In Chapter 3, Cultivating an Attitude of Happiness and a Spirit of Optimism, Gordon B. Hinckley uses two examples to emphasize the importance of learning to have a positive outlook on life. The first one comes from the scriptures. The year after Moses had led the children of Israel into the wilderness, he sent one representative from each of the twelve tribes to go into the land of Canaan and then report back on their living conditions. Caleb and Joshua reported that they found the land to be fruitful, even bringing back some of “the firstripe grapes” as evidence. The other ten, President Hinckley said, “were victims of their own doubts and fears.” Their report was negative, acknowledging that the Canaanites were stronger than they were. In comparing themselves, they became “victims of their own timidity.” Sadly, “the people were more willing to believe the ten doubters than to believe Caleb and Joshua. Then it was that the Lord declared that the children of Israel should wander in the wilderness forty years until the generation of those who had walked with doubt and fear should pass away.” The ten doubters died in the wilderness, but Caleb and Joshua were privileged to enter the promised land.
I believe the message President Hinckley wants us to get from this example is that if we are not careful we will miss out on blessings because of doubt and fear. The Lord will always bless us when our lives are filled with faith and optimism.
The second example comes from a newspaper article which was written by Jenkins Lloyd Jones. He wrote:
“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed.
“Most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. …
“Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.
“The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”
President Hinckley continued, “The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride; and really, isn’t it a wonderful ride? Enjoy it! Laugh about it! Sing about it!”
What a wonderful approach to life! If we look for the positive, we will surely find it. It may be a little difficult at times, but there is always something to be grateful for! Having a grateful heart will bless not only our own life but also the lives of those around us.
President Hinckley warned, “There is a terrible ailment of pessimism in the land. It’s almost endemic. We’re constantly fed a steady and sour diet of character assassination, faultfinding, evil speaking of one another.” Although he said that 23 years ago, it unfortunately still applies today. He issued a plea then that we would be wise to accept now. “I come with a plea that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I’m suggesting that we accentuate the positive. I’m asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort, that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults, that optimism replace pessimism. Let our faith replace our fears. Cultivate an attitude of happiness. Cultivate a spirit of optimism. Cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving for the blessing of life and for the marvelous gifts and privileges each of us enjoy.”
The word “cultivate” left a great impression on me. One of the definitions of cultivate is “to improve or develop by careful attention, training, or study: devote time and thought to.” Careful attention to our attitude will help us recognize if we are getting caught in the trap of pessimism. And consciously thinking about and being thankful for our blessings will help us be more grateful. It will definitely take time, patience and effort to cultivate happiness and optimism, but it will be worth it!
So how do we cultivate happiness and optimism? While there are many ways, these three are a great place to start!
Believe in Yourself – “There is a sad tendency among many of us to belittle ourselves. Most of us have some feelings of inferiority. The important thing is not to talk to yourself about it. The important thing is to make the best of all that we have. Don’t waste your time feeling sorry for yourself. Don’t belittle yourself. Never forget that you are a child of God. You have a divine birthright. Something of the very nature of God is within you. … There is no greater truth in all the world than that. Believe in yourself. Believe in your capacity to do great and good things. Believe that no mountain is so high that you cannot climb it. Believe that no storm is so great that you cannot weather it. You are a child of God, of infinite capacity. Stand a little taller, rise a little higher, be a little better.” Gordon B. Hinckley
Testimony – “A testimony provides us with a reason for hope and gladness. It helps us cultivate a spirit of optimism and happiness.” Dieter F. Uchtdorf1
“A strong testimony gives peace, comfort, and assurance. It generates the conviction that as the teachings of the Savior are consistently obeyed, life will be beautiful, the future secure, and there will be capacity to overcome the challenges that cross our path. As you fortify your own personal testimony, you will have power to make correct choices so that you can stand unwaveringly against the pressures of an increasingly vicious world. Your personal security and happiness depend upon the strength of your testimony, for it will guide your actions in times of trial or uncertainty.” Richard G. Scott2
Holy Ghost – “The Holy Ghost blesses us with optimism and wisdom at times of challenge that we simply cannot muster on our own.” Sheri Dew3
“The Holy Ghost loves us and wants us to be happy. Since He knows the challenges we will face, He can guide us and teach us all things we must do to return and live with our Heavenly Father once again. During times of trouble or despair or simply when we need to know that God is near, the Holy Ghost can lift our spirits, give us hope, and teach us ‘the peaceable things of the kingdom,’ helping us feel ‘the peace of God, which passeth all understanding.’” Craig C. Christensen4
Knowing I am a daughter of God, my testimony and the Holy Ghost have been sources of happiness and optimism in my life many times. Without question, the time I felt it most was when my daughter passed away. My testimony truly sustained me. It provided me with hope and gladness. I found great peace, comfort and optimism knowing that because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ I will be with my daughter again. The Holy Ghost spoke peace to my heart and blessed me with optimism and wisdom which cannot be explained. Knowing I had a loving Heavenly Father who knew me and knew how I felt made such an incredible difference! Of course there was grief, but there was no despair or discouragement.
Life can often be challenging. Sometimes it is downright difficult! We all have trials we are expected to endure. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves when we are trying to deal with them. The problem isn’t our trials. The problem is when we don’t try to rise above them. It is important to remember that despair and discouragement are the opposite of hope and optimism. Howard W. Hunter taught that “despair, doom and discouragement are not an acceptable view of life for a Latter-day Saint. … There have always been some difficulties in mortal life and there always will be. But knowing what we know, and living as we are supposed to live, there really is no place, no excuse, for pessimism and despair. … I hope you won’t believe … that things have never been worse than they are for you personally, or that they will never get better. I reassure you that things have been worse and they will always get better. They always do – especially when we live and love the gospel of Jesus Christ and give it a chance to flourish in our lives.”5
Dieter F. Uchtdorf reminds, “The adversary uses despair to bind hearts and minds in suffocating darkness. Despair drains from us all that is vibrant and joyful and leaves behind the empty remnants of what life was meant to be. Despair kills ambition, advances sickness, pollutes the soul, and deadens the heart. Despair can seem like a staircase that leads only and forever downward.
“Hope, on the other hand, is like the beam of sunlight rising up and above the horizon of our present circumstances. It pierces the darkness with a brilliant dawn.
“Hope is not knowledge, but rather the abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill His promise to us. It is confidence that if we live according to God’s laws and the words of His prophets now, we will receive desired blessings in the future. It is believing and expecting that our prayers will be answered. It is manifest in confidence, optimism, enthusiasm, and patient perseverance. With hope comes joy and happiness. With hope, we can have patience, and bear our afflictions.”6
Life is wonderful! We have so much to be thankful for. The blessings of the gospel give us many reasons to be happy and optimistic.
May we accept President Hinckley’s challenge “to square your lives with the teachings of the gospel, to live as an example of what the gospel of Jesus Christ will do in bringing happiness to an individual. Be happy! Let that happiness shine through your faces and speak through your testimonies. In all of living have much of fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured.”
1. The Power of a Personal Testimony – Dieter F. Uchtdorf
2. The Power of a Strong Testimony – Richard G. Scott
3. We Are Not Alone – Sheri Dew
4. An Unspeakable Gift from God – Craig C. Christensen
5. An Anchor to the Souls of Men – Howard W. Hunter
6. The Infinite Power of Hope – Dieter F. Uchtdorf