Don't Worry Be Happy
More than just a song title?
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.
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.
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.
If the situation is already a difficult one then:
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:
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:
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.
For more resources on this topic, take a look at our great-value guides. These include some excellent tools to help your personal development plan. The best-value approach is to buy our Workplace Well-being bundle, available from the store.
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Have a Good Workday (16 pages, 4 tools)
How to be a Happy Manager (15 tips with action checklists)
Workstyle, Lifestyle (31 pages, 5 tools)
Managers Make the Difference (27 pages, 5 tools)
Managing from Strength to Strength (22 pages, 5 tools)
Making Change Personal (22 pages, 5 tools)
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