When we fall to our lowest due to things going on in our lives we fail to see the positive things that may be happening around us. For me this happens often. I will often forget to be grateful for things because I get lost in the current crisis. It’s an annoying habit, one that I never had before my mum passed away. I had tough days even then, but I could still be grateful.
I think as you age your views change, and the circumstances in your life can change you as well. But having spoken to people around me I find that not many people really want to be grateful. For a lot, it is just easier to be upset, drowned in our sorrows and be ungrateful. Trust me I have had times where I have been ungrateful for the good things in my life. Mostly because I let the bad times win!
I have had a friend tell me constantly that I am more happy to look at the glass half-empty than half-full, because I seem to like drowning in my own self-pity. I won’t lie. It has been the truth for nearly a year now. Pretty much since my mum died in April 2017. Instead of coming out of a bubble of depression, I fell into a deeper pit, that didn’t seem to end.
Why? Because I was not happy with the choices I made in life. Of course, logically there was probably a very good reason why Allah (swt) wanted me to make those choices. But nope I was happy to wallow in my misery. Usually its just more comfortable that way.
I knew I was doing it, but it felt like I had a split personality. A part of me was looking down at me and telling me off for the way I was behaving, but the other part that had decided to overtake my thinking was rejoicing. So basically I was letting the bad me win.
I could turn around and say that it’s easy to be grateful, but that would not be true. What I will say is what I have tried to do, not always successfully but it has occasionally worked. In Shah Allah one day I will break that barrier and learn to be grateful at least 80% of the time and thus improve my life overall. I will go through a few ways that you can learn to be grateful in life, it’s always nice to test what will work for you.
Learn to be grateful for things around you and begin to appreciate the goodness that you take for granted every day. For example rather than look at someone and think to yourself why they have certain good habits or ‘nice’’ things in life, try to learn to improve yourself. Learn to be grateful about what you have, grateful that you have the opportunity to maybe become like them and to improve yourself in the process. Be grateful for the opportunity to change yourself rather than to be disheartened and ungrateful.
Boost your confidence in yourself and appreciate what you have, this will help you to get over things that you do not have. It’s actually a lot harder to just do it in reality than just saying it. But if you learn to accept your life as it is, if you don’t compare yourself to others, if you don’t try and compete with what others have, then it becomes easier to be grateful and feel good about yourself.
Alhumdollilah this is something that I let go of a very long time ago. There was a time when I was at the brink of a high flying law career but then I had to give it up. I had to choose between taking care of my mum or pursuing my legal career. It was a difficult decision to make, and one which I was mocked and ridiculed for by people around me. I was made to feel like I had made a bad decision whilst those closest to me were happy to shed their own responsibilities and look the other way. At that point for a while ungratefulness did kick in until I realised what I was given was a blessing few people had the opportunity for.
Dealing with mistakes
When we have made a mistake we instantly forget everything and berate ourselves. “why was I so stupid?’ or “why did I not think of the consequences?” Dealing with mistakes itself can be an art, one that can be difficult to master. No one can go through life without making mistakes, it’s just not possible!
The important thing is to learn from them and feel gratitude from learning. Mistakes can be made by the best of us. The more gratitude we can feel about these mistakes, the more peace we will eventually feel. Often that gratitude can mean e.g. making amends with the people we may hurt.
It’s actually interesting that we never think of mistakes in a positive light. It is our mistakes that define us and make us stronger and more aware of things around us. If we did not make mistakes we could not be better people. Well, depending on if we learn from them!
Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless – Thomas Edison
So how did I conquer my mistakes? I recently went through a period where I was burdened by a mistake I made. It was made with the right intentions but it ended up resulting in something horrible in return. I reflected on what I had learnt from this mistake, the life lesson it had taught me and what I had gained from it. I became grateful for the opportunity to improve myself and to forgive myself and move on because in some way it was a gift from Allah (swt).
When problems (seem to) have no solutions
Sometimes we go through life and we cannot see a solution to the problem that we are facing. We can become frustrated and angry because things did not go according to plan. A good example is when you go to work and you have to see the same work colleague every day, who is irritating and will not let you work. He creates a difficult situation for you and you become resentful.
Beware of allowing this situation to impact how you behave with the person as this is how you will be remembered. Instead if you thought of the person in a more positive light and found something that would make you grateful for having them in your life you would be a much happier person! Yes this is easier said then done. It is not always easy to find a balance. Even more so in family relationships. In my case I have a family member that things had become unpleasant with. For a while I was angry and would often question why things had happened the way they did. She never asked for forgiveness nor did she admit to making the mistake. But I was grateful that it had happened as it taught me a few lessons. I also realised over time that forgiving her was beneficial for me as it made me stronger.
Have mercy on those on the earth, and the One in heaven will have mercy on you [Tirmidhi].
Gratitude and forgiveness often go side by side. You cannot really have one without the other. They are the two powerful tools that help you to move on and be happy with life. When you are willing to be grateful for the wonderful things around you, the healing process can begin. But a big part of gratitude is being able to forgive those around you that may have hurt you.
Some people see forgiveness as cowardly and that you are validating the other person’s behaviour. Often people will criticise the one forgiving, saying that they are taking away the responsibility of the actions of the other person and the choices they made and giving them a free ticket out. For me forgiveness is all about letting go and being the better person. If I believe in Allah (swt), then I should keep my faith in Him as well and know that forgiving someone will help me, not just the other person. Forgiveness is about ME, I have the choice of being free rather than angry and miserable about what happened to me, or what someone did to me.
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you – Lewis B. Smedes
A simple exercise for forgiving in just 3 steps is as follows:
- Write down names of 5 people that have hurt you enough to warrant an effort in being forgiven. Order the list from least painful to most painful.
- Consider what the first person on the list did to you, reflect on the psychological and physical harm. Consider how it changed you. Let your emotions wander and feel the negative emotions that come up and allow yourself to come to terms with them.
- Make the decision to forgive by extending it to the person your are forgiving. This does not necessarily mean going to the person and telling them you forgive them. Instead, you are deliberately reducing your own resentment and offering kindness and respect.
It can feel a little hard a first, simply because even when you make the conscious effort to forgive, the resentment (kudos to Shaytan) is pushing you to not do it. A personal note here, you will find that often when you forgive someone, the other people around you might see you as a wimp. Always remember that you’re the one who is doing the forgiving, and In Shah Allah in Allah’s eyes you have done something beautiful. There is a powerful hadith on this which I think is amazing and tells you that even in Islam the benefit of forgiveness is huge.
The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam), while sitting in the mosque with the Companions (radi Allahu anhum), pointed out a person who entered the mosque as being of those who would enter Jannah. He did this for 3 days, and every time, it was the same person who entered the mosque. Abdullah bin ‘Amr (radi Allahu anhu) wanted to know what quality this man possessed that made the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) say that about him, so he spent three nights with that man. He did not notice that the man prayed any optional night prayers during any of these nights, but if he woke up during the night, he would simply mention Allah. So before he left, he had to ask him what he did that was so special that the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) identified him as a man of Jannah. The man replied: “My deeds are nothing more than what you saw”. When Abdullah (radi Allahu anhu) left, he (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) called him back in and said: “My deeds are nothing more than what you saw, but the only thing I do is that I do not hold any grudge against any Muslim or envy anyone for what bounties Allah has granted them”; thereupon ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Amr (radi Allahu anhu) said to him: “This difficult quality to obtain is what granted you this rank. [Ahmad]
Purpose of gratitude for me
I often try to be grateful about things around me. As there are so many things that have had a positive impact on my life. I have been through difficult times. I will not lie, I have not always been the most grateful person during those times. There would be days I would be thankful and look at the bright side and other times I would not. This is natural, but the more you practice gratitude the stronger you get. In Shah Allah there will come a day where my heart will be full of gratitude for things around me and I will be able to maintain a consistent balance.
From all the skills available out there, gratitude is one skill that we can all develop. Learning to accept the positive and the negative aspects of yourself will also teach you to be grateful. Finally here are things I can be grateful for in my life:
This is what I will always be grateful for. Allah is with me at my highest and my lowest. Without Allah, life’s purpose would be empty. He guides me and does what is best for me. I might not know it at times but I definitely always know it afterwards!
Taking care of my mum
I am very grateful for having the opportunity to take care of my mum. In 2006 just a few days before graduation my mum had a stroke and we were told she would not have long to live. At that point I had to make the decision to take care of her or to continue with my career. I had just enrolled for the Legal Practice Course. I had decided I would not do it, but then by Allah’s blessing the idea of part-time came to mind. So whilst taking care of her I also completed my course over 2 years. There were ups and downs all through those 2 years. After I finished the course, my heart would not agree to going out and working when I knew she was paralysed and unable to move. I would always think it would be unfair on her as I was her daughter. I didn’t want to force my sister in laws, so that was out of the question. If they wanted they could have helped. This would lead to me becoming bitter at times, but that was natural. In all honesty it was a blessing I didn’t see at the time and I would do it all over again if I had the chance. Trust me, it was no easy feat, and there were days I wished sincerely that I had taken a different route. I questioned myself and I berated myself for having taken on the role. However, had I not made that decision then, I would have spent the rest of my life in deep regret. Not taking care of your parents when given the opportunity means you miss out on life’s biggest blessings. Allah has told us that in old age we need to care for our parents. The Messenger of Allah (swt) also greatly emphasised taking care of one’s parents, especially if they are elderly. Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with her) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (swt) said:
“Let him be humbled into dust”; “Let him be humbled into dust; “Let him be humbled into dust”. It was said: O Muhammad of Allah! Who is he? He said: He who sees either of his parents during their old age or he sees both of them, but he does not enter Paradise. (Sahih Muslim)
What this means, is that a person who misses the opportunity to serve his/her parents also loses the opportunity of entering paradise. Now I cannot say whether I will enter paradise or not, only Allah (swt) knows this. But I do hope that because of this at least some of my worldly sins have decreased and the load on my judgement scale lightened.
Having someone positive in my life
“Surround yourself with good people, surround yourself with positivity and people who are going to challenge you to make you better.” Ali Kreiger
I am grateful for having someone make a positive impact in my life when I was at my lowest – being pushed and harassed to come out of the bad place I was happy staying in. Sometimes you don’t realise how you are behaving and it needs to be pointed out. It is easy to sink deeper into depression and ignore all the signs. I am grateful that there was someone to spot those signs when everyone else around seemed to think I was fine.
Having a supportive family
I am grateful to have my family around me. Yes they can drive me mad and put me down or have unrealistic expectations of me, but they are still there for me when I need them. I could be angry at them for so many things but I have let them all go because at the end of the day, somewhere in their hearts even they may have a good reason for being the way they are. I have seen countless brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers that are horrible, nasty or disgusting. Alhumdolillah, my family will always pull through for me when times are tough.
Chance to learn from my mistake
Blunders are often made, I made one recently that was eating me up. The intention was right, but the actions were wrong. It made me bitter and resentful to the people around me that had caused it to occur. But Alhumdolillah, Allah guided me out of a very difficult situation and eased my difficulty.
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