Certificate in Writing. Aisha is also a published writer in both internet and print media and in 2009 -10 she was the Queensland editor at a national Australian Islamic newspaper ~ Crescent Times.

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