A mother fixes dinner for hungry family members who eat and then disappear without offering a kind word or help with the dishes. A father returns from a long business trip, and his teenage daughter welcomes him home by asking for money. An aunt and uncle plan the family reunion but are only told that it wasn’t as good as last year. Certainly there is no shortage of people who have experienced the discouragement and frustration of feeling underappreciated.
I remember one occasion when, as a young elders quorum president, I was seeking out a family who had attended our ward once but did not return. It was raining, and I would much rather have been at home with my wife and young family. Still, I felt obligated to reach out to this new family.
“Do you realize that not one person shook my hand in priesthood meeting?” complained the father.
“Not a single sister even asked my name in Relief Society,” added his wife.
How many hands had he shaken? How many names had she asked? That was beside the point in their minds. They had been offended. But wait—wasn’t I visiting them now? I was extending my hand and asking their names.
That day I was reminded that some people are never satisfied, even when we try our best. “This is a nice Christmas tree, but where are the lights?” “This is a nice casserole, but where is dessert?” “This is a nice visit, but where is the rest of the ward?”
At one time or another, each of us feels the sting of being underappreciated. In these moments it is important to choose happiness, cultivate magnanimity, and seek God.
President Gordon B. Hinckley has said: “It is very important to be happy in this work. We have a lot of gloomy people in the Church because they do not understand, I guess, that this is the gospel of happiness. It is something to be happy about, to get excited about.”1
On our kitchen wall hangs a plaque that reads, “Happiness is a city in the state of mind.” I keep it there to remind myself that we are in charge of our own attitudes. Emotional maturity is evidenced by a person’s willingness to take responsibility for actions and feelings. If I am having a bad day, I can’t blame others, even when I feel underappreciated. It is not someone else’s job to change so I can feel better.
The second article of faith teaches that we are responsible for our own sins. In the same way, we are responsible for our own attitudes and our own happiness. Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has written, “At the center of our agency is our freedom to form a healthy attitude toward whatever circumstances we are placed in!”2
If we let our happiness rest on the actions and moods of others, we will always be disappointed. If our happiness is dependent on perfect situations, it will always be a future dream forever out of reach. President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said, “Our search for happiness largely depends on the degree of righteousness we attain, the degree of selflessness we acquire, the amount and quality of service we render, and the inner peace that we enjoy.”3 Notice that he did not say happiness depends on thank-you cards or public praise. Each of the requirements outlined by President Faust is completely within our control.
To be magnanimous means to be noble and generous in forgiving. It means a person strives to be free of petty feelings and acts. The word comes from Latin roots: magnus, meaning “great,” and animus, which means “spirit.” A magnanimous person, then, shows a great spirit by acting toward people and circumstances rather than reacting to them.
One woman prepares a flower arrangement for the chapel each week. It is not her calling. She just does it because she hopes it will add to the spirit of the meetings. A man writes letters to missionaries by the dozens. Rarely does he receive a response. He worries more about whether missionaries get mail than whether he does. A widow and her grandson repair broken hymnbooks they gather from around the chapel. No one beyond their family is even aware of their private efforts. These are examples of magnanimity.
Booker T. Washington was born into slavery in the United States. He lived through some of the worst times of prejudice and unfairness this world has known. Still, he showed his great spirit by seeking his own education after the Civil War was over and then educating many others. He faced small-minded people on all sides, yet he resolved that he “would permit no man … to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.”4
The Prophet Joseph Smith’s magnanimity was demonstrated by his willingness to forgive W. W. Phelps, who had left the Church for a time and actually caused great problems for the Saints by speaking out against the Prophet. When Brother Phelps later repented and sought fellowship with the Saints once more, Joseph wrote, “Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, / For friends at first, are friends again at last.”5
The Savior, our example in all things, was magnanimous. President Wilford Woodruff (1807–98) wrote:
“When Jesus Christ came to the Jews … he offered them life and salvation; yet he was the most unpopular man in all Judah. The high priests, the [Sadducees], the sectarians of the day, were the strongest enemies he had on earth. No matter what he did, it was imputed to an evil source. When he cast out devils it was imputed to the power of Beelzebub, the prince of devils. When he opened the eyes of the blind they said: ‘Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.’ This unpopularity followed the Lord Jesus Christ to the cross where he gave up the ghost.”6
The Savior paid the ultimate price for the greatest gift that has ever been given to mankind—even though people may never fully appreciate the significance of that gift. He is our perfect example of magnanimity.
Cast your bread upon the water, we are told, and it comes back to you (see Eccl. 11:1). Sometimes when credit and appreciation are being withheld, it seems all we have received for our efforts is soggy bread. Of course, it is easier to serve others when thanked, but Jesus Christ, who transformed five loaves into food for thousands, will return our bread to us when ungrateful recipients will not—and He will magnify it a thousandfold.
Yet it is not merely for a reward that we should serve. While pondering over why so many young people are willing to serve missions when they aren’t even getting paid, a branch president at the Provo Missionary Training Center came up with an interesting analogy: “They were like salmon. They had originated in one place but had gone to live in another. After spending time away from their origins there was a pull, unyielding, subtle, but very dramatic in its persistence. It beckoned them to return or find a way to commune with what they had once known.” He described a mission as “a joining between a mortal soul who prepares and embraces the things of God, and God’s Spirit. When this happens, every missionary learns he or she is part of something greater and more important than self. … As they feel the Spirit and share [God’s] work, they come to know and love his Son—and to understand why they serve.”7
Why do bishops serve complainers? Why do teachers continue to teach when students are rude and misbehave? Why do missionaries serve when they are greeted with slammed doors? Why do elders quorum presidents go out of their way to visit people they don’t know? To serve a God they do know. In serving others, grateful or ungrateful, we are serving God. For as the Savior told His disciples, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40; see also Mosiah 2:17).
“The greatest act of service in all of history—the atonement—was clearly unappreciated. It was fully understood only by the Savior and the Eternal Father while it was in process. But it was completed to the glory and eternal benefit of all humanity. …
“… Service keeps us from forgetting the Lord our God, because being among and serving our brothers and sisters reminds us that Father is ever there and is pleased when we serve, for while the recipients of our service are our neighbors, they are His children.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience (1979), 63, 65.