Choose Happiness by Following the Spirit
Since I am an attorney, I am going to start with a disclaimer. I have never loved speaking in public. I’ve never loved giving talks. I’ve always—as probably many of you—I always dread it a little bit, but I’ve realized over the years that the more I do it, and after I’m finished, that my testimony has grown and I have felt the Spirit so much stronger. And so I am grateful for this opportunity, even though I am dreading it just a little bit.
Last week, a few of the paralegal students and I had an opportunity to come here for a fireside and hear President Charles Dahlquist speak. And Charles Dahlquist is the former general Young Men president of the Church, and he was here doing a fireside for several BYU-Idaho students who had come down looking for internship possibilities. And he spoke of heroes and how we can seek worthy mentors to pattern our lives after. And after he finished speaking, I felt prompted to share some of the things that he spoke about with you today, because it was really an inspired talk that he gave.
If you will, each of you take just a few seconds and think about the heroes in your life. If you’ve got your pens and pencils out, write them down. Who are your heroes? What qualities did they have? What was it about him or her that made them your hero? What characteristics did they show? I want you to keep those qualities in mind for just a minute.
In addition to finding a good hero, President Dahlquist spoke of how we should be someone’s hero. This really got me thinking, and I started asking myself, “Am I someone’s hero? Have I lived my life in a way that someone would want to pattern theirs after mine? And do I have any of the qualities that I look for in my heroes?”
I took some time to ponder these questions in my mind with the thought of “what makes the difference?” And I realized that it boiled down to the choices that I make and how I make them. And so I pray that the Spirit will be with me as I talk to you a little bit about my thoughts about choices and using the Spirit to make righteous decisions in our lives.
President Monson once said, “I am so grateful to a loving Heavenly Father for His gift of agency, or the right to choose…. Each of us has come to this earth with all the tools necessary to make correct choices.” (“The Three Rs of Choice,” Ensign, Nov. 2010) Our Heavenly Father allowed us the opportunity to come here to earth to learn, and we learn through the choices that we make.
There are many choices that you and I can make right here, right now. For example, first we can choose to obey the commandments. Seems pretty simple, but this is not a choice we make just once or twice during our life. This is a choice that we make every hour of every day. We face obstacles and challenges to our testimonies all the time, whether we see them or not. Some days might be easier than others to get through, but keeping the commandments is something we choose to do every single day. By doing so, we’re better able to allow the Spirit to dwell with us and help us make righteous decisions.
You all know, we are surrounded by messages from the adversary. We all know how powerful the adversary can be. And we hear the little whisperings of, “Just this once won’t matter,” “No one will know; don’t worry.” Decisions that we make are constantly in front of us, and to make them wisely, we need to have courage—courage to say yes, courage to say no, and sometimes the courage to stand alone.
I want to share with you a personal experience I had while I was in law school about some decisions that I had to make. Eight years ago I moved from here. I’d never really been anywhere else, and I moved from Salt Lake area to a very small town in northern Idaho. Moscow—I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with Moscow, Idaho. It’s a small town, and finding single members of the Church to hang out with that were law students in this small town of Moscow was very difficult. In fact, I think there were a total of four of us. So I met a couple of girls in my law school class that were fun and interesting, and we began talking and hanging out. Neither one of them was a member of the Church. In fact, one of them had never even met a Mormon before. So I realized this would be a good opportunity for me to share some of my feelings about the gospel and try to help them understand my background and where I come from. And these two girls and I became pretty close friends and began hanging out more and more outside of school.
A few months after I got to Moscow and started school, I quickly realized that the favorite pastime of young adults in that town is drinking. The small area that is known as downtown Moscow, which is essentially a street, is lined with bars and clubs. And they are always full—any night of the week, any hour, they are always full, and mostly with college students. And there were plenty of occasions where one or the other of these friends would suggest that we go and join the rest of the town at one of these bars or clubs. And you know, I was in a place where I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t know a soul when I moved there. I was anxious to make friends and fit in and experience as many things as I could. [I was] seven hundred miles away from home and anyone who knew me, and it would have been very easy for me to go with these girls and hang out there.
However, I had made a decision when I was really young, in Primary, that I would never drink alcohol. And I told these friends of mine that personal goal, and they respected that decision. Even though they thought it was odd, they never once asked me to drink. They never pushed it. But they didn’t see what would be wrong with my just going with them to the bars or clubs to hang out and have fun with everyone else that was there. They said, “You don’t have to drink; just come hang out.”
So I had a decision to make. I wouldn’t be breaking my promise to myself to never drink. I wouldn’t be breaking a commandment necessarily. I wouldn’t have to stay in my apartment by myself on a weekend night. Nobody would know. Once in a while, or just once, probably wouldn’t matter. And I would be satisfying my friends by going with them instead of being the party-pooper, so to speak, and going home. So it seemed all the reasons to go outweighed the reasons not to. But still there was something I knew that wasn’t right about the situation. And I struggled in making that decision.
I started thinking about it, and I remembered a story that a home teacher of mine taught me when I was 7 years old. I was just about to turn 8 and be baptized, and I remember this home teacher came to my family and gave us a lesson on the Holy Ghost. And he—I’m sure, as you guys have—we’ve had lots of home teaching lessons over the years, but for some reason this one has stayed with me all these years.
This home teacher held up both fingers like this, and he said, “This one is you, and this one is the Holy Ghost. When you are baptized and confirmed a member of the Church, Heavenly Father gives you that gift to be your constant companion. And he will not leave you as long as you are worthy to have him by your side. He will always be there. When you make a decision and you choose something that is not worthy of the Spirit, you are the one who moves away. You are the one who chooses to leave the Spirit. You can repent and come back, but when you make those decisions, you are the one leaving the Spirit.”
I realized after remembering that simple lesson that I would be—if I were to go with these friends, I would be choosing to abandon the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. And also I would be breaking the first and most important commandment, that we love the Lord our God. I knew if I went with these friends I would not be showing my love for my Heavenly Father.
This was not something I was willing to do, and I knew the decision I had to make. So I told these friends that I couldn’t go with them, but I would be more than happy to give them a ride home in the middle of the night, should they ever need one. And sometimes they did. This was the case for the next three years as I finished school. I was sort of known as their designated driver, but every time we would go to dinner, or bowling, or to the movies or anything else, inevitably after they would all head to the bars and clubs and they would drop me off at home. And they never gave me a hard time about it, and I was grateful for that.
But there were many times I felt discouraged as they dropped me off. I wanted to be part of the fun. I wanted to be part of the social world, and I wanted to be not the one that had to back out every time, especially to go home and sometimes to hang out alone. But I know that I made the right decision, and I know that I was blessed for it, because I know I had the Spirit of the Holy Ghost with me, and I did not choose to abandon it.
Looking back over that time, I think of possible consequences of making the other decision, to go with them. Would I have missed other opportunities? Would I have eventually begun to lower my standards? Would I have been a party to inappropriate conversations or would I eventually have given in to a sip of alcohol? Would it have affected my performance in school, or would I have brought these habits back home with me when I was done?
Every wrong road, when we find ourselves on a wrong road, it began with one choice. So it’s important that we choose right the first time. And if we don’t, Heavenly Father has provided us with a way to return back and find our way back to the right choice. We can always find the right choice with the Holy Ghost if we keep the commandments.
In the For the Strength of Youth booklet that, hopefully, most of you are familiar with, we are told, “You are responsible for the choices that you make. You have the ability to choose righteousness and happiness no matter what your circumstances.” So we also have a choice to be happy and have a positive attitude. This is, again, a decision that we can make every single day. Each day starts brand new, and we can decide how we are going to approach it.
I’m sure very few people think of someone who is pessimistic or antagonistic or rude to be a hero. I’m sure that none of you wrote one of those qualities down when you described your hero. I know I certainly don’t think of someone like that as a hero. So having a positive attitude is important. It can be difficult at times. We all have struggles and trials, and this time of life is very critical for many of you.
Some of you may struggle with one class or another, some may struggle socially. Some may struggle finding employment in this difficult economy. But I testify to you that having a positive attitude can make all the difference.
Charles Swindoll, an author, educator, and Christian pastor, said, “Attitude, to me, is more important… than the past … than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, [than] giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church… [and] a home.
“The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.” (http://www.bigeye.com/attitude.htm)
We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails, so for maximum happiness, peace and contentment, we have to choose to have a positive attitude and choose to be happy. So much in life depends on our outlook. The way we choose to see things and respond to others can make a big difference. We have to do the best we can and then choose to be happy about our circumstances no matter what they are. And these can bring peace and contentment to our hearts, and those are traits of a hero.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf recently published a short book—I don’t know how many of you have this—it’s called Forget Me Not. I would like to share a small part of this book with you. He says, “In the beloved children’s story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the mysterious candy maker Willy Wonka hides a golden ticket in five of his candy bars and announces that whoever finds one of the tickets wins a tour of his factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate.” Wouldn’t we all like that?
“Written on each golden ticket is this message: ‘Greetings to you, the lucky finder of this Golden Ticket…! Tremendous things are in store for you! Many wonderful surprises await you!...Mystic and marvelous surprises…will…delight...astonish, and perplex you.’
“In this classic children’s story, people all over the world desperately yearn to find [their] golden ticket. Some feel that their entire future happiness depends on whether or not a golden ticket falls into their hands. In their anxiousness, people begin to forget the simple joy [that they once found] in a candy bar. The candy bar itself becomes an utter disappointment if it does not contain a golden ticket.
“So many people today are waiting for their own golden ticket—the ticket that they believe holds the key to the happiness they have always dreamed about. For some, the golden ticket may be a perfect marriage; for others, a magazine-cover home or perhaps freedom from stress or worry.
“….The problem comes when we put our happiness on hold as we wait for some future event—our golden ticket [so to speak] to appear.
“….The happiest people I know are not those who find their golden ticket; they are those who, while in pursuit of worthy goals, discover and treasure the beauty and sweetness of…everyday moments….These are they who are truly happy.”
We have the opportunity to feel happiness every single day through little things we do. Do we take the time morning and night to thank our Heavenly Father for the blessings that He has given to us? Or do we focus on the things we don’t have, like the golden ticket? Do we focus on the money we aren’t making, the struggles that we’re facing? Do we look for traits in others to put them down? Do we look for people’s faults or do we look at the positive things about them? When we face struggles in life do we succumb to pain and sorrow we feel, or do we look for benefits that come as a result? I know that every one of the major blessings in my life from my Heavenly Father has been coupled with my most difficult trials. And I’m going to share another very personal example with you.
About a little over two and a half years ago, I was in a car accident that injured me pretty badly. The weeks leading up to that accident were some of the lowest I had ever experienced in my life. Nothing was going right, and I was struggling with finding happiness. This car accident was the final straw, especially since it was my fault. I ended up in the emergency room a few days after the accident with severe pain in my left shoulder, arm, and hand. Now, being a personal injury attorney and handling a lot of accident cases, I was familiar with the symptoms I had, and I knew that they would likely show that I would need surgery on my spine.
While I was in the emergency room and in the most intense pain I had ever felt in my life, I felt lower than I had ever felt. When the doctors ordered the MRI and they wheeled me into the tight machine, I wasn’t allowed to move for almost 30 minutes and I was in excruciating pain. Every single breath hurt. I began to tear up—these were tears of pain but mostly tears of desperation, because I realized at that moment that I had chosen to be unhappy. And I knew how much I needed my Heavenly Father at that particular moment, and how much I wanted to feel happy again. I needed to change my attitude.
So I said a small and simple prayer. I said, “Heavenly Father, please help me get through this struggle, this difficult time. And if you will, please give me something small to make me happy again, to make me smile. I’m not asking for miracles. I’m not asking for anything major, just something simple to help me smile.”
And I know that Heavenly Father answered that short and simple prayer, because I met my husband a few days later. We were lined up by my aunts and his mom, and when he heard that I had been in the hospital and wouldn’t be able to meet him for a little while, he came by to my house unannounced with balloons, a card, some chocolate, and a box of Tylenol. And that small, little act of kindness brought me more happiness than I had felt in a really long time. And so I know that Heavenly Father answered my prayers.
From that point on, I made a promise to myself that I would make a conscious effort to have a positive attitude and thank my Heavenly Father for answering my prayers. Because I know without a doubt that He did, and He still does.
I also have a very different outlook when I face trials. I can honestly say now that I am grateful for the trials and struggles that I face, because they make me stronger, they help me learn more about myself, and they help me to be happier in the end.
President Dahlquist also encouraged us to choose to learn to do hard things in life. He said we need to learn how to set and accomplish goals in many areas—spiritual, physical, financial, educational—a whole bunch of different areas. And he told us to write them down. How many of you have goals that are written down somewhere—actually written down? Good. Those of you that don’t, write them down. They become more real. And don’t be afraid to set high goals for yourself and be willing to achieve them.
Hard work is honorable. We are told in the Scriptures, in Doctrine and Covenants 60:13, “Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent.” Developing the capacity to work hard will help you contribute to the world you live in and it will help bless you and your families, now and in the future. But right now is the time to choose to develop your work ethic.
Heavenly Father has given us all gifts and talents, and He wants us to strengthen them as much as possible. He knows what we are capable of. So make sure that as you choose your goals and choose to work on them, that you seek His help and guidance in obtaining them.
President Eyring, in this most recent general conference, mentioned praying for mountains to climb—not hills or mounds or even stairs, but mountains. (See “Mountains to Climb,” Ensign, May 2012) And we can realize our full potential when we push ourselves to the limit and try to climb a mountain. We can accomplish many things with the help of the Lord; in fact, He will personally lift us to the top of those mountains if need be, but we have to do our part as well.
So, when you choose to develop your work ethic, ask yourself, “Am I dependable and willing to do what I say I am going to do?” Think of the prophet Nephi, when the Lord approached him and commanded him to build a ship. Can you imagine what would have happened if Nephi would have responded with, “I don’t really want to,” or “I don’t know how,” “I’m not sure I can,” “Why can’t someone else do it?” or “Why can’t you do it? Isn’t that someone else’s responsibility?” “Why me?”
He didn’t ask the Lord exactly what to do. He didn’t complain. He didn’t question. He didn’t even ask the Lord to provide the materials or the tools for him. What did he ask for? He asked for guidance, to find the materials to make the tools to build the ship. He did not doubt, even once, his ability with the help of the Lord.
This is the type of attitude we need toward work, whether it is work in our own homes, work for school, for employers, for ourselves—we should pattern our efforts after the prophet Nephi.
Another choice we can make today is to provide service to others. We’re given so many opportunities. Do we take these opportunities when they come, or are we too shy or too busy? I remember President Monson sharing a story in a Christmas devotional several years ago. He shared the story of a dentist who had written him a letter of thanks, and I’m going to read that letter to you. It’s one of my favorites. It says:
“Dear President Monson: I feel remiss in that I should have sent you a thank you note sooner. Last December I listened to your talk given during the Christmas devotional. You spoke of an older woman who could not afford to pay for the registration for an automobile she had recently purchased. [Many people] came to her aid, and [everyone] involved [was] touched.
“I am a dentist by profession. Not long after the devotional, my receptionist informed me that an acquaintance of hers was coming into my office. She had problems with two of her teeth. She knew this woman and told me of her circumstances. The woman carried many burdens. The family business, which she ran, was doing poorly and the family was three months behind in paying rent. They had five children, many [who had] grown into adulthood, but all had moved…home because of difficult personal circumstances. By sheer force of will, [this woman was able to keep] her family together for some time. Now two [of her] teeth were broken [and had to be fixed].
“The woman arrived for her appointment and explained about her dental problem. She asked if I would allow her to pay her bill over time. She explained to me that her family had experienced several financial reversals and were just [barely] starting to pay some overdue bills.
“I assured her that her credit was good with me. She asked if I could repair just one of the two broken teeth at that time, [because that’s all she could afford]. I assured her that I could, and we began.
“Since I had the time, I repaired both teeth, for which she was grateful. When the work was completed, thinking of your talk, I told her that if she would not be offended, I should like to make a Christmas present of the dental work, for which there would be no bill. She was astonished. I could sense the depth of the stress and strain [that] she had carried, as uncontrollable tears of gratitude gushed forth due to a small, simple act of kindness. It must have been years since someone showed her some little favor. Not able to speak, she made her way out.
“Both my assistant and receptionist were so moved by her reaction that they also [shed] tears and could [not] speak. I, on the other hand, was doubly glad. One part, in seeing such a simple act have such a happy effect on another. And the second part, for once in my life…crying for joy, and not for pain!
“To you, my very best wishes.
“A brother in the gospel.” (“What is Christmas?” First Presidency message, Ensign, Dec. 1998)
Now, not all of us have the resources to serve others like this kindhearted dentist. But there are many other things we can do. We can give our time, our strength, our ideas, and what resources we do have to help others. Again, Heavenly Father has given us that choice, and it is ours to make.
Finally, brothers and sisters, we have a choice to follow the Spirit when we make our choices, when we make our decisions. As I mentioned before, we face so many choices—some that have a profound effect on our lives and some that don’t. Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated, “As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best.”
“These [decisions] are the things that should command priority attention in our lives.” (“Good, Better, Best,” Ensign, Nov. 2007)
We have to make sure that our daily activities do not get in the way or distract us from listening to the Spirit. Elder Richard G. Scott told us that “one must be ever mentally and physically clean and have purity of intent so the Lord can inspire.” And “…sometimes we [foolishly] try to face [decisions and face] life by depending on our own experience and capacity. It is much wiser for us to seek through prayer and divine inspiration [from our Heavenly Father] to know what to do.” (“How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life,” Ensign, May 2012)
Sometimes, the discovery of what action to take may require a large amount of faith on our part, and action. But we will be prompted to know what to do if we are worthy. When I was trying to make a decision on whether or not to go to law school, I struggled. To be honest with you, it was not something I ever wanted to do. I never aspired to it, and it was never in the plans. I was going to be an accountant and that was it. But Heavenly Father led me to a job at a law firm, and for several years my boss encouraged me to go because he saw some potential in me. I argued with him and fought with him, and said, “I am not going. This is not something I want to do.” But there was always something that nagged at me, besides him.
So, dealing with the thought of more student loans, three more years of school, being away from family for that long—I decided I needed some help in making that decision. So I asked my dad for a father’s blessing, and within a few seconds of him putting his hands on my head and invoking the power of the priesthood, I had my answer. Within seconds. It wasn’t a booming voice or even a still, small voice, but it was something that I saw in my mind while he was giving me that blessing. I felt my presence in a very formal ceremony where I was raising my hand and taking an oath, and I knew at that point that I was supposed to go to law school and become an attorney.
And so I am so grateful for the Spirit’s guidance when I make decisions, because those three years that I spent in school were some of the best that I’ve had. And I’m so grateful that Heavenly Father helped me to make that decision to go.
We have to invite the Spirit into our lives at all times so that we can know the best decisions to make, for ourselves. “Communication with our [Heavenly Father] is not a trivial matter. It is a sacred privilege…. We [can] receive help from our Father in Heaven in response to our faith, [our] obedience, and [our] proper use of agency.” (Richard G. Scott, “How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for your Personal Life,” Ensign, May 2012)
I testify, brothers and sisters, that our Heavenly Father gave us agency so we can learn. He sent us here to earth so that we could succeed, not fail. And He wants so badly to help us. We simply have to ask. And we have that choice. When we make wrong choices, He has given us the opportunity to rectify it and to learn to make better choices. He gave us His Son so that we can repent and make better decisions.
I am grateful for my agency, and for my Heavenly Father for giving me choices and opportunities. I’m grateful for my trials and struggles, and for the testimony they have helped me build. I’m grateful for this gospel. We are so blessed to be here in such a spiritual environment every day. Our Heavenly Father has asked us to “stand in holy places,” and we do every time we walk through these doors. We are very blessed to be able to be here.
I know that my Savior lives and loves me, and I know that He is my friend and my brother, and sacrificed everything for me. I am grateful for that choice that He made, and He is my greatest hero. I’m grateful for the choices that Joseph Smith made so long ago. I don’t think he had any idea what a profound effect his decisions would make and how many people would be affected by them. And I’m grateful he chose the best choices. And I hope that I will have the inspiration to do the same when the opportunities come.
I am so grateful for my family, for the support I have from my husband and my parents, and I’m grateful for the spirit that all of you have brought here today. I love each of you, and I’m so grateful to be part of this amazing organization here. And I leave this testimony with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.