Hymn text by Helen Silcott Dungan, ca. 1899-. View the full text of this hymn.

I find the repeated “you can” of this hymn very empowering. You can make the pathway bright, speak a gentle word, do a kindly deed, and live a happy life. The first verse tells us how:

You can make the pathway bright,
Fill the soul with heaven’s light,
If there’s sunshine in your heart;
Turning darkness into day,
As the shadows fly away,
If there’s sunshine in your heart today.

The key is to keep “sunshine in your heart,” a line which is repeated sixteen times in the course of this hymn. It’s significant, of course, that sunshine is to be kept in the heart, not the eyes or the mind or the speech. Your heart is your core, the site of your motivation, and the beating center of your soul. If there’s sunshine there, it doesn’t matter what difficulties may come.

However, I think we too easily overlook what this hymn guarantees. The promise is that “you can make the pathway bright,” not that you can make the pathway easy. Due to its exuberant cheerfulness, this hymn can be overlooked as advocating a kind of simple naivete that is out of reach for anyone over the age of seven.  But I think there’s more going on than that, and it’s evident in the kind of tasks described in verses 2 and 3.

The chorus tells us that we can “send a shining ray,” but where? Or to whom do we “send” it? If we look closely at verses 2 and 3, it seems we are to send that light to others:

You can speak the gentle word
To the heart with anger stirred,
If there’s sunshine in your heart;

You can do a kindly deed
To your neighbor in his need,
If there’s sunshine in your heart;

This is not a happy-go-lucky hymn about selfish cheerfulness making our life magically easy. It’s a hymn about how keeping optimism and “a perfect brightness of hope” (2 Ne 31:20) at our motivating centers will help us to lift the burdens of others. It’s only in doing that, in serving others, that we get the promise of verse 4: “you can live a happy life.” But the promise doesn’t end there; it goes on to specify exactly what this “sunshine” amounts to: a soul aglow with love.

You can live a happy life
In this world of toil and strife,
If there’s sunshine in your heart;
And your soul will glow with love
From the perfect Light above,
If there’s sunshine in your heart today.

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