If you were asked to smile, some of you would immediately smile very naturally and normally. It’s something you do regularly. Some of you would just barely turn up the corners of your mouth to fulfill the assignment. And there would probably be a few of you who wouldn’t smile at all.
Ask yourself, Am I really a happy person? If you are not and if it is difficult for you to smile, then think about it. Some of it may come from recognizing that difficulties are part of life. There are ups and downs. That fact reminds me of a story shared by Elder Marion D. Hanks, an emeritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy:
“A father [is] aboard an airplane on a short business trip. He has with him his five-year-old son and is almost wishing his son were not there because it is a very rough trip. There are downdrafts and updrafts and head winds alternating with tailwinds, and some passengers are feeling a bit queasy. Apprehensively, the father glances at his son and finds him grinning from ear to ear. ‘Dad,’ he says, ‘do they do this just to make it fun for the kids?’” (“Changing Channels,” Ensign, Nov. 1990, 38).
How many times in the scriptures does the Lord command us to “be of good cheer” or “lift up your heart and rejoice” and “be exceedingly glad”? We should remember that happiness is a commandment and not merely a suggestion (see D&C 78:17–19; D&C 31:3; D&C 127:3).
This is a marvelous time in the history of the world to be alive. It is true—there are many problems, but there are so many blessings for which we should be grateful.
In the affluence enjoyed by some families, it is possible to lose perspective relative to others less fortunate. May I suggest we think and pray about those who are deprived of that which we often take for granted?
Besides appreciating the temporal blessings we may enjoy, to be appropriately grateful we need to develop a full appreciation for having the privilege of being members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—of having the light of the gospel come into our minds, spirits, and hearts. That makes life even more meaningful.
Of course there are times in our lives when things are so overwhelming that it is challenging to feel gratitude. We all face difficulties at some time or another, and occasionally they are tough. But in every case, you probably find out later there was something the Lord was teaching you, something that is or will be of immense importance in your life.
I think of Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and some of the challenges he faced during his teenage years. His parents were very poor. It was embarrassing to him that early on they did not have indoor bathroom facilities like so many of his friends. He raised pigs, and that didn’t gain him a lot of popularity at high school either. He suffered from severe acne that challenged his confidence and sense of self-worth. He wondered if he would ever be socially acceptable to others.
He was intensely interested in athletics—particularly basketball—and was good enough to be able to play on the team as a freshman. But in later years, he was cut from the team and the sport he loved. Consequently, as he described it, “I turned to the world of words.” That became an immense blessing for him in his political, university, and educational assignments and to all of us—he now serves as one of the Lord’s prophets, seers, and revelators.
If right now or at any time in your life you are feeling down, discouraged, depressed—for whatever reasons—here is a very practical suggestion: Take a sheet of blank paper and write on it at random those things for which you are most grateful. Write whatever your most important blessings are in whatever order they come to your mind.
After writing the list, on another sheet of paper put those blessings in order of priority. What is your most important blessing? The second most? And so on.
On my list, I had to go down a long way before I came to any blessing that could be bought for money. Our most important blessings are without price. Blessings such as faith, testimony, and family are the kinds of blessings in defense of which, if necessary, we would be willing to give our mortal life.
Of course, chief among all the gifts for which we should be thankful is our Heavenly Father’s gift to us of His Son. As we read in scripture, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The Doctrine and Covenants teaches us that “Jesus Christ your Redeemer … so loved the world that he gave his own life, that as many as would believe might become the sons of God” (D&C 34:1, 3).
Father gave. Jesus gave. And we must give. There is no other blessing for which we should be more grateful than that of being recipients of the blessings that come through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Add all of these blessings to your list. Then, on those days when you may not feel like smiling, take out your list and read it and recognize how blessed you are. You will find it easy to smile and to be of good cheer. You will also find it easier to be grateful.