As virtues go, patience is a quiet one.
It’s often exhibited behind closed doors, not on a public stage: A father telling a third bedtime story to his son, a dancer waiting for her injury to heal. In public, it’s the impatient ones who grab all our attention: drivers honking in traffic, grumbling customers in slow-moving lines. We have epic movies exalting the virtues of courage and compassion, but a movie about patience might be a bit of a snoozer.
Yet patience is essential to daily life—and might be key to a happy one. Having patience means being able to wait calmly in the face of frustration or adversity, so anywhere there is frustration or adversity—i.e., nearly everywhere—we have the opportunity to practice it. At home with our kids, at work with our colleagues, at the grocery store with half our city’s population, patience can make the difference between annoyance and equanimity, between worry and tranquility.
Religions and philosophers have long praised the virtue of patience; now researchers are starting to do so as well. Recent studies have found that, sure enough, good things really do come to those who wait. Some of these science-backed benefits are detailed below, along with three ways to cultivate more patience in your life.
1. Patient people enjoy better mental health
This finding is probably easy to believe if you call to mind the stereotypical impatient person: face red, head steaming. And sure enough, according to a 2007 study by Fuller Theological Seminary professor Sarah A. Schnitker and UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, patient people tend to experience less depression and negative emotions, perhaps because they can cope better with upsetting or stressful situations. They also rate themselves as more mindful and feel more gratitude, more connection to mankind and to the universe, and a greater sense of abundance.
In 2012, Schnitker sought to refine our understanding of patience, recognizing that it comes in many different stripes. One type is interpersonal patience, which doesn’t involve waiting but simply facing annoying people with equanimity. In a study of nearly 400 undergraduates, she found that those who are more patient toward others also tend to be more hopeful and more satisfied with their lives.
Another type of patience involves waiting out life’s hardships without frustration or despair—think of the unemployed person who persistently fills out job applications or the cancer patient waiting for her treatment to work. Unsurprisingly, in Schnitker’s study, this type of courageous patience was linked to more hope.
Finally, patience over daily hassles—traffic jams, long lines at the grocery store, a malfunctioning computer—seems to go along with good mental health. In particular, people who have this type of patience are more satisfied with life and less depressed.
These studies are good news for people who are already patient, but what about those of us who want to become more patient? In her 2012 study, Schnitker invited 71 undergraduates to participate in two weeks of patience training, where they learned to identify feelings and their triggers, regulate their emotions, empathize with others, and meditate. In two weeks, participants reported feeling more patient toward the trying people in their lives, feeling less depressed, and experiencing higher levels of positive emotions. In other words, patience seems to be a skill you can practice—more on that below—and doing so might bring benefits to your mental health.
2. Patient people are better friends and neighbors
In relationships with others, patience becomes a form of kindness. Think of the best friend who comforts you night after night over the heartache that just won’t go away, or the grandchild who smiles through the story she has heard her grandfather tell countless times. Indeed, research suggests that patient people tend to be more cooperative, more empathic, more equitable, and more forgiving. “Patience involves emphatically assuming some personal discomfort to alleviate the suffering of those around us,” write Debra R. Comer and Leslie E. Sekerka in their 2014 study.
Evidence of this is found in a 2008 study that put participants into groups of four and asked them to contribute money to a common pot, which would be doubled and redistributed. The game gave players a financial incentive to be stingy, yet patient people contributed more to the pot than other players did.
This kind of selflessness is found among people with all three types of patience mentioned above, not just interpersonal patience: In Schnitker’s 2012 study, all three were associated with higher “agreeableness,” a personality trait characterized by warmth, kindness, and cooperation. The interpersonally patient people even tended to be less lonely, perhaps because making and keeping friends—with all their quirks and slip-ups—generally requires a healthy dose of patience. “Patience may enable individuals to tolerate flaws in others, therefore displaying more generosity, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness,” write Schnitker and Emmons in their 2007 study.
On a group level, patience may be one of the foundations of civil society. Patient people are more likely to vote, an activity that entails waiting months or years for our elected official to implement better policies. Evolutionary theorists believe that patience helped our ancestors survive because it allowed them to do good deeds and wait for others to reciprocate, instead of demanding immediate compensation (which would more likely lead to conflict than cooperation). In that same vein, patience is linked to trust in the people and the institutions around us.
3. Patience helps us achieve our goals
The road to achievement is a long one, and those without patience—who want to see results immediately—may not be willing to walk it. Think of the recent critiques of millennials for being unwilling to “pay their dues” in an entry-level job, jumping from position to position rather than growing and learning.
In her 2012 study, Schnitker also examined whether patience helps students get things done. In five surveys they completed over the course of a semester, patient people of all stripes reported exerting more effort toward their goals than other people did. Those with interpersonal patience in particular made more progress toward their goals and were more satisfied when they achieved them (particularly if those goals were difficult) compared with less patient people. According to Schnitker’s analysis, that greater satisfaction with achieving their goals explained why these patient achievers were more content with their lives as a whole.
4. Patience is linked to good health
The study of patience is still new, but there’s some emerging evidence that it might even be good for our health. In their 2007 study, Schnitker and Emmons found that patient people were less likely to report health problems like headaches, acne flair-ups, ulcers, diarrhea, and pneumonia. Other research has found that people who exhibit impatience and irritability—a characteristic of the Type A personality—tend to have more health complaints and worse sleep. If patience can reduce our daily stress, it’s reasonable to speculate that it could also protect us against stress’s damaging health effects.
Three ways to cultivate patience
This is all good news for the naturally patient—or for those who have the time and opportunity to take an intensive two-week training in patience. But what about the rest of us?
It seems there are everyday ways to build patience as well. Here are some strategies suggested by emerging patience research.
- Reframe the situation. Feeling impatient is not just an automatic emotional response; it involves conscious thoughts and beliefs, too. If a colleague is late to a meeting, you can fume about their lack of respect, or see those extra 15 minutes as an opportunity to get some reading done. Patience is linked to self-control, and consciously trying to regulate our emotions can help us train our self-control muscles.
- Practice mindfulness. In one study, kids who did a six-month mindfulness program in school became less impulsive and more willing to wait for a reward. The GGSC’s Christine Carter also recommends mindfulness practice for parents: Taking a deep breath and noticing your feelings of anger or overwhelm (for example, when your kids start yet another argument right before bedtime) can help you respond with more patience.
- Practice gratitude. In another study, adults who were feeling grateful were also better at patiently delaying gratification. When given the choice between getting an immediate cash reward or waiting a year for a larger ($100) windfall, less grateful people caved in once the immediate payment offer climbed to $18. Grateful people, however, could hold out until the amount reached $30. If we’re thankful for what we have today, we’re not desperate for more stuff or better circumstances immediately.
We can try to shelter ourselves from frustration and adversity, but they come with the territory of being human. Practicing patience in everyday situations—like with our punctuality-challenged coworker—will not only make life more pleasant in the present, but might also help pave the way for a more satisfying and successful future.
For more on patience, check out this video from Louie Schwartzberg and Moving Art, featuring Jack Kornfield—part of Moving Art’s Gratitude Revealed series, on which the GGSC served as a partner.
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One of the greatest sentences to fall upon human ears comes from the Book of Mormon: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). That sentence captures the major possibilities of life. Let me add, we will have genuine joy and happiness only as we learn patience.
Dictionaries define patience in such terms as bearing pain or sorrow calmly or without complaint; not being hasty or impetuous; being steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity.
In a passage from the Book of Mormon, Alma helps us understand patience. After telling about planting a seed that can grow to become a tree, he adds these insightful words: “And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, … if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit. …
“And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience … ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, … and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst. …
“Ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience” (Alma 32:37, 42–43).
I don’t know whether we Church members fully appreciate the Book of Mormon, one of our sacred scriptures, as we really should. One of the clearest explanations of why we need patience to endure the trials of life is set forth by Nephi in these striking words: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, … righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one. …
“And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away” (2 Ne. 2:11, 13).
The Apostle Paul gave the purpose of patience in his epistle to the Saints in Rome: “We glory in tribulations … knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
“And patience, experience; and experience, hope” (Rom. 5:3–4).
Just forty years ago, President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., a member of the First Presidency, gave an address titled “Slipping from Our Old Moorings.” He described how we have slipped away from living the Ten Commandments (see Church News, 8 March 1947, pp. 1, 8–9).
If we had slipped away then, where are we forty years later? In 1947, television and computers were in their infancies. We had no satellite broadcasts or videotapes and no computer fraud. Certainly our moral standards of decency and propriety have slipped from where they were in 1947. The obscenity, nudity, and other forms of pornography that would have made us blush and turn away in shame in 1947 are now thrust at us openly in printed and audiovisual material. They are even paraded through our homes unless we are careful to keep them out. As a people, we are slipping further from our old moorings today because we are not following our prophets.
A certain amount of impatience may be useful to stimulate and motivate us to action. However, I believe that a lack of patience is a major cause of the difficulties and unhappiness in the world today. Too often, we are impatient with ourselves, with our family members and friends, and even with the Lord. We seem to demand what we want right now, regardless of whether we have earned it, whether it would be good for us, or whether it is right. Some seek immediate gratification or numbing of every impulse by turning to alcohol and drugs, while others seek instant material wealth by questionable investments or by dishonesty, with little or no regard for the consequences. Perhaps the practice of patience is more difficult, yet more necessary, now than at any previous time.
The Scriptures Teach Patience
To the Latter-day Saints, the Lord gave patience as one of the divine attributes that qualifies a person for the ministry (see D&C 4:6), he counseled them to be patient in their afflictions (see D&C 24:8; D&C 31:9; D&C 54:10; D&C 98:23–24), and he admonished them to make their decisions in patience (see D&C 107:30). The Savior taught us to be perfect (see Matt. 5:48; 3 Ne. 12:48) and said, “Ye are not able to abide the presence of God now, neither the ministering of angels; wherefore, continue in patience until ye are perfected” (D&C 67:13).
Examples of Patience
The Lord, Jesus Christ, is our perfect example of patience. Though absolutely unyielding in adherence to the truth, he exemplified patience repeatedly during his mortal ministry. He was patient with his disciples, including the Twelve, despite their lack of faith and their slowness to recognize and understand his divine mission. He was patient with the multitudes as they pressed about him, with the woman taken in sin, with those who sought his healing power, and with little children. Finally, he remained patient through the sufferings of his mock trials and his crucifixion.
During the Apostle Paul’s ministry of about thirty years, between his conversion and his martyrdom in Rome, he was flogged five times, beaten severely at least three times, imprisoned several times, shipwrecked three times, and stoned and left for dead on one occasion (see 2 Cor. 11:23–27). Through all of this affliction, he continued his powerful ministry. He wrote to the Romans that God “will render to every man according to his deeds:
“To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
“But unto them that are contentious [impatient], and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
“Tribulation and anguish” (Rom. 2:6–9).
The Prophet Joseph Smith’s afflictions and sufferings paralleled those of Paul in many respects. Beyond imprisonments, mobbings, and beatings, he suffered the anguish of betrayal by disloyal, unfaithful associates. But he offered the hand of friendship and fellowship to them even after they had opposed and betrayed him.
Some years ago, President Roy A. Welker of the German-Austrian Mission, one of the outstanding mission presidents of the Church, needed to assign a missionary to labor in Salzburg, Austria, to solve a problem in the branch there. Eight new missionaries were soon to arrive in the mission. He prayed that one of them would have the proper visa and currency to labor in Austria. He continued to pray and waited two weeks for an answer. The night before the eight arrived, the Spirit of the Lord whispered to the president the name of the missionary who should be assigned to Salzburg. The one whose name he received was the one who had the proper credentials to go to Austria. I was that elder.
The president’s patience not only helped solve a problem in the branch, but it also blessed me and our family in a way that I never could have foreseen. Shortly after I arrived in Salzburg, that part of the German-Austrian Mission was changed into the Swiss-Austrian Mission. Later, I was transferred to Zurich, Switzerland, where I met Brother Julius Billeter, a warm and friendly member who was a genealogist. He was acquainted with the genealogical records of my progenitors. He researched the names of 6,000 of my ancestors for whom temple work later was completed.
We should learn to be patient with ourselves. Recognizing our strengths and our weaknesses, we should strive to use good judgment in all of our choices and decisions, make good use of every opportunity, and do our best in every task we undertake. We should not be unduly discouraged nor in despair at any time when we are doing the best we can. Rather, we should be satisfied with our progress even though it may come slowly at times.
We should be patient in developing and strengthening our testimonies. Rather than expecting immediate or spectacular manifestations, though they will come when needed, we should pray for a testimony, study the scriptures, follow the counsel of our prophet and other Church leaders, and live the principles of the gospel. Our testimonies then will grow and mature naturally, perhaps imperceptibly at times, until they become driving forces in our lives.
Patience with family members and others who are close to us is vital for us to have happy homes. However, we often seem more willing to be courteous and polite with strangers than with those in our own family circles. For some reason, criticism, sharp language, and quarreling too often seem to be acceptable at home but not away from home.
Husbands, be patient with your wives; and wives, be patient with your husbands. Don’t expect perfection. Find agreeable ways to work out the differences that arise. Remember President David O. McKay’s wise counsel regarding marriage: keep your eyes wide open before marriage and half closed afterward (see Conference Report, Apr. 1956, p. 9). Perhaps, on occasion, our wives could get into the car and honk the horn while we, as husbands, get the children ready.
Parents, be patient with your children. Read to your little children and help them with their schoolwork, even if you need to tell or show them the same thing many times. Elder Richard L. Evans said, “If they find that they can trust us with their trivial questions, they may later trust us with more weighty ones” (Ensign, May 1971, p. 12). Capitalize on their natural curiosity and help them develop a love for learning. Teach them the principles of the gospel in simple terms. Be patient with them if they disturb family home evening or family prayers. Convey to them the reverence you feel for the gospel, Church leaders, and the Savior.
Be patient with your youth, especially as they make the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Many of them have the appearance of adults and think they are adults, but they have had little experience with which to make adult judgments. Help them to get the experience they need and to avoid the pitfalls that can harm them.
On the other hand, I urge you children to be patient with your parents. If they seem to be out of touch on such vital issues as dating, clothing styles, modern music, and use of family cars, listen to them anyway. They have the experience that you lack. Very few, if any, of the challenges and temptations you face are new to them. If you think they know nothing about the vital issues I just mentioned, take a good look at their high school and college yearbooks. Most important, they love you and will do anything they can to help you be truly happy.
I advise you to be patient in financial matters. Avoid rash or hurried financial decisions; such decisions require patience and study. Get-rich-quick schemes seldom work. Beware of debt. Be especially careful of easily obtained credit even if the interest is tax deductible. You young couples should not expect to begin your married lives with homes, automobiles, appliances, and conveniences comparable to those your parents have spent years accumulating.
Finally, a word about patience with our Heavenly Father and his plan of eternal progression. How incredibly foolish to be impatient with him, the Father of our spirits, who knows everything and whose work and glory, through his Son, Jesus Christ, is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). As Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “Patience is tied very closely to faith in our Heavenly Father. Actually, when we are unduly impatient, we are suggesting that we know what is best—better than does God. Or, at least, we are asserting that our timetable is better than his. Either way we are questioning the reality of God’s omniscience” (Ensign, Oct. 1980, p. 28).
Elder Richard L. Evans said, “There seems to be little evidence that the Creator of the universe was ever in a hurry. Everywhere, on this bounteous and beautiful earth, and to the farthest reaches of the firmament, there is evidence of patient purpose and planning and working and waiting” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1952, p. 95).
Quoting from Elder Marvin J. Ashton: “We do not have to worry about the patience of God, because he is the personification of patience, no matter where we have been, what we have done, or what we, to this moment, have allowed ourselves to think of ourselves. …
“God will not forsake [us]” (Speeches of the Year: BYU Devotional Addresses, 1972–73, Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1973, p. 104).
I am truly grateful for the Lord’s patience with his children. I am infinitely grateful for his patience with me and for the privilege I have to serve as a special witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ.
I am gratified, as I travel among the members of the Church, to see how many truly live the gospel principles. To them, I quote a promise given by the Lord: “Those that live shall inherit the earth, and those that die shall rest from all their labors … ; and they shall receive a crown in the mansions of my Father, which I have prepared for them.
“Yea, blessed are they … who have obeyed my gospel; for they shall receive for their reward the good things of the earth. …
“And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above” (D&C 59:2–4).
I pray that we might be patient, especially in adversity, as we meet our challenges of uncertainty, trials, pressure, and tribulation in today’s world.
I close with my testimony to you that patience is a divine attribute. I testify that our Heavenly Father lives and loves each of us and that Jesus is the Christ, our Lord and Savior. Joseph Smith is the prophet through whom the Lord restored the gospel in these latter days. President Ezra Taft Benson is the Lord’s prophet who directs this work today. I bear this testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.