"Don't Worry, Be Happy!" And Other Such Nonsense


By Laura Hull, LMFT


Back in the late 1980s, Bobby McFerrin had a smash hit song proclaiming the notion that when life throws everything including the kitchen sink at us, we should adopt the mindset of “don’t worry, be happy”.  Uh-huh.  This catchy little ditty puts a smile on the face, taking me in my mind to my worry-free, happy place (the one that exists only in my mind) where I am sitting on a beach, whistling along with Bobby under an umbrella with a fruity beverage.  Lost in that momentary thought, I am brought crashing back to reality with the sounds of real life.  My hubby and I have six kids to support…to put through college, to fit with braces, health issues to address, careers to pursue, and the list goes on and on.  With life comes worry.  Sorry Mr. McFerrin, your notion of “don’t worry, be happy” is a lovely one, but much easier said than done.


Everyone who lives long enough experiences worry and fear.  Life is full of uncertainty and worry and/or fear is born from this.  Ask the newly diagnosed cancer patient if he/she can adopt a stance of “don’t worry” in the face of such news.  Ask the newly unemployed father of three how worry-free he is when he doesn’t know how he’s going to feed his family.  Worry and fear is as much a part of the human experience as breathing.  In the absence of life-threatening or life-altering situations, worry and fear come and go throughout life, shaping the experiences and moving our lives in directions that can alter our paths permanently.  The fear of not being able to provide financially for the family may motivate someone to return to school to pursue an education.  Fear of dying young and leaving behind children may motivate an obese individual to take control of life and address health issues that could jeopardize the well-being of those dependent on him/her.  What do we tell the person who is consumed with worry and fear that his/her marriage is failing?  Who suspects that the spouse is being unfaithful and the foundation of the marriage is beginning to crack?  Do we tell him that his worry and fear won’t help the situation?  Hopefully you can see where I am going with this.


Some people struggle with worry and fear that is non-specific.  It is just a general sense of unrest and anxiety about life in general.  Small things can trigger big responses that are out of proportion to the situation they are dealing with.  Some people have been conditioned this way due to repeated life experiences.  Some people are susceptible to worry and fear (anxiety) due to genetics.  Some people are born with better coping skills than others.  Learning how to cope with the circumstances of our lives is important in order to be able to manage worry and fear. This allows room for happiness in our lives.


So what do we do to address worry and fear?  Consider Mr. McFerrin’s profound lyrics (said with a wink!):


In every life we have some trouble

When you worry you make it double

Don't worry, be happy......


Ain't got no place to lay your head

Somebody came and took your bed

Don't worry, be happy

The landlord say your rent is late

He may have to litigate

Don't worry, be happy


1.        Acknowledge that worry is normal.  The fact that we worry at times does not mean we are “weak” or that we “can’t handle things”.  It means we are human.  Jesus, who knew salvation’s plan, who had all the power to change everything, had fear and worry in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He sweated, He needed comforting, He sought out his friends, He was burdened by the fear of what was coming.  An Angel came to comfort Him…He did not want to face it alone.  What does this tell us when the Son of God wrestled with his worry and fear?  It means we should realize that God knows our hearts and our struggles.  Jesus felt it profoundly.  In His moment of fear, Jesus sought his beloved friends for comfort (and felt sorrow when He found them asleep and unavailable to Him in His time of need). Ultimately, he took His fears to God in prayer.  This is our perfect model.  The support of dear friends and the power of prayer should be our “go-to” in times of worry and fear.

2.        Assess the situation.   Some things in life we can change.  Other things we cannot.  Take an honest look at the situation being faced.  Will fear or worry do anything to change the outcome?  If the answer is yes, then address it now. For example, if you are afraid that because you are 100 lbs overweight that you will have a heart attack and die, then let your fear and worry motivate you to make a change, starting right now.  However, if the answer is no, then take a step back and take care of yourself so that you can work through the feelings and move on.  We cannot stop ourselves from experiencing worry, but we can choose not to dwell on what we cannot change.  The Bible challenges us in Matthew 6:27 to consider “can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”  If worry and fear are dominating our thoughts….if it’s a problem that is dictating major portions of our lives, we must be proactive in addressing it.  We can lose years of our lives being unhappy and unable to experience real joy because our thoughts are consumed with worry.  Counseling is a wonderful way of addressing this issue. Sometimes talking through our worries with someone not directly tied to the situation itself can help our perspectives and allow us to obtain the coping skills necessary to address the situations we are facing and to get a handle on our negative emotions.  Sometimes medical intervention may be necessary to aid this process.  This is not something to be ashamed of.  If you have high blood pressure, you take medicine for it. Sometimes people require medications to address emotional issues.  This is not weakness, this is chemical. 

3.        Do worry, be happy! Give yourself a break.  We cannot eliminate worry and fear from our lives completely.  Address the issues you can, acknowledge there are things you can’t control, and be wise enough to recognize the difference.  You can still be happy even when there is worry and fear in life.  In some respects, it is a choice.  Maybe God has not given you the “perfect” set of circumstances in life (as if there is such a thing), but He has given you today….and what you choose to do with it is your choice.  Choose wisely.  There is something to be learned everyday.  Don’t miss the lessons by continuing to focus on worry and fear. It’s OK to give in to worry and fear at times (we all do it) but don’t give it the whole day, everyday.  Life is too short.

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