For many people, one of the key challenges associated with life on earth is related to happiness. Humans are on earth to worship Allah, that is what His creation is for but many people find it hard to respond to the day-to-day challenges and obstacles that come their way. In the Quran, Allah says “Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear…” (2:286). However, the challenge for many individuals is that they do not know how to practically deal with the things that life sometimes throws at them, and if they are fine then how do they practically enhance gratitude and gratefulness?
In all matters, the first thing is to turn to Allah and to implement the example of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) when it comes to gratitude and challenges. Many Muslims take solace in the Hadith;
I am to my servant as he expects of Me, I am with him when he remembers Me. If he remembers Me in his heart, I remember him to Myself, and if he remembers me in an assembly, I mention him in an assembly better than his… (Bukhari and Muslim).
But what if you haven’t remembered Allah when things have been easy? What if you feel that life has always been tough and that Allah is just challenging you all the time?
Remembering that ‘The world is a prison for the believer and a paradise for the unbeliever’ (Muslim, Tirmidhi) and asking Allah to assist goes a long way to ease the challenge faced – even if it’s just that someone is bored with life and does not have anything exciting happening.
Then, implementing an intervention in ones life is scientifically proven to improve well-being. Research shows that happy individuals have good feelings and are healthier, more productive, successful, socially engaged and live a happy marital life. People who describe themselves as spiritual or religious tend to report slightly higher levels of well-being than the general population (Deiner 2008). And while religiosity contributes 5-7% of life satisfaction in a general population, it contributes 15% in a Muslim population, with Muslims who practice their faith gaining psychological comfort from their religious practice (Tiliouine et al, 2009). This may not be a surprise to Muslims, but it is a surprise to the majority of psychologists who tend to be atheists.
Many of the verses in the Qur’an encourage Muslims to think about life, nature, the afterlife and how they can maintain a strong spiritual and psychological balance. Interestingly, early Muslim scholars wrote at length in the area of human ‘psychology’, a term that was not in existence outside of the Muslim world at that point in history (Haque 2004).
Martin Seligman launched the positive psychology movement in 2000 with the aim of creating a new psychology that enables humans to move from living to flourishing. In many respects, this is a principle established in Islam over a thousand years ago. Muslims are constantly aiming to improve the quality and standard of their spiritual and worldly life – a Muslim has the goal of inner happiness as their purpose in life (Qadhi, 2008).
The challenge therefore is, with everything going on, how do individuals implement some quick action steps to improve well-being? It goes without saying that the five pillars of Islam are positive psychology interventions and the author has undertaken research that demonstrates how Islamic prayer, fasting and charity improve well-being. The interventions below are a small selection of those that exist. Try these out in no particular order and see how they bring more gratitude to Allah, increased thankfulness for what you have and be calmer. These work if you are a student, teacher, mother, employee, or if you run your own multi million pound business! Have a go and discover the natural potential you have to be happy and increase your well-being.
1. Nurture Optimism.
This strategy involves such practices as looking at the bright side and finding the silver lining in a negative event.
A sign of a ‘mu’min’ (true believer) is that the more he/she is tested and tried, the more he/she becomes closer to Allah with optimism and hope. Have you ever experienced hardships in life? Do you want to know how to overcome these hardships in a way that brings you closer to Allah?
When Imam ibn Taymiyah was put into prison he came out an even more accomplished scholar. If you are afflicted with a misfortune, look on the bright side. If someone hands you a glass full of squeezed lemons add a handful of sugar. “And it may be that you dislike a thing that is good for you…” [2.216]
2. Practice acts of kindness.
Being kind to others makes you feel compassionate and capable, gives you a greater sense of connection with others and earns you smiles, approval and reciprocated kindness. These are all happiness boosters.
3. Avoid over thinking.
There’s a time to think about the bad stuff in your life, but it is unhealthy to dwell on your problems excessively.
If you have problems or are uncertain about something then there are two simple things to do; make ‘istikharah’ and trust in Allah. ‘Istikharah’ is a word which means asking Allah to help one make a choice, meaning choosing the best of two (or more) things where one needs to choose one of them.
If you are over thinking because of difficulties, then reflect on all the bounty that Allah has given you, there will be someone without a job, someone without ten sets of clothes, someone without a car. Be grateful for what you have and make Dua, remember the shortest distance between a problem and its solution is the distance between your knees and the floor. The one who kneels to Allah can stand up to anything.
Remember one of the main ways to improve your well-being is to remember Allah, so find something that you do to take care of your soul and nurture your Deen.
By Saiyyidah Zaidi