“Chapter 3: Cultivating an Attitude of Happiness and a Spirit of Optimism,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley (2016)
“Chapter 3,” Teachings: Gordon B. Hinckley
President Gordon B. Hinckley’s mother, Ada Bitner Hinckley, often said that “a happy attitude and smiling countenance could boost one over almost any misfortune and that every individual was responsible for his own happiness.”1 His father, Bryant S. Hinckley, also had an “inherently positive outlook.”2 President Hinckley recalled, “When I was a young man and was prone to speak critically, my father would say: ‘Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.’”3 Influenced by his parents’ counsel and example, young Gordon Hinckley learned to approach life with optimism and faith.
As a missionary in England, Elder Hinckley worked hard to follow his parents’ counsel. He and his companions shook hands each morning and told each other, “Life is good.”4 Almost 70 years later, he suggested that a group of missionaries in the Philippines follow the same practice. “Yesterday was a great day in my life,” he told them. “Every day is a great day in my life. I hope every day is a great day in your lives—every one of you. I hope you can get ready to go in the morning and shake the hand of your companion and say, ‘Brother (Sister), life is good. Let’s go out and have a good day.’ And when you come in at night, I hope you can say to one another, ‘It’s been a good day. We’ve had a good time. We’ve helped somebody along the way. … We’ll follow up with them and pray and hope that they will come into the Church.’ Every day ought to be a good day in the mission field.”5
This counsel was representative of President Hinckley’s approach to life. President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared the following observation about President Hinckley and his wife, Marjorie: “They do not waste time pondering the past or fretting about the future. And they persevere in spite of adversity.”6 Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, commented: “‘Things will work out’ may well be President Hinckley’s most repeated assurance to family, friends, and associates. ‘Keep trying,’ he will say. ‘Be believing. Be happy. Don’t get discouraged. Things will work out.’”7
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. …
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.
I am not asking that all criticism be silent. Growth comes with correction. Strength comes with repentance. Wise is the man or woman who, committing mistakes pointed out by others, changes his or her course. I am not suggesting that our conversation be all honey. Clever expression that is sincere and honest is a skill to be sought and cultivated. What I am suggesting and asking is that we turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good in the land and times in which we live, 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.8
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.9
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.10
Cultivate an attitude of happiness. Cultivate a spirit of optimism. Walk with faith, rejoicing in the beauties of nature, in the goodness of those you love, in the testimony which you carry in your heart concerning things divine.11
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.12
How magnificently we are blessed! How thankful we ought to be! … Cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving for the blessing of life and for the marvelous gifts and privileges each of us enjoy. The Lord has said that the meek shall inherit the earth. (See Matt. 5:5.) I cannot escape the interpretation that meekness implies a spirit of gratitude as opposed to an attitude of self-sufficiency, an acknowledgment of a greater power beyond oneself, a recognition of God, and an acceptance of his commandments. This is the beginning of wisdom. Walk with gratitude before him who is the giver of life and every good gift.13
There never was a greater time in the history of the world to live upon the earth than this. How grateful every one of us ought to feel for being alive in this wonderful time with all the marvelous blessings we have.14
When I think of the wonders that have come to pass in my lifetime—more than during all the rest of human history together—I stand in reverence and gratitude. I think of the automobile and the airplane, of computers, fax machines, e-mail, and the Internet. It is all so miraculous and wonderful. I think of the giant steps made in medicine and sanitation. … And with all of this there has been the restoration of the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. You and I are a part of the miracle and wonder of this great cause and kingdom that is sweeping over the earth blessing the lives of people wherever it reaches. How profoundly thankful I feel.15
We live in the fulness of times. Mark that phrase. Mark the word fulness. It denotes all of [the] good that has been gathered together [from] the past and restored to earth in this final dispensation.
My heart … is filled with thanksgiving unto the Almighty God. Through the gift of His Son, who is the God of this world, we have been so magnificently blessed. My heart rings with the words of our hymn, “Count your blessings; name them one by one. Count your many blessings; see what God hath done” (Hymns, no. 241).16
With gratitude in our hearts, let us not dwell upon the few problems we have. Let us rather count our blessings and in a great spirit of gratitude, motivated by a great faith, go forth to build the kingdom of God in the earth.17
Let a spirit of thanksgiving guide and bless your days and nights. Work at it. You will find it will yield wonderful results.18
The Lord said: “Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made” [D&C 25:13]. I believe he is saying to each of us, be happy. The gospel is a thing of joy. It provides us with a reason for gladness.19
Never forget who you are. … You are in very deed a child of God. … He is your Eternal Father. He loves you. … He wants His sons and daughters to be happy. Sin never was happiness. Transgression never was happiness. Disobedience never was happiness. The way of happiness is found in the plan of our Father in Heaven and in obedience to the commandments of His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.20
Regardless of your way of doing things in the past, I offer you a challenge … to square your lives with the teachings of the gospel, to look upon this Church with love and respect and appreciation as the mother of your faith, to live your lives as an example of what the gospel of Jesus Christ will do in bringing happiness to an individual.21
Repentance is one of the first principles of the gospel. Forgiveness is a mark of divinity. There is hope for you. Your lives are ahead, and they can be filled with happiness, even though the past may have been marred by sin. This is a work of saving and assisting people with their problems. This is the purpose of the gospel.22
I meet so many people who constantly complain about the burden of their responsibilities. Of course the pressures are great. There is much, too much, to do. There are financial burdens to add to all of these pressures, and with all of this we are prone to complain, frequently at home, often in public. Turn your thinking around. The gospel is good news. Man is that he might have joy [see 2 Nephi 2:25]. Be happy! Let that happiness shine through your faces and speak through your testimonies. You can expect problems. There may be occasional tragedies. But shining through all of this is the plea of the Lord:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30.)
I enjoy these words of Jenkins Lloyd Jones which I clipped from a column in the Deseret News some years ago. I pass them on to you. … Said he:
“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.” (Deseret News, 12 June 1973.)
I repeat, my brothers and sisters, 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! Remember the words of the writer of Proverbs:
Let there be something of a light tone in your life. Let there be fun and happiness, a sense of humor, the capacity to laugh occasionally at things that are funny.24
In all of living have much of fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured.25
I stand here today as an optimist concerning the work of the Lord. I cannot believe that God has established his work in the earth to have it fail. I cannot believe that it is getting weaker. I know that it is getting stronger. … I have a simple and solemn faith that right will triumph and that truth will prevail.26
The story of Caleb and Joshua and the other spies of Israel has always intrigued me. Moses led the children of Israel into the wilderness. In the second year of their wandering, he chose a representative from each of the twelve tribes to search the land of Canaan and bring back a report concerning its resources and its people. Caleb represented the tribe of Judah, Joshua the tribe of Ephraim. The twelve of them went into the land of Canaan. They found it to be fruitful. They were gone forty days. They brought back with them some of “the firstripe grapes” as evidence of the productivity of the land (Num. 13:20).
They came before Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of Israel and they said concerning the land of Canaan, “Surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it” (v. 27).
But ten of the spies were victims of their own doubts and fears. They gave a negative report of the numbers and stature of the Canaanites. They concluded that “they are stronger than we” (v. 31). They compared themselves as grasshoppers to the giants they had seen in the land. They were the victims of their own timidity.
Then Joshua and Caleb stood before the people and said, “The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.
“If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.
“Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not” (14:7–9).
But 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 scripture records that “those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the Lord.
“But Joshua … and Caleb … , which were of the men that went to search the land, lived still” (vs. 37–38). They were the only ones of that group who survived through those four decades of wandering and who had the privilege of entering the promised land concerning which they had reported in a positive manner.
We see some around us who are indifferent concerning the future of this work, who are apathetic, who speak of limitations, who express fears, who spend their time digging out and writing about what they regard to be weaknesses which really are of no consequence. With doubt concerning its past, they have no vision concerning its future.
Well was it said of old, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18). There is no place in this work for those who believe only in the gospel of doom and gloom. The gospel is good news. It is a message of triumph. It is a cause to be embraced with enthusiasm.
The Lord never said that there would not be troubles. Our people have known afflictions of every sort as those who have opposed this work have come upon them. But faith has shown through all their sorrows. This work has consistently moved forward and has never taken a backward step since its inception. …
… This is the work of the Almighty. Whether we as individuals go forward will depend on us. But the Church will never fail to move forward. …
When the Lord took Moses unto Himself, He then said to Joshua, “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (Josh. 1:9). This is His work. Never forget it. Embrace it with enthusiasm and affection.27
There is a sad tendency in our world today for persons to cut one another down. Did you ever realize that it does not take very much in the way of brainpower to make remarks that may wound another? Try the opposite of that. Try handing out compliments. …
There is also in our society a sad tendency among many of us to belittle ourselves. Other persons may appear to us to be sure of themselves, but the fact is that 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.28
We sing, “I am a child of God” (Hymns, no. 301). That isn’t just a figment, a poetic figment—that is the living truth. There is something of divinity within each of us that needs cultivation, that needs to come to the surface, that needs to find expression. You fathers and mothers, teach your children that they are, in a very literal way, sons and daughters of God. There is no greater truth in all the world than that—to think that we have something of divinity in us.29
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.30
Stand a little taller, rise a little higher, be a little better. Make the extra effort. You will be happier. You will know a new satisfaction, a new gladness in your heart.31
Of course there will be some problems along the way. There will be difficulties to overcome. But they will not last forever. [God] will not forsake you. …
Look to the positive. Know that He is watching over you, that He hears your prayers and will answer them, that He loves you and will make that love manifest.32
There is so much of the sweet and the decent and the beautiful to build upon. We are partakers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel means “good news!” The message of the Lord is one of hope and salvation! The voice of the Lord is a voice of glad tidings! The work of the Lord is a work of glorious accomplishment!
In a dark and troubled hour the Lord said to those he loved: “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.)
These great words of confidence are a beacon to each of us. In him we may indeed have trust. For he and his promises will never fail.33
Think about President Hinckley’s counsel to “look deeper” for the good and to “cultivate an attitude of happiness [and] a spirit of optimism” (section 1). Why do we need this counsel today? How can we cultivate an attitude of happiness?
President Hinckley said that “wonderful results” come when we “let a spirit of thanksgiving guide [us]” (section 2). Why do you think these “wonderful results” come? How are you blessed when you have a spirit of thanksgiving?
What are your thoughts about the analogy of life being “like an old-time rail journey”? (See section 3.) How does the “good news” of the gospel influence the way you approach that journey?
How do you think the story of Caleb and Joshua applies in our lives? (See section 4.) What examples have you seen of people embracing the gospel with enthusiasm? If we find ourselves feeling discouraged, how can we regain our optimism? What experiences have increased your optimism about the Lord’s work?
Why do you think there is a tendency to belittle others and ourselves? How can we overcome this tendency? What can we do, as individuals and families, to help others “stand a little taller” and “rise a little higher”? (See section 5.)
“Acting on what you have learned will bring added and enduring understanding (see John 7:17)” (Preach My Gospel , 19). Consider asking yourself how you can apply gospel teachings at home, at work, and in your Church responsibilities.