Don’t worry, be happy is the title of an extremely annoying tune that was big in my 1980s childhood. Surprisingly, the more I learn about life, the more true the message of this cheesy song becomes: The less you worry, the happier you will be. But is it really that simple?
Over the weekend my family gathered to celebrate my father’s 60th birthday, meaning I got a chance to catch up with family members that I don’t see very often. As you do, you talk about what goes on in your own and their lives and as in all families life is not just smooth sailing. Everyone has their problems to deal with, big and small, which is completely normal. What is also normal is that a huge part of people’s problems actually lies anticipating obstacles and then worrying about them. What might happen? What’s the worst case scenario? You know, just in case.
It is impossible to worry about something that is happening right at this moment. If you have a genuine problem right now, like a car speeding towards you, your only real option is to deal with it. Worrying is not to deal with problems. It is to spend time and energy focusing on something that you at this very moment cannot or will not deal with. Worry is without exception focused either in the past or in the future. Everyone knows that you cannot change the past, it is over and done with. Finito. Worrying about it will not change anything at all. Not even a little bit. So why worry about it? Really?
I do however believe that for most people a majority of their everyday worries lie in the future. What problems may arise? How am I going to deal with this and that tomorrow and next year? It could be illness, money problems, relationships, career and the list goes on and on. Our worries become vivid projections of the mind that can be both scary and unsettling. The good news is that right at this moment this is only fiction. It is not real. It only exists in your mind and absolutely nowhere else. I read somewhere that only 8% of worries actually come to pass, with the remaining 92% being forever left in the imagination. I have no idea how someone has landed on those numbers, but somehow I don’t think they are completely off. Because isn’t it so that most of our worries thus far have never manifested themselves in reality?
The Dalai Lama teaches that if you have a problem that is solvable then there is no need to worry, and that if you have a problem that you cannot solve then there is also no need to worry. That simple. This is beautifully summed up in this simple flowchart:
Worrying is not going to change anything. Trying to carry tomorrow’s sorrow today only ruins today and quite frankly does not make tomorrow’s sorrow any less painful. There is no discount. Guaranteed. So then again, why do we keep worrying?
The point is that worrying never adds anything positive to anything. It only steals happiness from today without making the potential unpleasant situations that may arise in the future any less painful. Humanity seems however to have accepted worry as a completely normal activity of the mind, and to most people life would be incomplete without it. The habit of worrying is so deeply rooted in us that very few even stop to think if there actually is any point in doing it. And truth be told: It is completely pointless.
Some people think they have to worry to care for someone. I have news for you: Worrying about someone rarely leaves the recipient of the worrying thoughts feeling any more uplifted. As a matter of fact the contrary is probably more often the case. Not only have they got a real problem on their hands, they also get to live with the knowledge that their own problems are destroying the happiness of others. A double burden. So if you do have to worry about someone you care for, do them a favour and keep your worries to yourself. This does not mean that you cannot care for, love or be there for someone. But it means that you may want to look for other ways to show your concern than to inform them of the pain they are causing you. Make it about them, not about your reaction to their problems.
Worry is not a necessity to prepare for the future, if anything worrying can work against you in the form of self-fulfilling prophecies. When you expect a bad result, chances are you will attract one. And vice versa.
American novelist Alice Hegan Rice once said:
It ain’t no use putting up your umbrella till it rains!
I think that is pretty good advice.