Ramadan & Happiness: Life Skills During The Fasting Month

by Mark

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By the time you are reading this, we will be roughly three quarters of the way through Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims. Ramadan is a time of fasting, worship, service, communal gathering, and spiritual development. Interestingly, some recent research published at this time has also demonstrated how some of these activities are linked to our happiness. In this post, we’ll take a look at how Ramadan can provide us all with lessons to improve our wellbeing.

A look at Ramadan

For Muslims, the holy month involves fasting, self-reflection, an appreciation of community – with a focus on those less privileged - service to others, charitable giving and communal gatherings. Through these activities and frequent prayer, Muslims hope to get closer to God during this time and gain a greater appreciation for the blessings that they have.

Clearly, within these activities, we can find the attributes of reflection, gratitude, kindness, altruism abstinence and purpose – and research has shown that these are all important pieces in the happiness puzzle when it comes to work – that is, happiness for others as well as ourselves.

Building a happiness practice

Earlier this month, Neuroscience News reported on a study conducted by the University of Bristol. One of the largest and longest studies of its kind, the University essentially launched a ‘Science of Happiness Course’ in 2018. This was a purely educational course giving students all the latest research from across the science fields on how to be happy. The researchers continued to follow the students after they graduated, up until the end of last year.

The results showed that although happiness can indeed be learned, it requires sustained effort and a regular practice of key habits (such as gratitude and self-reflection) to maintain the long-term benefits. This is akin to going to the gym to gain and then maintain a healthy body. It means the building of a happiness practice to sustain happiness.

The building blocks of happiness

Pulling together the various pieces of research on the science of happiness, we can highlight the five important foundations of a happiness practice:

1. Self-reflection

The first step on the road to happiness is self-reflection. For some, this may be through prayer, for others mindful meditation, or maybe both. Self-reflection helps us to focus on where we are. Focusing the mind trains attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. This allows us to better understand pain, challenges, but also what we have and what our goals and values should be.

According to a study by the American Psychological Association, self-reflection is an essential element of mental health and well-being. People who engage in self-reflection report fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression and higher levels of life satisfaction, as well as better interactions with their friends, family and co-workers.

2. Gratitude

According to the Harvard Medical School, in positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

Of course, being grateful for what we have allows us to stop looking for the next thing to acquire and instead allows us to appreciate our situation more, while also appreciating that others have less than we do.

A 2022 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that teammates who thanked their coworkers before performing a high-stress task had less job stress—indicated by a better cardiovascular response—compared to teams who did not express gratitude. The enhanced cardiovascular response led to less stress, greater concentration, more confidence and peak performance. Thanking others shows you appreciate them and helps them to feel valued, increasing the overall happiness level in your team.

3. Kindness and Compassion

Recent research published in Forbes demonstrated that people who go above and beyond to practice kindness are happier and have better mental and physical health than those who don’t spend as much time supporting others. Kindness and compassion can involve helping those in need and giving to charity, but it can also feature in very day to day activities. According to Bryan Robinson, a professor who studies work-life balance issues;

“…studies have shown that small actions, such as buying a cup of coffee for a coworker, go a long way to raise morale and promote teamwork. And it’s contagious for receivers who are more likely to perform a kind action for another colleague.”

And of course, we should also be kind to ourselves. When you learn to like and care for yourself, it increases your happiness, and you automatically want to spread that feeling to others. Conversely, studies show that self-judgment, self-criticism and self-neglect build barriers to job engagement, motivation and career advancement.

4. Purposeful activities

We’ve mentioned in several past blog posts about how a sense of purpose and value boosts employee productivity and wellbeing. Engaging in meaningful work is directly linked to improved happiness. Research has shownthat when there’s sense of purpose in employees’ work, it makes day-to-day tasks seem less stressful and helps them generally feel happier about the work they're doing. Purpose can also be communicated by managers setting clear goals and objectives and demonstrating to teams how their work fits into the bigger picture.

5. Abstinence

Abstaining applies to two key areas. Firstly, and most obviously, abstain from activities that decrease happiness. If checking social media regularly becomes an addiction, abstaining is clearly a good idea. Maybe you’re addicted to people-pleasing at work. Abstaining from that activity can both improve your wellbeing and increase respect colleagues have for you. However, temporarily abstaining from things you enjoy can also make you appreciate them more while helping you regulate your habits and desires more effectively – for example cutting down on coffee consumption.

And finally, and somewhat counter-intuitively, abstain from desperately seeking happiness.Research has shown that those most desperately seeking happiness tend to be less happy. Rather, happiness is best achieved indirectly, without paying too much attention to it, through a happiness practice built on the above five foundations.

To conclude, being happy at work, and indeed in life outside of work, requires that we work at being happy and this time of year is a good opportunity for all of us to focus on building a happiness practice to the benefit of both ourselves and those around us.

To all our Muslim friends and colleagues, we wish you Ramadan Mubarak and we look forward to a happy 2024 for all of us.