"Here’s a little song I wrote, you might want to sing it note for note, DON’T WORRY… BE HAPPY!”
– Bobby McFerrin
This song, gets a lot of airplay during the summer. Along with Margaritaville by Jimmy Buffett and Kokomo by the Beach Boys, summer wouldn’t be the same without it. I heard it again a few days ago and was chuckling at its simple prescription, "Don’t worry- be happy”. It sounds so easy, as if it’s just a choice; worry and be sad, or don’t worry and be happy. Maybe some of the humour in this little song arises because it oversimplifies happiness… or does it? Actually, I agree with it, or rather, agree with the original quote from Meher Babba who said, "Do your best, then don’t worry be happy”.
A decade or two ago, I was teaching stress reduction classes through community colleges, and there was a simple exercise regarding happiness that we would do. In the spirit of the principle "don’t worry be happy”, perhaps it is time to revisit that exercise. Here’s how it went:
I would write on the blackboard: "Happiness =”
Then I would ask the class what makes them happy. The answers usually included things like: money, nice home, health, kids, sex, pets, fast cars, holidays, new clothes, ice cream, friends, good job, etc.
I would list these things that made the class happy beneath "Happiness =”. Then one by one I would create scenarios where these things were lost or diminished. The cat died, someone stole the car, or one of your friends is avoiding you, or there’s a problem with the holiday you booked. I would erase these things from the column beneath "Happiness =”, and ask the individuals how they felt. Inevitably they said they would feel sad, ripped off, disappointed, hurt, used, etc. When the "Happiness =” list was completely erased, I would turn to the class and say, "So I guess you’re pretty unhappy now eh”?
Usually there was agreement (at least in principle). Then I would ask a question that would often lead to a long silence…. "Is there any way to avoid this?”
On some evenings, some small voice in the group would offer the answer, "Don’t make your happiness equal to those things”. Usually then, we would enter a lively discussion around points such as "wealthy people aren’t necessarily happy” and "I know someone who is quite ill but still seems happy” or "the woman next door lives alone but she’s always happy”.
Fundamentally, happiness is a choice, so when we find ourselves unhappy, a little investigation may be in order. Usually, upon reflection, it becomes clear that our happiness had become connected with some external condition. This should really come as no surprise, especially when advertisers are constantly telling us how happy their product will make us when we buy it. Even our day to day speech underscores this conditional type of happiness, "I’m sure be happy when…” or "That would be a happy day”. Conditional happiness is a simple and effective trap and I can’t count the times it has caught me. Give it some thought.
Because in the end, I would make the suggestion that while external things may improve our life, we needn’t make our happiness dependent on them. That way, we wouldn’t enter the cycle of happiness based on haves and have nots. The solution may come down to the simplest of choices, as Meher Babba put it so clearly, "do your best, then DON’T WORRY.. BE HAPPY.”
Dr. Pepperdine is the owner of Southcare Chiropractic in Nanaimo, Call 755-1554.