Viewpoint: Be a Voice of Gladness

Contributed By the Church News

  • 9 November 2014

“We need those who bring gladness into our lives. We need those who give encouragement and reflect optimism. Sincere yet simple words of praise can lift souls and bring gladness.” —Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Two characters in works of fiction provide extreme examples of attitudes of negativism and optimism: D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas, and the namesake of the book Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter.

The two characters are polar opposites. Possessed of a negative outlook on life, D’Artagnan is quick to take offense, seeks revenge, constantly looks for an excuse to fight, and is suspicious of everyone. By contrast, Pollyanna has a sunny disposition, finds the good and positive in all circumstances, and looks upon the world and its people with gladness.

Dumas describes D’Artagnan as a 17th-century poor nobleman with an inflated ego who sets off to join the musketeers of the French king’s guard.

Dumas writes: “D’Artagnan considered every smile an insult, and even a look a provocation. Therefore, his fist was doubled … and, from one cause or another, his hand was on the pommel of his sword ten times a day. … Even the slightest smile was sufficient to rouse the anger.”

Pollyanna Whittier, the character created by Eleanor Porter, is an orphan who plays and teaches others “the glad game.” The game’s object is to find something about which to be glad in everything that happens. Pollyanna’s widowed father, a poor minister, teaches her the game when she finds a pair of crutches in the charity barrel at Christmas instead of a hoped-for doll. He tells her to be glad about finding the crutches because “we don’t need to use them!”

“Sincere yet simple words of praise can lift souls and bring gladness,” Elder Marvin J. Ashton taught.

At age 11, Pollyanna goes to live with her aunt after her father’s death. From her aunt’s house to the entire town, Pollyanna teaches everyone how to play the glad game.

Upon meeting a minister who is discouraged because of discord among his congregation, Pollyanna tells him her late father had said he wouldn’t stay a minister a minute if it wasn’t for the “rejoicing texts ... all those that begin ‘Be glad in the Lord,’ or ‘Rejoice greatly,’ or ‘Shout for joy,’ ... such a lot of ’em. Once, when father felt specially bad, he counted ’em. There were eight hundred of ’em. … He said if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it—SOME.”

In an ironic twist of language evolution, the name “Pollyanna” is now used negatively to describe someone who is naïve or extremely optimistic. If someone tells us we are being “Pollyannaish,” he or she most likely isn’t giving us a compliment but is telling us that we don’t see things as they really are and don’t have a good grasp on life.

Like D’Artagnan, some people look for offense when none has been offered. Little do they realize that offense cannot be given; it must be taken. They have to choose to be offended, just as Pollyanna has to choose to be glad.

If, like D’Artagnan, we pursue revenge, which is fueled by anger, we might find ourselves in perilous situations and run the risk of having negative emotions overrun our spiritual inclinations.

Brigham Young said: “Some think and say that it makes them feel better when they are mad, as they call it, to give vent to their madness in abusive and unbecoming language. … When you think and say it makes you feel better you give credit to a falsehood. When the wrath and bitterness of the human heart are moulded into words and hurled with violence at one another, without any check or hindrance, the fire has no sooner expended itself than it is again re-kindled through some trifling course, until the course of nature is set on fire.” (Journal of Discourses, 11:255).

We will find more happiness by adopting Pollyanna’s optimism than D’Artagnan’s negativity.

President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “We have every reason to be optimistic in this world. Tragedy is around, yes. Problems everywhere, yes. … You can’t, you don’t, build out of pessimism or cynicism. You look with optimism, work with faith, and things happen” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “President Gordon B. Hinckley: Stalwart and Brave He Stands,” Ensign, June 1995).

In his April 1991 general conference address, Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “In the world, where there are often voices of pessimism and negative feelings, the voice of gladness is welcome indeed. … If it is our nature to criticize or demean, we can cause the voices of gladness to be silenced. We need those who bring gladness into our lives. We need those who give encouragement and reflect optimism.

“Sincere yet simple words of praise can lift souls and bring gladness. Mark Twain remarked that he could live two months on one good compliment. In the words of the biblical proverbs of Solomon: ‘A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver’ (Proverbs 25:11).

“Encouragement can be quick and simple, but it is a voice of gladness that is needed by everyone” (“A Voice of Gladness,” Ensign, May 1991).

President Thomas S. Monson, in an article in the February 2000 issue of the Ensign, wrote of what he called the plagues of today: “They linger; they debilitate; they destroy. They are to be found everywhere. Their pervasiveness knows no boundaries. We know them as selfishness, greed, indulgence, cruelty, and crime, to identify but a few. Surfeited with their poison, we tend to criticize, to complain, to blame, and, slowly but surely, to abandon the positives and adopt the negatives of life.”

He recited the lyrics of a Johnny Mercer song, “Accentuate the Positive”:

Accentuate the positive;

Eliminate the negative.

Latch on to the affirmative;

Don’t mess with Mr. In-between.

“Good advice then. Good advice now,” President Monson declared (“An Attitude of Gratitude”).