Don’t Worry, Be Happy

“Don’t worry, be happy” by Bobby McFerrin is the only a cappella song (without instruments) to reach #1 in the US. It was Song of The Year in 1989. The simple message and quirky sound made it a surprise hit. The phrase “Don’t Worry Be Happy” came from the Indian guru Meher Baba, McFerrin saw a poster of Meher Baba with the phrase and thought it was “a pretty neat philosophy in four words.”

Now there, is this song I wrote
I hope you learned note for note
Like good little children, don’t worry, be happy
Now listen to what I said, in your life expect some trouble
When you worry you make it double
But don’t worry, be happy, be happy now

“Hakuna Matata,” meaning “no worries” is also a key song as well as a major plot point in The Lion King. “Hakuna-matata” is a Swahili language phrase from East Africa, meaning “no trouble” or “no problems” (literally hakuna: “there is no/there are no”; matata: “troubles” or “problems”.)

Within all of us is the enemy, worry. We will all worry at some point in our lives. However, we can’t let it conquer us. Alarm us, yes as worry can be useful. It’s an evolutionary trait meant to protect us from dangers. In a normal measure, anxiety can be an alarm system or a motivator, the push needed to finish a project on time or meet a deadline. But we can’t let worry take control. “There is no use worrying about things over which you have no control, and if you have control, you can do something about them instead of worrying,” said Stanley Allyn, former Chairman and President of National Cash Register.

This blog started several months ago when my Sister-in-law shared with me the Mark Twain quote, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” We need to learn to wait to worry, at least until we have a valid reason to worry. “Worry is interest paid on trouble before it falls due” is a quote from W.R. Inge who was an Anglican priest, professor of divinity at Cambridge, and Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, plus nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Until we know differently, don’t worry. Studies have shown that only 8% of what we worry about ever comes true.

Dan Zadra, one of the foremost publishers of inspirational books, said, “Worry is a misuse of the imagination.” It is also a misuse of time and energy; it can rob today of all its joy. Robert Downey, Jr. (yes, Iron Man!) said, “I’ve noticed that worrying is like praying for what you don’t want to happen.”

Life can deal us stressful situations, how we manage those situations is what counts. Stress, like worry, is a choice. We can choose a response such that we don’t feel stress or at least recognize that our reaction is causing the stress. This is easier said than done but can grow with discipline, practice and understanding. We talk about choosing to be happy, but it is really a key component to having joy in life. Happy and positive people look for ways to be successful and create their opportunities; negative people look for ways to worry and complain, creating their own misery.

Thomas Jefferson and our founding fathers included in our Declaration of Independence that “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are unalienable rights of man endowed by our Creator. The key point is that happiness is not a right, but the pursuit of it is. As Ben Franklin said, “The U.S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.” If we are not happy and do not enjoy what we are doing, we are not going to be able to give it the diligence that it needs. That can spell the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment

In both the gospels of Matthew (6:27) and Luke (12:25) is the almost identical line, “Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” Luke adds in 12:26, “If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?” Jesus is not denying the reality of human needs but is forbidding making them the object of anxious care and, in effect, becoming their slave.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:6) he says, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” Chapter 8 of Nehemiah has Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites instructing the people: ‘Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not lament, do not weep! Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD is your strength!’ Then all the people began to celebrate with great joy.

Pop songs don’t give us the reason why we shouldn’t worry. In contrast, Jesus does. He simply encourages us to trust that because God cares for us deeply, God will provide what we need. The reason we don’t need to worry is because God loves us. Yes, it can be way too cliché to answer the world’s problems with “Don’t worry because God loves us” especially with all the evil and tragedy in the world. However, for those of us with faith in Jesus, the call is to let go of the worries that can consume us. Stop worrying and start participating in the work to help heal this world; work that God has entrusted to us.

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