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Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley Lesson 3: "Cultivating an Attitude of Happiness and a Spirit of Optimism"

Good attitudes often suffer from bad reputations. I know I have often accused my wife of being a “Pollyanna” when something was going terribly wrong and she piped in with how it could be seen to be going right. You might say this lesson was tailor-made for people like me. I wouldn’t call myself a pessimist (of course not!), but if something can go wrong, it usually does.

President Hinckley’s father used to tell him, “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.” Try as I might, I can’t fault his logic. It’s all true. Accomplishment, contributing, and creativity all require belief and a positive outlook.

Life is good

As a missionary, young Gordon B. Hinckley would shake his companion’s hand each morning and declare, “Life is good.” Later in life he told a group of missionaries that every day of his life was a good day. Think about what that means. With all that happens in our daily lives, how can anyone honestly declare that every day is a good day?

What makes a day good? Is it good because nothing went wrong? Is the day good because only good things happened? What about those days where everything seems to fall apart? Is there anything about that day that can still qualify it for a good day? The prophet seems to think so.

As you read President Hinckley’s comments in the lesson you might begin to see a pattern in his outlook on life. He doesn’t look at the present circumstance. The trials we experience in the here and now will pass. It is their passing that he looks at, not the pain those circumstances currently cause.

When looking at the trials of life he has learned that all of them will eventually work themselves out, so why spend time and emotional resources worrying about something that will pass anyway? His advice came in this form—“Keep trying. Be believing. Be happy. Don’t get discouraged. Things will work out.”

This form of thinking requires that we learn to look beyond the current circumstances and see that God is in control. All our trials in this life will indeed eventually pass away. And we have been promised that He will make up to us any injustices and pains we will suffer in this life in the next life. If we believe that promise then we can allow ourselves the emotional freedom to be believing and optimistic that everything will indeed work out, for we are no longer just thinking in the short term.

This is the kind of thinking that can make every day a good day. Every day comes to us filled with endless possibilities for doing good, believing in God, and in following the promptings of the Spirit. Every day is a good day to learn, and to grow, and become a little better than we were yesterday.

Think about all the scriptures you have read in your life. Write down on a piece of paper in one column all the times the Lord told his people to despair and sorrow because there was no hope. I think you will find that the closest he ever comes to doing this is when he is addressing very wicked people and is letting them know their time for repenting is getting short. In the other column start listing all the times the Lord tells the people to look to him and live, or to lift up their heads, or to rejoice, etc. You may need a second sheet of paper.

Looking for examples

Being the optimist that I am (ahem) my first thought was to see what kind of statements I have heard the Brethren speak. How have they handled all the criticism hurled at them on a daily basis? They are always under attack by someone. What do they say about it? How do they handle themselves publicly when accused or challenged about the most minor of things?

Go do some digging, and I think you will find exactly what I found. They are gracious. They are courteous and kind. They are optimistic and forgiving. They invite us to be obedient, because it is through obedience that we find happiness.

The Brethren travel extensively and are away from home most of the week, every week of the year. Yet look at the photos people take of them at all hours of the day and night. They are happy. They grin and find joy in people’s company. They are grateful, and express that gratitude regularly. What have they learned that I haven’t? (That “I” applies to you as well.)

Here is President Hinckley’s prescription for each of us.

We have every reason to be optimistic in this world. Tragedy is around, yes. Problems everywhere, yes. But … you can’t, you don’t, build out of pessimism or cynicism. You look with optimism, work with faith, and things happen. ...
Do not despair. Do not give up. Look for the sunlight through the clouds. Opportunities will eventually open to you. Do not let the prophets of gloom endanger your possibilities. ...
The Lord’s plan is a plan of happiness. The way will be lighter, the worries will be fewer, the confrontations will be less difficult if we cultivate a spirit of happiness.

Gratitude is key

How does gratitude affect your life and your outlook? Does it change the decisions you make and the outlook of your life? If we decide that today is a good day, no matter how badly things are going, I’ll bet that most of what you come up with to make it a good day anyway will be based on a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving.

We all have days when nothing goes as planned. Having already cultivated a heart that is brim full of gratitude for God’s blessings already received is what will get us through those days of misery. I suppose being something of a Pollyanna isn’t always a bad thing. If we aren’t able to look beyond what is not currently going well to those things that brought us joy before, how else will we get through these hard times?

Here is a promise from a prophet. “Let a spirit of thanksgiving guide and bless your days and nights. Work at it. You will find it will yield wonderful results.” At least he is kind enough to acknowledge that it is not easy to always be optimistic, and that we will have to work at it to become good at it.

Knowledge is key

Think about what the restored gospel of Christ teaches us. We are children of the God of the universe. He loves us more than any of his mighty creations. His whole purpose and life are centered around sharing with us the joy he lives with all the time. All that he has he wants to share with us, his children.

He has shared with us his laws of happiness, the commandments. All commandments are designed to facilitate happiness. Even in this time of mortal probation, which is meant to be difficult and painful because of the lessons we need to learn here, he has shown us how we can experience internal peace and tranquility, and happiness through obedience to the commandments.

He has fulfilled all his promises to us thus far by providing us with a Redeemer who came and paid for the sins we commit so we can have the opportunity to repent and be forgiven. Through the Savior the path back to God has been paved and opened for anyone who wants to travel that road. No matter how much we feel we may have messed up our chances in mortality, Christ has promised us that if we turn to him with a full purpose of heart he will forgive us and make us clean.

With this being the case, does it really matter in the grand scheme of things if the car doesn’t start tomorrow morning? Does it really matter if the garbage smells or the power just got shut off because you misplaced the bill and forgot to pay it? Do our chemo treatments negate any part of the atonement? What about my physical deformity? Does that repulse my Lord? Does he love me any less because of the lessons I need to learn from my mortal trial? I say NO! to all of these.

Knowing the plan of salvation is part of the grand key that can help us to trust in God and turn all our current dilemmas into opportunities for growth. Knowing how much God loves us and how much he has planned for us when we are obedient can act as fuel for our gratitude and our spirit of thanksgiving. This is how the Brethren do it. This is how they live lives of joy. They have learned to look beyond the immediate difficulty and look for how it will all work itself out. They are patient with us in our infirmities and weaknesses, just like the Lord is patient with us.

We can learn to be the same way. It is difficult to be mean or cruel, condescending or pompous when our hearts are full of thanksgiving. The more we come to know of Christ and his blessings for us, the more happiness we will find working its way into our lives.

Lead photo from Getty Images
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