Don't Worry Be Happy

More than just a song title?

Don't Worry Be Happy

More than just a song title?

Don’t worry be happy is the famous title of a hit a song by Bobby McFerrin, but it’s more than that. And more than just a nice thought!

Worry eats away at our happiness, causing feelings of anxiety, fear and apprehension. In fact Michael Fordyce, a leading academic in the field, suggested that the most direct way for most people to increase their happiness is simply to stop worrying!

So, perhaps Bobby McFerrin had it right and “don’t worry be happy” is sage advice. But how do we stop worrying? A good place to start is to work out what worry is.


Don’t Worry Be Happy – but What is Worry?

What exactly is worry? Generally, we consider worry to be a negative prediction about future events. Worry usually involves a specific thought or idea about unpleasant outcomes which is coupled with subtle feelings of apprehension and anxiety. It is an unpleasant experience but it’s also much more than that. It’s something that saps our time, our energy and our sense of well-being.

Worrying saps our happiness – but how does that happen? According to psychologists it’s to do with the links between thoughts and emotions. The reason for this is that thoughts have emotional associations.

Negative thoughts have particularly strong emotional associations and if we dwell on negative thoughts, then negative emotions follow. However, thoughts and emotions may be like the chicken and the egg. Which come first? Do we work on our thoughts or on our emotions? Fordyce suggests we concentrate on our thoughts because these are easier to control than our emotions. He further suggests that action is the key to dealing with all worries.

What can we do about it?

For most people, there will always be things that we worry about. But it’s how we think about those things that can have a strong influence on our well being.

Perhaps you have a difficult meeting to attend or chair. A project you’re leading which isn’t progressing well, or you have staff issues to address. Perhaps the worry is even more fundamental or potentially serious such as work-related stress or even that your job is under threat.

Sometimes worrying can put us in a cycle of indecision and apparent helplessness. One way to limit the effect of worry is to get them out in the open, and to do something about them. In ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’, Dale Carnegie suggested as much with his simple but sound advice. Firstly, face up to your worries, identifying what we think might be the worst potential outcomes. Then take steps – those things we can do – to limit those possibilities.

Below are some steps, adapted from Carnegie, to help us face whatever we’re worrying about, to plan, then to act in order to resolve the situation.

  • What is stopping you from doing something – from acting?
  • Write down precisely what you are worried about.
  • Write down the worst thing that can happen. (Remembering that usually what you think might happen is not necessarily what will happen)
  • Prepare to accept outcomes, if you think you may need to.
  • Write down what you can do about it – things you can do to remove or limit the worst thing you thought of.
  • Share your plans/situation with others you trust.
  • Start acting straight away on the things you can do.

If the situation is already a difficult one then:

  • Try to calmly proceed to improve on the worst.
  • Use the sprouts first principle! Do the part you dislike most first to get it out of the way.

What if your worried over something that could actually be very positive? Amazingly, we can worry just as much over potentially positive situations as over those we perceive to be negative. If you’re holding back from making decisions on potential opportunities then:

  • Ask yourself: “If I wait, how much better will a later solution be?”
  • Imagine you have decided to act on one of your possibilities. Try to visualize how success might look and feel.
  • Imagine your success was completely guaranteed. What steps would you take to achieve it?

Don’t Worry be Happy: Things to do to be Happier

Although Fordyce illustrated that reducing worry was a direct way to increase happiness, he also proposed other things we can do. Carnegie’s techniques for overcoming worries, adapted above, can also be used in combination with other positive steps, based on current happiness research.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, try to spend more time doing things that make you happy. Being active and busy, in a positive sense, is a real deterrent for worry. Make the most of your precious time by spending it doing happy and positive things. Become actively happy!

Secondly, socialize and build your network of friends. Friendships build happiness and can reduce the amount of time we are likely to worry. Friends also provide a valuable way of sharing a worry. There’s much in the old adage that a problem shared is a problem halved!

Thirdly, and perhaps interestingly in view of much personal development literature, Fordyce suggests we might try lowering our expectations and aspirations. Think about making the most of a level of contentment about where we are now. Elsewhere we have referred to this idea as the principle of enough.

So, don’t worry be happy! Try our advice above or think about the words of Bobby McFerrin:

Bobby McFerrin: Don't worry, be happy!In your life expect some trouble
But when you worry
You make it double
Don’t worry, be happy……
Don’t worry don’t do it, be happy
Put a smile on your face
Don’t bring everybody down like this
Don’t worry, it will soon pass
Whatever it is Don’t worry, be happy

If you do have the time to read more on this topic look at some of our related articles on happiness, stress management and workplace well-being.

Workplace well-being resources

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