Glenna Christensen: Bible gives us 800 reasons to be happy

On my mirror is a quote from Camilla Eyring Kimball, wife of Spencer W. Kimball, an earlier president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She counseled the women of the Church, “You do not find a happy life, you make it.”

In the same vein, Albert Camus stated, “Life is the sum of all your choices.” And we can each choose to be happy.

Remember Pollyanna? Although some use her name derogatorily to imply an overly simplistic and naive approach to life, the story is actually one of choice and perseverance.

Author Eleanor Porter’s character, Pollyanna Whittier, was the daughter of a widowed minister whose straitened circumstances led to the receipt of charity barrels for clothes and other items. To offset his young daughter’s disappointment at finding a pair of crutches in a barrel when she had hoped for a doll, he suggested she should be glad she didn’t need the crutches. Thus the “glad game” began — looking for something in every circumstance for which to be glad.

Following her father’s death, 11-year-old Pollyanna is sent to live with her aunt. The lonely little girl reaches out and teaches an entire town to play the glad game.

She encourages the local minister by telling him her father had said he wouldn’t stay a minister a minute if it weren’t for the “rejoicing texts ... all those that begin ‘Be glad in the Lord,’ or ‘Rejoice greatly,’ or ‘Shout for joy,’ ... such a lot of ’em. Once, when father felt specially bad, he counted ’em. There were eight hundred of ’em. ... He said if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it.”

It will probably come as no surprise that a number of happiness studies have been done. The No. 1 contributor to happiness, according to Dr. Martin Seligman, was the quality of a person’s social circle. He indicates that the reason women live longer than men (especially after the death of a spouse) is that they have larger social circles to draw upon.

Recent data indicates that in our population of 350 million people, there are 120 million prescriptions for anti-depressants. Research confirms that human beings want to be happy, but despite their efforts, happiness hasn’t increased much over the past 50 years.

Kate Bratskeir, a happiness researcher, reviewed multiple studies done over the past 40 years and put together a list of 10 things that supremely happy people do. Here is a quick summary:

• Happy people laugh — a lot. Children laugh about 300 times a day, but adults average only 15 times a day.

• Happy people exercise and eat a healthful diet. Happy people use music to help their mood. They unplug and go outside — uninterrupted screen time brings on depression.

• Happy people get enough sleep. Happy people surround themselves with other happy people.

• Happy people try to be happy — they smile even when they don’t feel like it.

• Happy people find joy in serving and helping others. They look for opportunities to serve.

• Happy people are spiritual. 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.”

We are not without resources, no matter how hopeless or helpless we may feel. A positive attitude, and cheerful demeanor are within our control.

Victor Frankl, in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” says: “Even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself. He may turn personal tragedy into triumph.”

More than 800 times the Scriptures encourage us to sing, praise, rejoice and shout for joy. Be glad. We may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can choose to be happy.

Glenna M. Christensen is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.