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Untangled: Gratitude rewires our brains to be better Muslims

Untangled: Gratitude rewires our brains to be better Muslims

By Maram Behairy

In the last post, I talked about how our brain naturally focuses on the negative things in life to keep us safe. The problem is we live in a global community and are exposed to a lot of ultra-filtered negativity. This skewed view of reality has created a lot of anxious humans who go on either offense or defense. We are too scared to openly and authentically interact with one another and too scared to create full lives.

We want to protect ourselves from bad things, obviously. Yet, to have a balanced view of the world, we must make an extra effort to acknowledge the good in humanity.

Gratitude is one way to help our brains regain balance. By remembering the tiny moments that went well and brought you joy, you create a pathway in your brain for positivity. As you do this simple exercise every day, that pathway becomes more ingrained. The result is thoughts that will easily flow in positive directions.

I like simple tips that I can easily do even when life is hectic and especially hard. My favorite way to incorporate a gratitude practice is during bedtime with the kids. I ask them a simple question, “What 3 moments today do you want to thank Allah SWT for?” I also share my 3 moments with them.

 وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا لُقْمَانَ الْحِكْمَةَ أَنِ اشْكُرْ لِلَّهِ ۚ وَمَنْ يَشْكُرْ فَإِنَّمَا يَشْكُرُ لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَنْ كَفَرَ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَنِيٌّ حَمِيدٌ  

Indeed, We blessed Luqman with wisdom: “Be grateful to Allah, for whoever is grateful, it is only for their own good. And whoever is ungrateful, then surely Allah is Self-sufficient and Praiseworthy.” (Quran 31:12)

Allah SWT tells us in the Quran that gratefulness is for our own benefit and I have personally experienced at least 3 tangible results from my gratitude practice.

  1. Relationship with Self: My inner dialogue is more positive when I am consistent with the practice. Negative self-talk and self-doubt are draining and toxic. Imagine having a friend that is constantly tearing you down. Now imagine you have no breaks and no escape. It’s torture, it happens to us all, and we often don’t realize it. To target this particular problem, you can adjust the question to: “What 3 moments today am I proud of myself for?”
  2. Relationship with Others: My gratitude practice has improved my relationship with others. It’s no secret that there is a link between graciousness with oneself and graciousness with others (see article below). Hence, you may find it easier to make excuses for other people’s hurtful words or actions. Gratefulness will open up space for forgiveness. If there is a lot of tension with a particular person, you may shift the gratitude question to: “What 3 actions (or qualities) can I appreciate about this person?”
  3. Service to Community: I have found that this gratitude practice helps me be more hopeful, creative, and productive. The negativity overload impacts different people differently. Some go into a frozen, defensive-mode while others go into an aggressive, offensive-mode. Negativity bias makes me freeze. My internal dialogue sounds like this: “The world is so messed up and no amount of good acts makes a difference.” Gratitude helps me notice the impact of other people’s tiny actions on me. Then, I begin to see how my tiny and seemingly insignificant actions can deeply impact others. Hence, I regain my hope and purpose, which leads to massive productivity.

These 3 results will naturally increase your joy and will benefit those around you. We all want to live a good life and do a good job. Trying to force joy, patience, and productivity is difficult and short-lived. Intentional gratitude rewires our brains to be better Muslims with greater ease.


Why You Have to Love Yourself First by Juliana Breines, Ph.D.

The Science of Gratitude by Karen Young

How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain by Joshua Brown, Ph.D. and Joel Wong, Ph.D.

About the Author:

Maram Behairy is a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction and heads the writers’ group of South Florida Muslim Federation

‘I like to understand the bigger picture, deeper reasons, and nuanced connections. I have always been more interested in the roots under the ground than the fruit above. I complicate and explore in order to find the simple, deep truths. I live those with conviction. My dream is to use my gift for words to inspire and guide others to live with purpose and greater ease. So as I experiment on myself, I will share what I learn along the way. My roles in life (by default my areas of exploration) include being a Muslim, woman, wife, mother, writer, and youth mentor.’ 

Have a question for the author or want to reach her? Email her at maram@soflomuslims.com.

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