It isn’t just the pandemic. We see violence in the streets, bitter accusations hurled at one another on social media, polarized political views, financial worries, health concerns, family fibers coming apart… these are definitely perilous times.

But it just takes one person with undaunted courage and bright optimism, to remind us that we can indeed feel blessed and even excited about life right now.

I recently reconnected with a long-lost cousin who, as it turns out, lives just a couple of hours away, in Paradise, California. You may recall that Paradise literally burned to the ground in the unprecedented wildfires that ravaged California a year and a half ago. My cousin and his wife lost everything—their entire house, all their precious memorabilia, documents and photos, as they had to evacuate in that emergency.

Recently they were able to move into a brand new home, built right where their old home had turned to ashes.  And, late or not, they were determined to send out a Christmas newsletter. Though the aftermath of this devastation was mentioned in passing, the overarching theme was hope, joy, even excitement. The focus was on moving forward, celebrating the blessings we do have, and love of family. This family has all the other usual concerns we all do, but there was no complaining.

My cousin’s wife wrote, “We are eternally grateful for it all. To change one thing would be to change it all, so we will take it as is, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in want and in plenty. Happiness is truly a decision. Peace is a choice. Joy is yours to have. Our lives are rich and full because we chose them to be. May your 2021 be exactly that and more for all…”  What an amazing, wonderful outlook. These cousins are not members of our faith, but these are truths every person, everywhere, can embrace.

Our leaders have this same kind of optimism. President Gordon B. Hinckley told us to “Cultivate an attitude of happiness… a spirit of optimism.”  President Thomas S. Monson said, “Of this be sure: You do not find the happy life; you make it.” And our current Prophet, President Russell M. Nelson has advised, “The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.” Each of the apostles has also spoken about how essential it is to keep a cheerful outlook by keeping our eye on Christ, working toward exaltation, and serving our fellow man.

There is genuine peace and serenity in doing this. Yes, trials—sometimes unimaginable ones—will come into our lives. But there is a way to endure, to triumph, to still feel gratitude. Stay on the path. Reach out to your Heavenly Father. Meditate on Christ’s sacrifice for us. Pray for help with your weaknesses, and ask how to use your strengths to bless others.

And look for those shining lights around us. They can inspire us to keep going, keep believing, keep smiling. How grateful I am to have found such a light by finding two very amazing relatives.

Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.