Viewpoint: Attitude Makes All the Difference

  • 2 March 2015

A good attitude is the difference between giving up and pressing on when encountering setbacks. 

Article Highlights

  • Our attitudes can make the difference in being miserable or happy, contented, or discontented.
  • We can go many directions in life; often a positive attitude leads us in positive directions.

“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.” —Jenkin Lloyd Jones 

When President Thomas S. Monson was 10 years old, he served as president of the Junior Audubon Club at Grant Elementary School in Salt Lake City. He had always loved birds and enjoyed being able to identify them.

One day he learned the story of John James Audubon (1785–1851), a famous ornithologist, naturalist, and painter who was noted for his expansive studies to document all types of American birds. When he went on a business trip, the artist left at home a box containing more than 200 of his beautiful drawings of birds. The detailed illustrations depicted the birds in their natural habitat.

“Upon his return, he found that a pair of rats had entered the box and chewed through the paper, destroying years of work,” President Monson related during the Dixie State College commencement in St. George, Utah, on May 6, 2011. “He was devastated and spent weeks nearly paralyzed by grief. One day he awakened and realized that his attitude would have to change. He picked up his notebook and pencils and went out into the woods. ‘I felt pleased,’ he said, ‘that I might now make better drawings than before.’”

Like it did for John James Audubon, attitude can make all the difference in each of our lives. Our attitude can make us miserable or happy, contented or discontented. “To a great degree,” said President Monson at the Dixie State College commencement exercise, “it can make us strong or weak.”

The Lord has promised, “He who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious” (D&C 78:19).

President Spencer W. Kimball said during his October 1974 general conference talk that “regardless of your present age, you are building your life; … it can be full of joy and happiness, or it can be full of misery. It all depends upon you and your attitudes, for your altitude, or the height you climb, is dependent upon your attitude or your response to situations.”

After Nephi and his family left Jerusalem and were journeying in the wilderness, they experienced trials and heartache.

“I, Nephi, went forth to slay food, behold, I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel; and after I did break my bow, behold, my brethren were angry with me because of the loss of my bow, for we did obtain no food.

“… We did return without food to our families, and being much fatigued, because of their journeying, they did suffer much for the want of food.

“And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael did begin to murmur exceedingly, because of their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness; and also my father began to murmur against the Lord his God; yea, and they were all exceedingly sorrowful, even that they did murmur against the Lord” (1 Nephi 16:18–20).

But Nephi chose a different path. He made a new bow, spoke to his family, and asked his father to ask the Lord where to find food. Following the Lord’s directions, he obtained the needed food.

“I did return to our tents, bearing the beasts which I had slain; and now when they beheld that I had obtained food, how great was their joy!” wrote Nephi. “And it came to pass that they did humble themselves before the Lord, and did give thanks unto him” (1 Nephi 16:32).

It was Nephi’s attitude that made all the difference.

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in his April 1981 general conference address that a good attitude produces good results, a fair attitude fair results, and a poor attitude poor results. “We each shape our own life, and the shape of it is determined largely by our attitude.”

It is important to remember that life has its ups and downs. We all experience disappointments, like the heartache John James Audubon experienced when he learned his precious bird drawings had been destroyed.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, quoting newspaper columnist Jenkin Lloyd Jones during a BYU devotional on September 25, 1973, said:

“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just ordinary 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.”

President Monson said during his April 1992 general conference address that this is a wonderful time to be living here on earth:

“Our opportunities are limitless. While there are some things wrong in the world today, there are many things right, such as teachers who teach, ministers who minister, marriages that make it, parents who sacrifice, and friends who help.

“We can lift ourselves, and others as well, when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues.”

Because we have a knowledge of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we should be the most positive-thinking people in the world. We know that our Heavenly Father will help us succeed.

After suffering a major setback, John James Audubon determined to move forward. His major work, a color-plate book entitled The Birds of America (1827–1839), is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed. During his lifetime, he identified 25 new species of birds.

His success was born from his attitude and the day he determined that despite a major setback, “I might now make better drawings than before.”