Relief Society Lesson 3: Cultivating an Attitude of Happiness and a Spirit of Optimism

Sometimes, we have a tendency to vilify the world and assume it is just keeps getting worse. President Gordon B. Hinckley had a different perspective:

“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.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

“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.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

What are some of the wonders that have come to pass in your lifetimes? What are some godly principles you have learned from the people and cultures of the world?

“Let a spirit of thanksgiving guide and bless your days and nights. Work at it. You will find it will yield wonderful results.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

How do we “work at” being thankful? What do you think these wonderful results are? How are you blessed when you have a spirit of thanksgiving?

Lifting Each Other Up

Hinckley was surrounded by people who were examples to him of an optimistic outlook on life. He said that his mother, Ada Bitner Hinckley, taught that “a happy attitude and smiling countenance could boost one over almost any misfortune and that every individual was responsible for his own happiness.”

Marjorie Pay Hinckley and children

Marjorie Pay Hinckley and children

His wife, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, counseled their daughter in Hawaii, who was homesick for harvest season in Utah, “Don’t grieve over the cherries; enjoy the pineapples and mangoes.” (Quoted in No One Can Take Your Place  by Sheri Dew)

“The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.” – Marjorie Pay Hinckley (Quoted in Glimpses into the Life and Heart of Marjorie Pay Hinckley by Virginia H. Pearce)

Invite the class to share examples of people who have brightened their lives through their optimistic attitudes.

“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.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

Why do you think this tendency to cut others down exists?  How can we combat this tendency?

“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’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.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

Hinckley went on to explain that this counsel was not intended to silence critique:

“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.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

How do you distinguish between appropriate criticism and “evil-speaking” or “faultfinding”?

Making the World (Even) Better

Accentuating the positive does not mean ignoring the negative. The scriptures teach that pretending all is well is dangerous.

“And others will [the devil] pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” 2 Nephi 28:21

Lucy Stone wearing bloomers in 1853, when she participated in the dress reform movement.

Lucy Stone wearing bloomers in 1853, when she participated in the dress reform movement.

Once, when a heckler derided abolitionist and suffragist Lucy Stone as a just a “disappointed woman,” she responded:

“From the first years to which my memory stretches, I have been a disappointed woman. When, with my brothers, I reached forth after the sources of knowledge, I was reproved with ‘It isn’t fit for you; it doesn’t belong to women.’ Then there was but one college in the world where women were admitted, and that was in Brazil. I would have found my way there, but by the time I was prepared to go, one was opened in the United States where women and negroes could enjoy opportunities with white men. I was disappointed when I came to seek a profession worthy an immortal being-every employment was closed to me, except those of the teacher, the seamstress, and the housekeeper. In education, in marriage, in religion, in everything, disappointment is the lot of woman. It shall be the business of my life to deepen this disappointment in every woman’s heart until she bows down to it no longer.” – Lucy Stone, activist, as recorded in History of Woman Suffrage Volume 1

This speech was certainly not cheerful, but Lucy Stone’s activism was a form of optimism.  At a time when people told her that an education was impossible for a woman to achieve, she believed she could make it happen and she accomplished her goal. She envisioned a more just world and she was willing to work toward it because she believed change was possible.

“You can’t, you don’t, build out of pessimism or cynicism. You look with optimism, work with faith, and things happen.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

Hinckley quoted this scripture to emphasize this point:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18

A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles"“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.” – Marianne Williamson, activist, from her book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles

“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.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

What can stop us from pursuing challenging but meaningful goals? How can we nurture optimism in our ability to accomplish good?

Cultivating Our Own Happiness

“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. …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.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

Why do you think there is a tendency to belittle ourselves? How can we overcome this tendency?

Ask the class to think about how they would answer these questions poised by Bishop Caussé as you read this quote, then discuss:

“My brothers and sisters, imagine what it would mean to you if you could see yourself as God sees you. What if you looked at yourself with the same benevolence, love, and confidence that God does? Imagine the impact it would have on your life to understand your eternal potential as God understands it. If you could view yourself through His eyes, what influence would that have on your life?” – Gérald Caussé, Presiding Bishop

“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.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

How can we cultivate an attitude of happiness?

“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.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

What are some ways we could “stand a little taller” and “rise a little higher”?

“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.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

For some, despair is the result of mental illness.

“I wish to speak to those who suffer from some form of mental illness or emotional disorder, whether those afflictions be slight or severe, of brief duration or persistent over a lifetime. We sense the complexity of such matters when we hear professionals speak of neuroses and psychoses, of genetic predispositions and chromosome defects, of bipolarity, paranoia, and schizophrenia. However bewildering this all may be, these afflictions are some of the realities of mortal life, and there should be no more shame in acknowledging them than in acknowledging a battle with high blood pressure or the sudden appearance of a malignant tumor.  …If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation.” – Jeffrey R, Holland, apostle, October 2013 General Conference

How can we reduce the stigma around mental illness and support those with mental health needs?

Without support, some kinds of traumatic experiences may lead to despair. Chieko Okazaki of the General Relief Society Presidency offered this counsel to friends of sexual abuse survivors:

“Normal happy voices, respectful listening, and simple trust can sometimes be lifelines. If you have a friend who needs someone to listen, and if you can be a voice of steadfast love for her or him, please accept that burden if you can. If there are things you can’t understand, please ask questions but also acknowledge you may not want to talk about this and that’s okay. We must never seek to know more than a man or woman is willing to share. We must never violate the privacy of survivors as their bodies and their sense of self have been violated in the past, and we must never betray their trust. That would add one more betrayal to the burden they already carry. Please be wise in your support. Don’t take on more than you can handle, and don’t try to become a therapist. Instead encourage your friend to get professional help while you maintain a close loving contact.” – Chieko Okazaki, Brigham Young University speech, October 23, 2002

Seeking God’s Help in the Search for Happiness

Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou hast made. D&C 25:13

Hinckley interpreted this scripture this way:

“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.” – Gordon B. Hinckley

List the following scripture references on the board. Invite class members to choose some to read silently, while looking for ways that they can channel the power of the gospel to build optimism.  After allowing some time for silent reading, invite class members to share their insights.

“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

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:13

“Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy.” D&C 128:19

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy: 1:7

“For with God nothing shall be impossible.” Luke 1:37

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at

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