In the opening lines to his 1988 hit song Don’t Worry, Be Happy, musician Bobby McFerrin sings “In every life we have some trouble. When you worry you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy.”
It would be very easy to write off this simple, almost nonsensical song as trite or silly — especially the music video, which shows the late comedian Robin Williams goofing around in ridiculous costumes.
But that would be a mistake.
We can learn a lot from this song about the ineffective use of worrying. Worrying is one of the most inefficient uses of mental energy. Think back on your life to a less than desirable situation you found yourself in. Maybe a loved one was ill. Perhaps you were laid off from your job and the bills were piling up. Maybe your partner left you or your child started causing trouble at school.
Were you worried? Of course you were. But did worrying (obsessively) actually fix anything or make the situation better or easier? I doubt it. Probably, all it did was make you anxious and tired and sick. Believe me I know, because that is what worry does to me. It shuts me down and closes me off to my creativity — the very thing I want to tap into to in that moment to help improve the situation.
Yes, there are some situations that cannot be fixed. Some things in life — like death or natural disasters or the actions of other people — are outside our control. There is nothing we can do about them. In these cases, worrying is not only ineffective, but downright pointless. Seriously, why double our problems by worrying about something we can’t control or remedy?
I think the reason we worry is because it feels like the right thing to do. We’re upset and we want to make it all better and we think that thinking about it (a lot) will help somehow.
We also worry because we’re afraid. Afraid that we won’t be able to deal with whatever is coming our way — that we won’t be able to handle it.
Well, here’s the good news. You can and you will. How do I know? Because you already have. If you are still here and still breathing, you are living proof that you have been able to weather everything that life has thrown at you so far.
And that is something to be happy about.