I grew up trying to overcome my strengths. I didn’t like the excesses that came from my native enthusiasm, so I determined to be moderate. I hated the distractibility that came with my creativity, so I resolved to be steady.
I was a man at war with himself. I was neither happy nor productive.
It was immensely liberating for me when, as an adult, I read the recommendation of brilliant psychologist, Martin Seligman:
I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather, I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your signature strengths. (p. 13, Authentic Happiness)
Our focus should be on using our strengths! What an intriguing idea! How does that fit with the Gospel of Jesus Christ? What is the Lord’s program of gifts?
Tucked away in the Doctrine and Covenants (section 46) is God’s program of spiritual gifts and personal development. His instruction can guide us to a full life. Five points seem very clear:
1. “…To every [person] is given a gift by the Spirit of God” (v.11).
God equips every child with a gift or some combination of gifts. The question is not whether we have gifts, but whether we have discovered them.
Each of us should study and pray to come to know the gifts we have been given. I recommend that you take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths to learn your signature strengths. The Keirsey Temperament Sorter or Myers-Briggs test can also be a resource. The first two of these can be taken free online.
We can also become more aware of our gifts as we notice what kind of work we love.
This scripture also encourages us to notice and appreciate the gifts and strengths of others.
2. “To some is given one, and to some is given another . . . ” (v.12).
The human tendency is to compare ourselves to others and feel we don’t measure up. But we are not given the same gifts as others. Joseph Smith had different gifts from Brigham Young. Peter had different gifts from Paul. You have different gifts than I do.
“For there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God” (D&C 46:11).
Rather than worrying that we do not measure up to the gifts of others, we should understand and celebrate the gifts we are given. If we fail to use our gifts because we consider them inferior to someone else’s gifts, then we are unwise servants. It is better to rejoice in the gifts given to others and combine them with our own in service to worthy causes.
“Now, seeing that I know these things, why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?” (Alma 29:6).
It is worth remembering that God gives us weakness (Ether 12:27) so that we recognize our desperate need for Him. Thus, the angelic directive to our first parents and all of us since is: “Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore” (Moses 5:7). Only He can ultimately eradicate our weaknesses.
3. “And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God” (D&C 46:26).
For those who are tempted to covet others’ gifts, God has given the good news that all gifts in all people belong to all of us in a community of caring and service. God has not given us gifts so that we may win trophies and impress our neighbors. He has given us gifts so “that all may be profited thereby” (v.12).
Discoveries from research have shown that using our gifts to serve others actually contributes to our level of happiness in life. God has always known the growth-promoting and healing benefits of serving and loving. When our gifts are woven together in a tapestry of caring, we are filling the measure of our creation. We are becoming more like Him.
Prophets of every era have counseled us to serve and bless one another. It is essential to our growth. We can do God’s work by pondering how we can better use the specific gifts He has given us in ministering to others.
4. “Seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given” (v.8).
God encourages us to keep growing. We pray for God to enlarge and refine us. For example, we pray earnestly for the gift of charity. We pray for any gift that will enable us to bless His children.
The fact that God calls these “gifts” should remind us of the source. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).
5. “Ye must give thanks unto God in the Spirit for whatsoever blessing ye are blessed with” (v.32).
Gratitude opens the windows of heaven. “O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!” (Mosiah 2:19). All gifts are a divine bestowal intended to bless all of our brothers and sisters. Part of gratitude is acknowledging and magnifying our gifts.
So is Seligman right? Should our focus be on using our gifts more than eliminating our faults? God’s program of gifts seems consistent with that idea. When we fill the measure of our creation, we have inexpressible joy. We use the gifts God has given us and we pray for His mercy to manage our faults.
Invitation: What are the gifts God has given you? How can you use them to bless His children?
Recommendations: I recommend that you seek to become more aware of the gifts God has given you. You may also be interested in Seligman’s book, Authentic Happiness.
Parts of this article were drawn from my book, Modern Myths and Latter-day Truths.
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful contributions to this article.