Some might think that optimistic people are fake or somehow disconnected from reality, but I know for a fact that positivity is one of our choices no matter what circumstances are before us. President Russell M. Nelson recently taught that our “joy has little to do with the circumstances of our lives, but everything to do with the focus of our lives” (“Joy and Spiritual Survival,” October General Conference 2016). But, can a person really choose happiness and live with joy every day? Surely, there are some days that are too hard to be happy. And, for the benefit of modern theories that seems to be promoting the inclusion of anger, hate, and sadness as healthy states of being, is it really healthy to live happy and positive all the time?
Who hasn’t seen the teenage girl who rolls her eyes at her parents and complains about every hardship? Well, at age 14 I was that teenage girl. I felt my parents were clueless about what my highest priorities should be —- friends —- and that they were disrespectful to me by not giving me what I felt would make me happy. So, I naturally chose to have an attitude problem when I was around my parents.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that when the teenager has an attitude problem, they aren’t aware of it. They know they are treating their parents differently. I saw myself change into a different person when I was with my parents. I was trying to control them.
“I’m Happy, Thank You”
Honest people, the kind who practice what they teach, have an amazing ability to inspire the transformation of hearts in others around them. My honest, World War II vet, middle school vice principal, Lloyd Naylor, was one of these inspirational people.
One day when we passed each other in the hall, he greeted me. “Hi Nicholeen! How are you?”
“I’m okay,” I responded without thought. “How are you Mr. Naylor?”
“I’m happy, thank you.” Was his reply.
This casual, yet unique, response to my inquiry literally stopped me in my tracks. “Who says that?” I thought as I turned and watched him walk down the hall.
I couldn’t stop thinking about his comment. I wanted to be able to say a comment like that. So, since I’m not afraid to ask questions, I went to his office at lunch for a quick talk with this man who always told me the truth.
“Mr. Naylor,” I said, “earlier today, you asked me how I was and I said that I was okay, because that is what people say. But, when I asked you how you were, you said ‘I’m happy, thank you.’ Why did you say that?”
He looked at me with interest and said, “Because I am happy.”
“Okay, but surely you aren’t happy every day. Some days are really bad,” I suggested.
He looked at me thoughtfully and the corners of his mouth turned into a kind smile as he responded, “Why would I choose to be any other way?”
He went on to say he understood bad days, but that he also knew for a fact that when he told himself to be happy, or reminded himself that he was happy any time anyone asked after his welfare, that he felt himself become happy. After he felt the power of this conscious decision to be positive, he decided that he would focus on choosing happiness every time, no matter how bad the day was. When I heard how much this helped him, I was inspired. He lived this simple truth of happiness, and I wanted it, too.
My attitude didn’t change to positivity all at once. In fact, it was kind of hard to change my attitude at home because I had such a habit of being oppositional to my parents. When a neighbor also told me I would get more of what I wanted from my parents if I chose to say “okay” to their instructions and “no” answers, I reluctantly took action. But, this deliberate obedience helped me realize I had chosen happiness with my parents, too.
Little by little over the years, I’ve repeatedly chosen happiness since learning to choose it during middle school. That doesn’t mean that hard times don’t come. They do. But, the difference is that I allow myself to look for the bright side and learn valuable lessons because I have vowed to choose positivity. I don’t “stuff” my feelings; I acknowledge what is happening and then choose to solve the problem by focusing on another alternative feeling: happiness.
What might happen to our society if we all spread happiness and positivity instead of gossip, negativity, excuses, and anger? During this time of year, choose happiness. Find the freedom that comes through deliberate positivity. When you do, you will be a light to the world. You will inspire others to be better versions of themselves just like Mr. Naylor inspired me so many years ago. The little things we do, like choosing to be happy and share it with others, can change lives, or at the very least add a little bit of needed light to someone’s day.