The Importance of Positive Thoughts
Our thoughts have a powerful ability to determine our feelings and emotional states and ultimately affect how we behave, for better or worse. Islam teaches us to direct the act of reflection (Tafakkur), or deep thought, towards the signs of Allah, the names and attributes of Allah, to His blessings and wonders, to hope in the Hereafter, and to optimism. By controlling our thought processes in a positive manner, we can increase the effectiveness of our prayers and worship as well as relieve ourselves from the anger, depression, and anxieties that worldly thoughts induce.
Contrary to popular belief, we have control over which thoughts we choose to follow. We may not have a choice over which particular thought occurs initially in our minds at a given time, but we do have a choice to either ignore it or pursue it.
Our voluntary thoughts are nothing more than inward statements. Hence, the rule is that we should only engage good thoughts or keep our minds silent.
Sometimes Shaytaan will throw evil suggestions into our minds. These suggestions have no power over us unless we choose to act on them. If we follow an evil or negative train of thought, then it will lead us to a terrible end.
Thus, when we find ourselves caught up in a bad line of thinking, we need to immediately replace these negative thoughts with positive inward statements to cancel their effects.
After understanding the effects of positive and negative thoughts, we then need to direct our thought processes towards positive trains of thought and learn to dismiss negative thoughts before they take us into a downward spiral. Many of the Prophet’s ﷺ companions (RA) considered the skill to direct thought in a positive way as the enlightenment of true faith.
Amir ibn Abdi Qais, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
سَمِعْتُ غَيْرَ وَاحِدٍ وَلَا اثْنَيْنِ وَلَا ثَلَاثَةٍ مِنْ أَصْحَابِ مُحَمَّدٍ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَقُولُونَ إِنَّ ضِيَاءَ الْإِيمَانِ أَوْ نُورَ الْإِيمَانِ التَّفَكُّرُ
I heard from more than one or two or three of the companions of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, that they said the radiance or light of faith is in reflection. Source: al-Durr al-Manthūr 3:190
Thinking about the blessings of Allah is itself an act of worship that leads to gratitude, contentment, and happiness. It takes no significant effort from us and yet it produces great results in our lives.
Umar ibn Abdul Aziz, may Allah have mercy on him, said:
الْكَلَامُ بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ حَسَنٌ وَالْفِكْرَةُ فِي نِعَمِ اللَّهِ أَفْضَلُ الْعِبَادَةِ
Speaking about the remembrance of Allah the Exalted is good, yet thought upon the blessings of Allah is the best act of worship. Source: Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr 3:190
All of this points to the fact that the believers should be optimistic and not pessimistic or cynical. There are no omens in Islam (or signs that predict the future), but the believers are always expecting the best from Allah, even if they do not know exactly how it will be.
In sum, Islam teaches us to direct our thoughts towards what is good and to ignore bad thoughts. Like outward statements, thoughts we pursue are simply inward statements that should be good or at least neutral. If we entertain a bad thought, we should follow it with several positive inward statements to cancel its effect. Positive thinking should lead to an optimistic outlook and good expectations in Allah and His mercy. These good expectations are the inner secret that makes our prayers and worship most effective and fulfilling.