I’m so proud of all of you. I’m proud of the semester that we’re having. It’s been a tough season of life, and there are many challenges in front of us. But we are navigating them. We are progressing as a university and individually. And I just want to commend each of you for your efforts.
Monica is wonderful, isn’t she? I love her so much.
I want to thank her for her remarks today and all that she does for me, for our family, for our extended family, and for this university. She loves all the good and all the challenges of our role as University President. I am grateful for her love and example. I am grateful to be her eternal companion, and her companion today, in this effort.
In some families, maybe even the Kauwe family, you might hear an exchange like this one…
A father says to the child, “Say thank you.”
The child responds, “Huh?”
The father says, “Hurry, say it.”
The child responds again, “Uh, ok. Thank you?”
The father, perhaps frustratedly, says, “No, say it like you mean it.”
The child responds again, “Uh…Thank you!”
The father says, “Good job, always say thanks.”
I can tell by a little bit of laughter that this sounds familiar to you. It sounds familiar to me. We are certainly familiar with exchanges like this one in our home.
Let’s talk a little bit about this exchange.
Was that child grateful? Was that father teaching gratitude?
Well, it was a start, right?!
The father wanted the child to say thank you and he achieved that goal. The child said thank you. And saying thank you was clearly the right thing to do in whatever situation that was. It often is the right thing to do. So, I guess the child did well too. Everyone got what they wanted. Everyone wins.
But perhaps not entirely. As a father, despite sometimes, maybe even often, falling into exchanges such as this one, I want our children to do more than just say thank you. I want them to say it like they mean it, and I want them to actually mean it. I want my children to not just say thank you but to be thankful.
Similarly, our Father in Heaven desires that we demonstrate genuine gratitude and reap the many blessings that it brings to us.
The scriptures teach true gratitude and the blessings that it brings.
After bearing his testimony of Christ and the Atonement, Amulek, preaching to the Zoramites, reminds us why, and to whom, we should be grateful. He said, “...worship God, in whatsoever place ye may be in, in spirit and in truth; and that ye live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.” 1
In Doctrine and Covenants Section 78 verse 19, Jesus Christ declared that “he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundredfold, yea, more.” 2
Our modern prophets have taught us frequently about the importance of gratitude and how to practice it.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has taught, "...most of the scriptural references do not speak of gratitude for things but rather suggest an overall spirit or attitude of gratitude."
"Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be.” 3
In his November 2020 message and prayer of gratitude, President Russel M. Nelson said: "Jesus Christ frequently expressed gratitude. Before raising Lazarus from the dead, before miraculously multiplying loaves and fishes, and before passing the cup to His disciples at the Last Supper, the Savior prayed and gave thanks to God. No wonder the Apostle Paul later declared, “In every thing give thanks.” 4
Over my nine and a half decades of life, I have concluded that counting our blessings is far better than recounting our problems. No matter our situation, showing gratitude for our privileges is a fast-acting and long-lasting spiritual prescription. Does gratitude spare us from sorrow, sadness, grief, and pain? No, but it does soothe our feelings. It provides us with a greater perspective on the very purpose and joy of life.
In consensus with the scriptures and modern prophets, scientists and mental health experts have shown that the benefits of practicing gratitude are numerous and increase over time. Some of these benefits include relieving stress, creating more positive emotions, strengthening social relationships, sleeping better, being more physically healthy, lowering the risk of depression, and maintaining higher self-esteem, among many others.
Dr. Brene Brown, a renowned author and researcher, said, “In my 12 years of research on 11,000 pieces of data, I did not interview one person who had described themselves as joyful, who also did not actively practice gratitude. ... I went into the research thinking … if you are joyful, you should be grateful. But it wasn’t that way at all. Instead, practicing gratitude invites joy into our lives.” 5
Spiritual and secular authorities agree it is in our best interest to have an attitude of gratitude.
Let me repeat a few of President Nelson’s words from that 2020 message on the healing power of gratitude.
“I have concluded that counting our blessings is far better than recounting our problems. No matter our situation, showing gratitude for our privileges is a fast-acting and long-lasting spiritual prescription.”
As I pondered this quote, my mind found the ocean, as it often does. I was born a fisherman. It is in my blood. I was born into generations of fisherman. I have fished using nearly every method possible. I have learned from fisherman in the highest mountain peaks, on the Persian Gulf, and on isolated atolls of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. One of my favorite, and perhaps one of the most challenging types of fishing, is fly-fishing for ‘o’io, or bonefish, on shallow ocean flats.
I have taken many people to do this type of fishing and I’ve tried to teach them how. And I’ll tell you—it’s challenging. Often, I get to a point in the day where I realize that I’m trying to teach this person but I’ve asked them to simply, “do these two dozen different things at the same time, in the right balance, with the right timing, and then maybe you’ll catch a fish.”
While all the skills required for a perfect cast and hooks that are important, none of them matter unless you can see the fish first. That’s what makes this type of fishing so hard. The fish is silver, and each individual scale reflects light like a mirror. The top of the fish, as you can see in this image, is just the right color to blend in when viewed from the top, and from the side, you just see a reflection.
The white sand and wind-chopped surface of the water combine to create reflections of sunlight in every direction, making the fish essentially invisible. Very skillful and experienced eyes will still miss a fish in these conditions.
Let’s watch a short video clip. This fish is swimming away in 18 inches of water. At the end of the clip, the fish is about 10 feet away from me.
For reference, that fish is 30 inches long.
Can you see the fish? Look away. Close your eyes. Open them up. Look again. Can you see the fish? Could you find it if you didn’t already know it was there? Would you even think there was a fish in that frame? They are nearly impossible to see!
But there is a piece of equipment that can make all the difference: Polarized glasses.
Polarized glasses work by preferentially filtering horizontal light out while allowing vertical light to pass through the lens. This removes much of the glare, clarifying the image that you see. The glasses can’t find the fish for you, but they make an incredible difference in your vision. Without them, and I’ve tried this, you could easily fish all day and walk past and spook dozens of bonefish without even realizing they were there. With them, you can see the opportunities to catch fish despite the glare created by the sun, the wind, and the sand.
Counting our blessings, as President Nelson advises us to do, is like putting on polarized glasses. Through the lens of gratitude, we can clearly see the privileges that we enjoy, the blessings and opportunities all around us, even in the toughest conditions. Gratitude allows us to see happiness and satisfaction through the glare of challenging life events. Without it, we can be overwhelmed by envy, contempt, and misery, rendered completely unable to see the good that is in our lives.
So, how do we begin to see our lives through the lens of gratitude?
Modern prophets have taught us in very clear terms that prayer is an important way for us to count our blessings.
President David O. McKay taught the following, which applies to both men and women, “The young man who closes the door behind him, who draws the curtains, and there in silence pleads with God for help, should first pour out his soul in gratitude for health, for friends, for loved ones, for the gospel, for the manifestations of God’s existence. He should first count his many blessings and name them one by one." 6
Elder Bednar recommends, “that periodically you and I offer a prayer in which we only give thanks and express gratitude. Ask for nothing; simply let our souls rejoice and strive to communicate appreciation with all the energy of our hearts." 7
Additional benefits of using prayer to cultivate gratitude come from seeking to hear God. In April 2018, President Nelson said that “One of the things the Spirit has repeatedly impressed upon my mind since my new calling as President of the Church is how willing the Lord is to reveal His mind and will.” 8
He continued: “The privilege of receiving revelation is one of the greatest gifts of God to His children.”
He then counseled us to “Find a quiet place where you can regularly go. Humble yourself before God. Pour out your heart to your Heavenly Father. Turn to Him for answers and for comfort."
He promised us that, "To be sure, there may be times when you feel as though the heavens are closed. But I promise that as you continue to be obedient, expressing gratitude for every blessing the Lord gives you, and as you patiently honor the Lord’s timetable, you will be given the knowledge and understanding you seek. Every blessing the Lord has for you—even miracles—will follow. That is what personal revelation will do for you."
It’s an incredible message and Monica and I have experienced this process of revelation many times in our lives. On some occasions, we have been told in very certain terms what the future holds for us and how we should proceed. In other cases, we have been blessed by clear direction to reverse course, at the very last moment, after seeking guidance all along the way but feeling like the heavens had been closed. In yet other cases, the Lord has helped us see that our best judgment, without his intervention, would be sufficient. Finally, we have been comforted in times of great difficulty in truly miraculous ways. I testify to you that God is mindful of us. He listens to our prayers. When we make time to listen to Him, the heavens do open, and blessings, even miracles, can follow.
You’ll remember that back in November of 2020 President Nelson asked us to use our social media as a gratitude journal for a few days. As I prepared for this devotional, I looked at my social media posts over that time period. I was filled with joy as I renewed my appreciation for those things that I posted about--the Atonement of Jesus Christ, my family, my students, the Church Educational System, and my trials. Whether it is on social media or some other personal record, a gratitude journal is an excellent way to cultivate gratitude in our lives.
I know a busy college student, a dear friend of mine, who has a reminder set for his gratitude list at 11 pm each night. When it goes off, he pulls out his phone and lists a few things for which he is grateful. What a great idea for a simple and consistent gratitude journal!
Additional Ways to Cultivate Gratitude
Cultivating gratitude requires some effort. If you are wanting to consider what you can do to feel more gratitude in your life, some options might include setting aside a few minutes each day to enjoy the world around you, writing a thank you note, consciously smiling more often, calling your parents and other family members more frequently, not gossiping, and helping your friends see the positive side of their lives.
Perhaps try a short, mindful walk around campus or the temple grounds, taking care to note your gratitude for what you encounter, think, and feel along the way. Perhaps do that with a friend.
I have found for me personally, one of my favorite methods of cultivating gratitude is a simple “thank you text.” If, at any time during the day I have a thought of gratitude for someone in my life, present or past, I just stop, and I send a text or an email or a Teams message, and I just say it!
Just the other day, I was working, and I thought of a dear friend that I knew during graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. I hadn’t spoken to him in years, but at that moment, I remembered something he had done that taught me an important lesson. I immediately took out my phone—I didn’t even know if the number worked any more--and I messaged him, and I said, “I just thought of you and all the good times in Saint Louis. Thank you for being a good friend and example. I hope you and your family are well.”
He responded back, almost immediately, with a simple and kind note in return.
I was happier! I’m betting he was too. It’s that simple!
Gratitude for our Privileges
King Benjamin is one of my favorite ancient prophets. In his final address to his people, he counseled, as recorded in Mosiah 2: 20-21:
“I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another-"
“I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another — I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants." 9
I will talk about verses 23-24 shortly. But let’s skip to 25.
"And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you." 10
King Benjamin is reminding us that life is not a meritocracy. We didn’t earn the things that we have. God granted it all to us. I am certain that each of us would prefer to be given what He desires us to have instead of what we earned or deserved with our own efforts and on our own accord.
I remind you, again of President Nelson’s words. “No matter our situation, showing gratitude for our privileges is a fast-acting and long-lasting spiritual prescription.”
When it comes to privileges, every student at BYU–Hawaii is richly blessed. Chris, in his prayer, shared gratitude for those wonderful blessings. To give you some perspective, just 0.2% of young single adults in the Church get the chance to attend BYU–Hawaii.
Once you get here, the Lord is incredibly generous to you. No BYU–Hawaii student is paying the full cost of their own education, not one. Tuition charges are not enough for one student to subsidize another.
Every student at BYU–Hawaii is subsidized through the sacrifice of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and additional donations from others who love you, all of this done under the direction of our Savior, Jesus Christ himself to our living prophets. What an incredible blessing!
Gratitude Can Turn your Heart Toward God and Toward Others
Jesus Christ is the Son of God. During His mortal ministry, he had the capacity to work miracles, he had all power and all privileges. We read in Matthew, chapter four, that Satan tried to tempt Jesus to use his power and privileges in selfish ways. Satan tried to get Jesus to appease his own physical appetites, his pride, and his desire for wealth, his desire for comfort. Jesus did not succumb to these temptations. He chose instead to use his power and authority to love, teach, serve, and uplift the children of God.
You may hear in the world, and be reminded at times, to “check your privilege.” This is not a cause for offense. It is an opportunity for each of us to reassess our lives through the lens of gratitude.
When you are grateful that gratitude makes you acutely aware of the privileges that you enjoy. It motivates us to follow the example of Jesus Christ, increasing our desire and capacity to demonstrate our gratitude to God and our fellow beings through our actions.
King Benjamin taught us how to demonstrate our gratitude to God.
In Mosiah 2:23-24 it reads, "And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him. "
"And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast? " 11
The Lord asks for our obedience. It can be challenging to follow the commandments and honor our covenants with God. As Monica just taught you, the Lord is aksing us to strive, to do our best. He will accept our honest efforts.
Do Not Have “Gratitude Guilt”
In this same sermon, King Benjamin taught his people to, “...see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.” 12
Seeking to cultivate gratitude should not grind us down. It should not create a burden of guilt upon us. Guilt is not a part of gratitude. As we seek to cultivate gratitude, we should avoid comparisons. We should be sincere. We should ensure that our efforts are practical and sustainable. And we need to accept all of our progress, even if it is small, as success.
Elder Uchtdorf taught that what we seek "...is a gratitude that heals the heart and expands the mind." 13
We live in a world where reality can be difficult to recognize--a world where people can put forth their manufactured and polished “best face,” both literally and figuratively. In this setting, envy, dissatisfaction, and fear of missing out can overcome us and rob us of joy.
I assure you that, even in this difficult setting, gratitude heals hearts. Seeing life through the lens of gratitude gives us a clear view of our privileges, their source, and the resulting stewardship. This knowledge allows us to see through the glare of the world and find joy in our own blessings and the blessings that others receive. It allows us to thrive temporally and spiritually amid our challenges.
Please start today. Resolve to cultivate gratitude in your life, and view, through that powerful lens, the incredible blessings of having made covenants with a loving Heavenly Father, of being here at BYU–Hawaii, and of obtaining the knowledge and experience necessary to be a leader in your family, your community, and in the Kingdom of God.
In closing, I ask you to be patient with yourself and others in this process. As is the case in every part of our lives, perfection is attainable only in and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I testify to you that His Atonement is infinite and eternal. It is there to heal our suffering, overcome our challenges, and complete our pure-hearted efforts that fall short. I assure you that His mercy awaits you and me, and that we will be made whole through Him.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. Alma 34:38
2. Doctrine and Covenants 78:19
3. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Grateful in Any Circumstances,” General Conference, April 2014
4. Russell M. Nelson, “The Healing Power of Gratitude,” November 2020.
6. David O. McKay, Conference Report, April 1961, p. 8
7. David A. Bednar, “Pray Always,” General Conference, October 2008
8. Russell M. Nelson, “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” General Conference, April 2018.
9. Mosiah 2:20-21
10. Mosiah 2:25
11. Mosiah 2:23-24
12. Mosiah 4:27
13. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Grateful in Any Circumstances,” General Conference, April 2014.