While in Monterey, I had the chance to attend the local ward. I’d forgotten that it was the first weekend of the month, so I was a bit surprised to discover myself in the midst of a testimony meeting. One testimony in particular caught my ear. A young woman (whom I’ll call Jackie) got up and said that her husband was gone, “but not for that long– it’s only for four months!” That made my complaining about a two-week business trip seem very minor in comparison. She went on to tell the story of Barbara, a family friend who, though somewhat eccentric, was unfailingly cheerful and outgoing. Barbara was well known in her ward for cheerful and willing service to others. She was going through a rough patch, and the speaker said she thought to visit Barbara and cheer her up. Barbara greeted her at the door with hair askew, no makeup, and swollen cheeks from a recent visit to the dentist. However, Barbara’s greeting was as heartfelt and cheerful as always. Jackie marvelled at this and said “Barbara, how can you always be so cheerful?” Barbara’s reply, delivered by Jackie with a wonderful swooping voice, was simple: “Well, it takes work!“
Jackie’s point was simple: we can choose whether to be happy, or not. We can choose to be positive about our circumstances, or not. We can be thankful for what we have, or we can complain and lament what we don’t have. Being positive and cheerful is as much a choice as deciding what clothes to wear in the morning. That’s not to say that it’s always easy to choose that mindset. We’re all often tempted to be bitter, angry, resentful, or just plain unhappy. Sometimes we have good reasons for these feelings; other times, we take small things and blow them out of proportion, then use them as justification for these feelings. These are choices we get to make. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent– for that matter, they can’t make you feel anything else either!
I am a firm believer in this principle. Most people, I think, are as happy as they make up their minds to be. While this is probably a gospel principle, it sure isn’t exclusive to Latter-day Saints. Some of the kindest, most service-oriented, happiest people I’ve ever known are those who despite poor health or other circumstances choose to be that way! I’m reminded of Sister Morgan, an elderly lady in our ward who is probably the most positive person I’ve ever met. She always seems to be in good spirits,and if she ever wasn’t she’d probably be thinking about what good spirits she’d like to be in. I try to emulate her example, and y’know what? It works, but it takes work.