There are many things in life we all want ranging from a dress or a perfume to a car or a house. How likely we are to achieve them depends on variable factors like hard work, opportunities, luck, socio-economic background and so on. Is our happiness dependent on the things that we want material or otherwise or is there a way to achieve happiness without them?
An article by Harvard Medical School states that “in positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.” It is also associated with better sleep, stronger relationships, more positive emotions, fewer negative emotions, less stress, resilience in state of grief and overall physical wellbeing. An interesting study also found that grateful people are more spiritually and religiously minded.
In Islam, we are motivated to be thankful to Allah ta’ala and also to people.
Abu Huraira reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever does not thank people has not thanked Allah.”(Abu Dawood)
And what is the reward for showing gratitude?
In Quran, Allah says that:
لَئِن شَكَرْتُمْ لأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]…’ (Surah Ibrahim: 7)
But I don’t have nothing to be grateful for, some might say. It is due to our own lack of emotional maturity that we fail to identify how many things we can be grateful for. You are probably reading this article on the internet, you have internet. That’s a start. Be grateful for it. Note that globally you lie in the 48% of the people that have internet access. What about your body? Physical attributes? The power to see, hear, touch, smell, taste? The power to think? Allah might test some people by not giving them a certain ability for example the ability to see. The key to gratitude is looking at the things you have instead of looking at the things that you don’t. You have a body to be thankful for and due to this body, you can explore the world, learn and grow and experience new things. Look around your room. Look at the things you have. Clothes, shoes, house, bed, food… Look at the relationships you have. Family, spouse, friends, neighbors, teachers… Look at the opportunities you have. School, work, volunteering…
If you don’t have one thing, you’ll have another. Make a list of 10 things in life you are grateful for and reflect. How many times have you been truly grateful to Allah for those things? How many times you expressed true thankfulness to people who are source of amazing things in your life?
Another important key point is NEVER to compare. Because us humans are subconsciously always comparing ourselves to the other people around us. And we compare ourselves to what we see. What we don’t know, we don’t compare ourselves to. Know this that everyone in this world has challenges, even those whose life you idealize badly. There is no one with a perfect life. NO ONE. Sometimes when we look at those people who live their lives in the limelight and all the glamour and blitz makes us feel pathetic for our lives. It can be a someone in the showbiz, a successful businessman, a youtuber or an Instagram model. I remember once there was a video where an interviewer asked people whom they would exchange their life with, and one girl answered with ‘The Kardashians’. Although this is one example, but this is a common theme in young people i.e. idolizing the lives of media personalities. The reality is that even if someone has more money or fame doesn’t mean they are happier or don’t have any struggles in life
One of the reasons for comparison is social media. The more common social media is becoming, more we are comparing ourselves to other people. “Research to date suggests that social media use increases the feeling that others are doing better and, as a result, increases negative affect and decreases positive affect.” In a study about Instagram posts’ effect, those people who are prone to social comparison showed decrease in positive affect when viewing positive posts from others on Instagram. Those who have low level of social comparison showed increase in positive affect. (Positive Affect: One’s propensity to experience positive emotions and interact with others and with life’s challenges in a positive way)
So, what we take away from this is to stop comparing ourselves in every way possible. In if we are happier and positive, we are less likely to compare to those who are better than us as a research from 1997 finds. So, it is a full cycle. Less comparison leads to happiness, more happiness leads to less comparison.
To summarize the whole discussion, for being happy in life, we need to be more grateful to people and to Allah. For having gratitude, we should look at the things we have instead of those we don’t. Secondly, we shouldn’t compare our life with anyone else in the world because everyone has different challenges. If we successfully apply these two things, we will be happier and content in our life.
- Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Giving thanks can make you happier. Retrieved from www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier
- Craig, H. (2019, November 20). The Research on Gratitude and Its Link with Love and Happiness. Retrieved from www.positivepsychology.com/gratitude-research/
- Wikipedia. (2019, December 4). Global Internet usage. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Internet_usage
- Dian A. de Vries, A. Marthe Möller, Marieke S. Wieringa, Anniek W. Eigenraam & Kirsten Hamelink (2018) Social Comparison as the Thief of Joy: Emotional Consequences of Viewing Strangers’ Instagram Posts, Media Psychology, 21:2, 222-245, Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15213269.2016.1267647
- Lyubomirsky, S., & Ross, L.E. (1997). Hedonic consequences of social comparison: a contrast of happy and unhappy people. Journal of personality and social psychology, 73 6, 1141-57. Retrieved from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Hedonic-consequences-of-social-comparison%3A-a-of-and-Lyubomirsky-Ross/7f0703ec27353a996a25f0fc7a47439aa00c8299