“Don’t worry, be happy.” ~ Bobby McFerrin
We have been culturally conditioned to consider worry as the antithesis of happiness and a thing of pure evil.
This understanding of worry perpetuates a misunderstanding of negative emotions and the role they play in our lives.
While worry might not be a pleasant emotion to experience, it plays a vital role in driving us towards appropriate action and – ultimately – happiness.
Human Nature Is Beautiful
It’s wrong to believe that positive emotions are good and negative emotions are bad.
All emotions are good.
Or, at least, they have the potential to be good, depending on what action they lead us to take.
Deriving joy from other people’s misfortunes might feel good, but it isn’t a healthy response to human suffering, and will ultimately lead us to destructive conduct.
Worry is an emotional response to circumstances. Or, to be more accurate, it’s a response to thoughts about circumstances.
You face relationship problems, and so you worry.
You don’t know how to make financial ends meet, and so you worry.
You have health problems, and so you worry.
Your mind doesn’t want you to suffer. It generates the emotion of worry so that you can take action to fix a potentially harmful situation.
Without worry, you might ignore your problems rather than find solutions for them. Evasion can be deadly, and so your mind steps in to ensure that you have the emotional reminder that something needs to be done about the problems you’re facing.
Worry isn’t harmful. It’s a beautiful, healthy response.
Provided it’s for the right reasons and to the right degree.
While our emotions can play an invaluable role in our survival, we often develop unhealthy emotional associations that jeopardize our well-being.
Remember, your emotions are the result of your thoughts about reality. If you have the mental habit of focusing solely on problems and concluding that you’re in a crisis, when you’re not, you may experience worry even when there’s no real cause to worry.
Why is public speaking such a frightening experience?
We speak to people on a daily basis, but speaking to a group of people while standing on a stage and commanding their attention makes us worry about screwing up, being laughed at or mocked for our presentation skills.
The calculations that we make in assessing a public speaking experience are inaccurate. They amplify the threats in a way that generates high (and unhealthy) amounts of fear and worry, leading to poor performances or missed opportunities.
Healthy worry is when we feel inclined to learn more and do more so that we can achieve our goals and avoid falling into unfavorable situations that we are able to avoid.
Unhealthy worry is that which paralyzes us from taking action and is often the outcome of a wild imagination that makes the world seem hellbent on making us suffer.
To condemn yourself for experiencing any sort of worry isn’t a healthy attitude to negative emotions, since they’re on your side and can assist you in moving your life forward.
How Worry Leads To Happiness
In order to harness the power of worry to experience happiness, here are 3 steps for you to take:
1- Listen to your emotions: What are you feeling? And why are you feeling it? Your emotions are trying to tell you something, and you must figure out what the message is so you can take appropriate action. If you’re worried, what could your body be telling you? What problem must you face?
2- Develop an action-bias: Rather than simply think about your problems, shift your focus on what you can do about them. What actions can you take to fix the problems you’re facing? Who can you ask to help? What do you need to learn more about? Push yourself to take action to fix your problems, rather than allow your worries to engulf you. After all, that’s what your mind and body want you to do.
3- Accept what you can’t change: If you absolutely can’t do anything about a situation, then there’s no need to worry. Worrying about things you cannot change means that you’re living by a mental model that doesn’t match the reality you’re living, which is generating emotions that aren’t supporting you in taking appropriate action.
Happiness comes from embracing who we are as human beings (without condemning ourselves for experiencing negative emotions), to act appropriately in the face of the challenges we face in life and to accept reality for what it is.
And worry is one of the many emotions in our human arsenal that can help us take appropriate action and achieve happiness.