Science and Religion Agree that Hope and Optimism Are Powerful

Conquering Grand Teton

How strong is your hope for the future? Are you optimistic?

Eric Barker’s article “11 scientific studies that will restore your faith in humanity” talks about scientific studies that support the power of optimism and hope.

Reading his article reminded me that the Gospel teaches the same principles. The Gospel truly is a pathway of hope and optimism!

President Gordon B. Hinckley said,

We have every reason to be optimistic in this world. Tragedy is around, yes. Problems everywhere, yes. … You can’t, you don’t, build out of pessimism or cynicism. You look with optimism, work with faith, and things happen.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught,

Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.

I took Barker’s 11 studies and looked at them from a Gospel perspective, comparing them to my life experiences.

1) You bounce back better from tougher problems.

 “Things will work out.”

Tragedy did not erode their faith; it tested it and strengthened it. And the feeling of peace the Lord has promised has already been delivered in the midst of the storm.

Other miracles are sure to follow. President Henry B. Eyring

I believe that everyone lived with God before living on this earth. This earth life presents a testing and proving ground for people to exercise faith, choose to obey Heavenly Father’s commandments, and make and keep sacred covenants.

Sometime problems manifest as inconveniences – of what we know we should do versus what we want to do, or what we feel comfortable doing.

I think one benefit of having a lay clergy is that we all get a chance to step out of comfort zones, realize latent talents, and grow our abilities.

Sometimes a tough problem is just the weather.

I committed to finish my visiting teaching before my husband, and I moved from Punalu’u, Hawaii to American Fork, Utah. We decided to move fairly quickly and had quite a list of things to do. I planned to visit a sweet widow on my route named Aunty Faye.

It was pouring rain. We’d already sold one vehicle, and my husband had the other in Honolulu. I couldn’t reach my visiting teaching companion to see if I could ride with her.

I envisioned Aunty Faye standing in the rain waiting for us  since she had to let us into her apartment complex with a key. I couldn’t reach her to reschedule.

I didn’t want to walk to her house in the drenching, pouring rain.

Then suddenly a memory flashed to mind of my aged Grandma Leona whose car wouldn’t start one frozen winter morning at 4:30 am. She was scheduled to work at the temple at 5:00 am.

Determined to fulfill her commitment, and in her dress and stockings, she started walking to the next town to the temple.

A car happened to pass Grandma after she reached a main road.  The man noticed the little lady in a skirt, carrying a small suitcase. He stopped and asked if she needed a ride. He was a fellow temple worker and picked her up a few blocks from her house.

What a miracle!

Grandma didn’t know she would get a ride and was committed to walk in the freezing, snowy darkness for 2 hours to reach the temple.

I decided that I could probably walk in the rain. When I reached Aunty Faye’s apartment building drenched to the bones, she was waiting for me. I later learned my visiting teaching companion had a family emergency and wasn’t able to meet with us. Aunty Faye would have been standing outside in the rain for a long time expecting us.

We had a lovely visit and I was so grateful to be able to express my love to her and say goodbye.

Was the experience significant?  To me, yes. I realized how important it was to keep that commitment. I felt the joy of a strengthened relationship.

I also recognized how much the Lord cherishes each of us – He knew Aunty Faye would be waiting. He loves her, too.

I felt the glorious effects of a long hot shower after returning home. I also felt the rippling impact of miracles in others’ lives.

Knowing that my grandmother cheerfully kept her commitment helped me face the torrential rain with optimism. I believed that the Lord would help me, too.

“But when they in their trouble did turn unto the Lord God of Israel, and sought him, he was found of them” (2 Chronicles 15:4).

2) Regret is not that scary.

Repentance means that as imperfect beings sometimes make imperfect decisions, they may correct their course.

By following the rules of repentance, and through the atonement of Jesus Christ, mistakes don’t count. The Lord agrees to “remember no more” (Hebrew 8:12).

Because of the miraculous gift of forgiveness, transgressions are forgiven—and forgotten. Men can be cleansed and return to the path of purpose and progress and peace. Elder F. Burton Howard

I felt trepidation the first significant time I needed to repent.

I wondered if the Savior really could or would forgive me. Logically believing something and actually experiencing something are two very different things.

As I proceeded through the appropriate steps of repentance, I felt the Savior’s love and knew I had been forgiven.

Repent right away! Hope will be restored to your heart! Don’t waste time!

Repentance’s peace distills upon every aspect of the soul.

“Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth” (Alma 29:2).

3) “What does not kill you makes you stronger” is often true.

Peter later encouraged others: “Think it not strange,” he said, “concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you” (1 Peter 4:12).

These fiery trials are designed to make you stronger, but they have the potential to diminish or even destroy your trust in the Son of God and to weaken your resolve to keep your promises to Him.

These trials are often camouflaged, making them difficult to identify. They take root in our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, our sensitivities, or in those things that matter most to us.

A real but manageable test for one can be a fiery trial for another. Like the intense fire that transforms iron into steel, as we remain faithful during the fiery trial of our faith, we are spiritually refined and strengthened. Elder Neil L. Andersen

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” flashes me back to 10th grade Algebra II class.

Most of our classmates knew my cousin and I were Mormons. We’d been asked some curious questions, but most of the time no one bothered us about our faith.

A classmate asked me to Homecoming. I was 15 years old. I explained that I wouldn’t date until I was 16 years old, so needed to decline his invitation.

Suddenly, persecution began.

At first I shrank a little bit. I didn’t like being the object of that kind of attention.

After a round of mocking notes actually made their way around the classroom to us after the teacher stepped out of class, I waved the paper in the air and said, “You’re right! We stay pure because of our faith! Thanks for noticing!”

Though meant to mock us, Michelle and I were emboldened by being ridiculed as being “‘purer’ than babies” and “more innocent than my puppy dog.” Instead of feeling bullied, we just laughed.

I remember the initial strain of feeling noticeably different from everyone else. But, my standards and faith were non-negotiable.

When I finally read the mockeries, I realized how silly and immature they were and knew that God strengthened my faith and gave me hope during that trial.

Incidentally, no one ever mocked my faith again, at least to my face, during high school.

“If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you” (1 Peter 4:14).

4) Reverse PTSD exists: Sometimes terrible events make us better people.

I speak of the loneliest journey ever made and the unending blessings it brought to all in the human family. … Against all odds and with none to help or uphold Him, Jesus of Nazareth, the living Son of the living God, restored physical life where death had held sway and brought joyful, spiritual redemption out of sin, hellish darkness, and despair.  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

The Savior’s infinite suffering has put my own in perspective throughout the years.

One of my deepest personal trials, that I’m willing to share so publicly, occurred while serving a mission in Scotland.

I had been healthy my whole life, experiencing only minor colds and a few run-ins with sharp objects.

During my first area on the Isle of Lewis, my legs suffered horrific pain and my vitality decreased. Doctors diagnosed me with myalgia encephalomyelitis, a common transmittable disease in Scotland, and I struggled physically and neurologically.

While teaching people, my brain would just stop and no words were forthcoming from anywhere in my universe. I started falling asleep on buses and during meetings. I felt extremely frustrated, confused, and disappointed. I hurt all the time, but still tried to do my best.

When I returned to Texas, I did so on an emergency transfer with medical help. Doctors said I would never really walk again. My mother had to help me to the bathroom.

I hit rock bottom.

Mom took me to a group session where I could learn from others with similar issues. It was the most depressing meeting I’d ever attended and I never returned.

I realized that I wanted to live with hope and optimism and that I would do whatever it took to live independently again.

Because of the Savior’s atoning power, I did.

I still have a few flare ups, and luckily my husband knows me well enough to just finish whatever sentence I forget to end or tell me to just sit down and be still for a minute.

I found happiness, even in the midst of incapacity.

“[H]appy is that people, whose God is the Lord” (Psalms 144:15).

I gained empathy. I felt compassion. I understood the shock of being fully capable then utterly dependent.

I’ve felt the temptation to just give up. I know the power of harnessing the divine within.

I’ve seen the radical difference between despair and hope. I learned what really matters to me and what expectations and ideas I could let go.

Most importantly, I learned that the Savior’s promise is real and sure: “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63).

5) Rarely in life are you limited by your genes.

The Lord said to Abraham, “My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee” (Abraham 2:8).

My young friends, today I say to you that if you trust the Lord and obey Him, His hand shall be over you, He will help you achieve the great potential He sees in you, and He will help you to see the end from the beginning. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

One of the most basic, hopeful principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that everyone is a child of God.

You lived as a spirit in His presence before you came to earth. God is your Father and prepared a way for you to return again to His presence.

“For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).

One of the most debilitating lies you tell yourself is that you are worthless, insignificant, or incapable.

This quote by Elder Neal A. Maxwell emboldens me when I don’t feel capable of accomplishing something Heavenly Father has asked me to do.

God does not begin by asking us about our ability, but only about our availability, and if we then prove our dependability, he will increase our capability! (It’s Service, Not Status, That Counts).

“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10).

6) You don’t need to win the lottery to be happy.

Why aren’t people happy?

Too many adopt the theory that happiness is dependent upon the obtaining of material things and the enjoyment of worldly pleasures: the accumulation of wealth, the achievement of fame, the ownership of palatial homes and earthly possessions, etc. …

Who are the happy people today?

Not those who forsake the Lord and devote themselves entirely to the pleasures of life and the physical things of the world.

The truly happy people are those who have faith in the Lord and keep the laws of the gospel, those who forget self in their desire and effort to bless others. Elder Joseph Anderson

A rickety bus promised to take us from Santiago, Chile, to the small town of San Jose de Maipo, Chile.

It was very crowded. I shared space with a chicken. My sisters were squished, too.

My parents served part of their mission in that area and wanted us to meet people they’d grown to love.

A few miles from San Jose de Maipo, we got off the bus and stopped in at a widow’s small pink shack with a dirt floor.

Olga answered my dad’s salutation.

Her beautifully wrinkled face pierced the shadow of the door-less doorway and broke into a huge smile.

Still learning Spanish, mom communicated with people the only way she could – through love.  Olga spoke to dad, but rushed over to mom and they stood for a moment embracing. Their love was palpable.

She cheerfully invited us into her tiny, but very well kept home.

She chatted about her blessings. She proudly showed pictures of her family.

She told us how when she met our parents she suffered severe abdominal pains from cancer. Dad taught her about Priesthood blessings. From the moment she received a Priesthood blessing, her cancer was in remission and stunned everyone around her.

I wondered how she kept warm during an Andes’ winter when her walls and the ceiling gapped and she had no door.

She happily shared her meager meal with us.

She shared her happy love with each of us.

When she hugged me as we left, I cried.

She who had so little temporally had found what mattered most. Her presence filled my soul.

“Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12).

7) Helping others helps you.

Our Savior teaches us to follow Him by making the sacrifices necessary to lose ourselves in unselfish service to others.

If we do, He promises us eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 14:7), the glory and joy of living in the presence of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Elder Dallin H. Oaks

One of the quickest ways I’ve found to feel better about myself or my situation is to serve others.

In Texas, whenever I needed a pick-me-up, I took my best friend’s son with me for what he called “Drop and Runs.”

With prepared treats, Liam and I drove where we felt led by the Spirit.

He ran to the door, strategically placed the plate on the doorstep, rang the doorbell and either hid nearby, or if he thought he could make it unseen, he ran like crazy for the truck. Liam was super fast and I don’t think he ever got caught!

We loved watching people find the goodies and look out into the darkness.

We laughed and had fun together, and felt like we brought a little love and hope to others.

“Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren… and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success” (Alma 26:27).

8) “Both hope and despair are self-fulfilling prophecies.”

[T]he sources of hope are the sources of life itself.

That’s why hope persists, even when experience, reason, and knowledge all say there is no reason to hope. … To choose hope is to choose life. To choose hope is to choose love. …

[O]ur everyday sacrifices, our ordinary hope, is so tough, so versatile, so difficult to turn into meaninglessness and despair.

In fact, it cannot happen—we literally cannot despair—unless we choose to. But because we are mortal, death is entangled with life.

We can choose to feed the darkness and death in our lives, or we can choose to feed the brightness of hope in our lives. Sister Chieko N. Okazaki

Almost two years ago, we had our tenth miscarriage. I succumbed to despair.

The same constant trial and disappointment wearied my soul.

I attended the temple regularly and studied the scriptures. I knew that the Savior could help me.

One day, the Holy Ghost taught me that I could either just survive in despair or I could thrive with hope.

It was my choice. I chose hope and happiness.

The Savior heard my prayer and began to heal my soul.

“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God” (Psalms 42:5).

9) Trusting too much is better than trusting too little.

You show your trust in Him when you listen with the intent to learn and repent, and then you go and do whatever He asks.

If you trust God enough to listen for His message in every sermon, song, and prayer in this conference, you will find it.

And if you then go and do what He would have you do, your power to trust Him will grow, and in time you will be overwhelmed with gratitude to find that He has come to trust you. President Henry B. Eyring

Trust in God has fostered the greatest happiness and peace in my life.

I trust that God has a plan for our salvation. I trust His prophets. I trust the scriptures. I trust that the Savior’s Atonement is efficacious.

I trust in God’s protection.

I trust in His Mercy. I trust in His Grace. I trust in a hereafter.

I trust that His promises are sure. I trust in personal revelation.

I trust that He knows me. I trust that I am His child.

Because I trust Him, I feel optimistic for the future and peace in the present.

“O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever” (2 Nephi 4:34).

10) Sometimes, empathy beats objectivity.

One who really understands and practices empathy doesn’t solve another’s problems, doesn’t argue, doesn’t top his story, make accusations, or take away free agency.

He merely helps the person build his self-reliance and self-image so he can try to find his own solutions. Elder Marvin J Ashton

I called Heather in the middle of the night.

I needed her. I felt so frustrated, angry, and hurt that I couldn’t think straight.

We’d laughed often together. I valued her objectivity. I relied on her practicality.

I went to her home hoping she would tell me what to do. She listened to me. She told me she loved me. She told me Heavenly Father and the Savior loved me.

She asked me to identify my options. She asked which option I preferred.

I found a stronghold through her gentle, empathetic guidance.

I left her home facing with faith and self-confidence what became a miraculous turning point in my life.

And of some have compassion, making a difference” (Jude 1:22).

11) The most powerful goals aren’t about being perfect; they’re about getting better.

Salvation does not come all at once; we are commanded to be perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect.

It will take us ages to accomplish this end, for there will be greater progress beyond the grave, and it will be there that the faithful will overcome all things, and receive all things, even the fulness of the Father’s glory.

I believe the Lord meant just what he said: that we should be perfect, as our Father in Heaven is perfect.

That will not come all at once, but line upon line, and precept upon precept, example upon example, and even then not as long as we live in this mortal life, for we will have to go even beyond the grave before we reach that perfection and shall be like God. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith

I had my first piano lesson when I was 8.

Mrs. Franks, had an extraordinary insight into what motivated me. I enjoyed practicing and learned to play Silent Night from the hymnal that year.

When I was 10, we moved from Oklahoma to Idaho. My piano teacher had to cut back on the number of students she taught. I didn’t make the cut. I played occasionally at home when I wanted something to do.

At 12, I joined the junior high choir. Mrs. Towles said she wanted choir members to accompany the choir during the Christmas concert.

Auditions would be held.

For some reason, I felt incredibly drawn to that opportunity. I wondered about my abilities. I had never auditioned for anything before. I practiced and practiced the songs.

On the day of my audition, I walked into the large hall and sat at the grand piano. It was the first time I’d ever been that close to a grand piano.

My hands shook and were ice cold. Mrs. Towles showed me how to warm my hands up quickly.

I played. I thought I failed. I left dejected.

The next day, Mrs. Towles pulled me aside and asked me to play two songs for the concert!

Four years and a move to Texas later, I sat down to play for judges at Knox Music Competition. I had won the competition for my level the two prior years.

I again had an extraordinary teacher who knew and guided me. But, I focused more on my busy high school schedule than practicing the piano.

I loved my piece (“Italian Concerto” by Johann Sebastian Bach) and could play it well, but procrastinated memorization. I figured I could wing it. I had played the song so many times.

My hands were ice cold, but I began the song with vigor.

After several minutes, however, I forgot the notes and stopped playing.  One judge gently suggested I begin again.

I began again, but did not “OWN” the piece like I usually did to win a competition.

After my performance, I discovered I was the only contestant at that level.

My scores came back. The judges gave me a superior rating, but second place. One judge told me he knew I played below my ability due to lack of preparation.

There was no first place award given in that category.

I lost to myself.

What a great lesson I learned from those two experiences!

Hope and optimism come from faith in action.

“But if ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:30).

“For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have” (2 Nephi 28:30).

How has the Gospel enhanced optimism and hope in your life? I’d love to read your experiences in the comment section below!

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I love exploring the world, experiencing nature, assimilating truth, and hanging out with my husband. One of my life goals is to visit every LDS temple in the world. I've been to 101.