One night last week, I spent an hour in the middle of the night trying to get Lucy back to sleep. When I woke up that morning, I was (understandably) grumpy. I started to gripe to Devon about how frustrated I was about our family’s sleep situation, when he stopped me.
“Phoebe, do you realize that it’s 6:30 and neither of our kids is awake?”
That stopped me short, because it was nothing short of a miracle. Our kid(s) regularly wake up at 5:30 or 6:00. They wake me up early, before I have a chance to take a breath. And here they were asleep. I had a half hour to read my scriptures in silence.
Pessimism almost robbed me of joy.
On Sunday, I gave a lesson in church about optimism. As I studied for the lesson, I realized that optimism is not a shiny gloss that we put over tough times, it is a strategy to get us through challenges. Optimism is a tool to help us thrive.
But optimism is hard. I’ve been trying to pinpoint the situations where I tend toward negativism, but even when I identify them, I struggle to change my perspective. I’m focusing on being proactive. Stephen R. Covey (of 7 Habits fame) says this about being proactive:
The key to being proactive is remembering that between stimulus and response there is a space. That space represents our choice— how we will choose to respond to any given situation, person, thought or event. Imagine a pause button between stimulus and response—a button you can engage to pause and think about what is the principle-based response to your given situation. Listen to what your conscience tells you. Listen for what is wise and the principle-based thing to do, and then act.
As I taught on Sunday, one woman reminded us of how our neural pathways work. She compared creating a new habit or a new neural pathway to hacking our way through tall grass. The first time will be incredibly difficult, but each time after that will get easier, until there is a clear path and we don’t even need to look at the path to find our way through.
Optimism is a choice. It is a new pathway we need to forge. We can choose joy regardless of our circumstance.
We have every reason to be optimistic in this world. Tragedy is around, yes. Problems everywhere, yes. But … you can’t, you don’t, build out of pessimism or cynicism. You look with optimism, work with faith, and things happen.
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.
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.
The Lord’s plan is a plan of happiness. The way will be lighter, the worries will be fewer, the confrontations will be less difficult if we cultivate a spirit of happiness.
Gordon B. Hinckley