A few years ago, I came across one of the most striking personal examples of the power of attitude. At the time, I was looking down the barrel of turning 40. This re-sparked a desire to get back in shape so I began jogging a few times a week. Then, a month before my birthday, I gracefully jammed my pinky toe on my coffee table. Refusing to acknowledge a possible break I continued on with my daily life.
A few days after the coffee table attacked me, I went for a jog and felt a sharp pain in my foot. I suffered through a few more days of agonizing denial, then broke down and went in for a doctor’s visit, X-rays, and a CT scan. While there I found out I had a broken toe and a broken foot—double the fracture, double the fun. To help heal my broken bones, my podiatrist suggested I wear a medical boot to stabilize my foot.
The hard, plastic boot reached up to the middle of my calf and was uncomfortable, restrictive, and made me walk lopsided.
I didn’t like the boot. I blamed nearly all my troubles on it: my back hurt; my hips hurt; my knees hurt; I couldn’t work out, so I was gaining weight. I even blamed the bags under my eyes and my gray hairs on the boot. It was a curse and I was its victim.
I was supposed to wear the boot for a month, but with my bad attitude and rebellious choices, I wore the boot only half the time I was supposed to. At my next visit, my doctor told me I wasn’t healing well enough and I had to wear the boot full-time for at least another month.
One morning, while I was standing in the grocery store checkout line in pain and feeling sorry for myself, a lively older employee asked me about my boot. I grumpily told him I’d run into the coffee table. With a grin, he announced that was a lame story and I needed to get a better one to impress him. His response caught me off guard. I eyed him up and down to get an idea of what kind of guy would say that to a crippled woman.
That was when I noticed the metal claw where his right hand should have been.
I gestured toward it and asked what his story was. With an even bigger grin, he said, “October 18, 1968. Meat grinder.” He told me he’d been 18 working two jobs and going to school. He’d gotten tired and had slipped up, getting his glove caught in the large metal grinder.
He then told me it was the most amazing experience he had ever had.
“No way,” I replied. That couldn’t be true.
“It was!” he said. “I was in and out of the hospital and back to work in four days.”
He was all smiles as he explained that the timing couldn’t have been better; he’d been young and strong so his body had recovered quickly. “Isn’t that amazing?” he beamed.
Yes, it was. But what I thought was more amazing was this man’s attitude. He was genuinely happy. He couldn’t go home and take the claw off to put his hand back on—it was permanent. But because of his positive attitude, he was happier for it. I felt about an inch high. I tucked my boot behind my other leg.
He told me what a great conversation piece it had been over the years, how many great experiences he had had, and how many wonderful people he’d met because of it—people like me. Then he smiled again and told me to get a better story about my foot, wished me luck, and turned to help another customer.
As I left the store, my mind stayed on the one-handed man and our conversation. I had stood there, whining about a temporary boot that protected my foot while it healed, and he had happily waved his shiny hook—not even a prosthetic hand but a hook—like it was the best thing ever. And to him, it was, because he saw all the good that had come from it. His attitude left little room for self-pity and sadness. I knew then that I had to change my attitude.
And when I did, the boot began to look different to me. I began to see it as a way to help me heal, not hold me back.
As my attitude changed, I noticed another change: my level of gratitude. I was grateful for all the good that had come from the boot, including my bones healing and my conversation with the happy man. In one shopping trip, I went from being a miserable victim to a happy and grateful victor.
The Power of a Positive Attitude
As with all things pertaining to our eternal salvation, the power of attitude lies in our hands. We are counseled to, “cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves” (2 Nephi 10:23). In a letter Joseph Smith penned from the dimly lit, cramped cell of Liberty Jail, the sorely persecuted and cast-out Saints received the counsel to “cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God” (D&C 123:17).
On the other hand, the constant flow of negativity, no matter how small, has the power to wear away the most solid perspective, testimony, and happiness.
Meanwhile, the enabling power of a positive outlook can open the doors to greater joy, understanding, possibilities, and promises. Will we choose to lean on negativity as a crutch, becoming unhappy victims of an unfair life? Or do we choose a positive attitude where hope and love, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, and joy hold us up?
It’s not always easy to stay positive, especially when we are hurting, frustrated, or disappointed. There have been times, admittedly, when I have been downright angry with God for allowing me to hurt the way I have. Sometimes life has just seemed so. . . unfair. Why did I have to have this trial when it seemed so many others were doing so well?
Then I am reminded of the words I tell my young son when he whines about the unfairness of life: “If life were fair, you’d wear your sister’s underwear.” It’s not profound, but it’s true. If life were fair—in the context that everything is equal—we would not receive the custom, personalized experiences we need to individually reach our greatest potential. Fair, in the Lord’s eyes, is not comparably measured. The great unfairness of life actually comes when we deny ourselves the very blessings He is trying to give us.
When trials come upon us—and they surely will if they haven’t already—perhaps we would do better not to focus on enduring the trial but rather on our endearing relationship with God. He loves us and wants us to feel that love and to love Him in return. He wants to help us, strengthen us, comfort us, and guide us, but He can do that only if we choose to turn to Him.
God has given and will continue to give us what we need in this life. However, He will not force us to accept His offerings or make us love Him. Nor will He make us don a positive attitude. He says, “I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed” (D&C 98:8). We are free to be negative or positive, to stall or to grow, to become bitter or better.
President Thomas S. Monson, a man known for his cheerful disposition, said of the storms of life, “We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails. For maximum happiness, peace, and contentment, may we choose a positive attitude” (Monson, “Living the Abundant Life” 2012).
Through changing our attitude we have the ability to change our lives. Everyone in life will experience hard times, heartache, and loss. Thankfully, the flavor of our attitude can change the way our life tastes.
Yes, life has its challenges, but what is waiting for us is far greater than we can imagine. The Savior Himself said that when we go about living, serving, and loving with “a glad heart and a cheerful countenance. . . the fullness of the earth is [ours]” (D&C 59:15–16).
I hope I never forget that kind man I met in the store that day. More importantly, I hope I never forget the lesson he taught me: Everything in life, if looked at it in the light of a good attitude, can be an opportunity for not only something good but something amazing. It’s all how we choose to see it.
Image from Getty Images
Read more great tips for finding happiness in life in Michelle Wilson’s new book, The Beautiful Balance: Claiming Personal Control and Giving the Rest to God, available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.