‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ a silly song with a good message

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Inspired by the phrase commonly used by Indian mystic and spiritual master Meher Baba [1894-1969] pop song stylist Bobby McFerrin released his song “Don’t Worry Ne Happy” in September of 1988.  It quickly raced to the top of the charts and was the first a cappella song to reach number one on the Billboard Top 100. If you are at least 40 years of age you will most likely remember this song, the key lyrics of which are:

Bobby McFerrin in2011

Here’s a little song I wrote,
You might want to sing it note for note,
Don’t worry, be happy

In every life we have some trouble,
When you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy

Sure it is a feel good song, easy to remember and sing as we walk through life, but does it really have any practical purpose in the real, non-pop song world?  Well don’t worry, be happy I will get to that right now.

Let’s start with a definition of “worry” as a verb. “… give way to anxiety or unease, allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulties or troubles.” The key here are the words “give way” and “dwell.” Now it is absolutely true that “In every life we have some trouble.” That simply cannot be avoided assuming you are in a conscious state. The problem arises when we give way to anxiety and unease and dwell on the problem. “What the heck are we supposed to do, just pretend everything is swell when the house is burning down?” you may ask. No that is not the solution. There indeed are an endless variety and number of situations, events and circumstances that can and do present us with unpleasant difficulties.

The key is to address those things with thorough examination and reason and to not allow such circumstances swallow us, not to give way to the challenge and not allow ourselves to dwell on the bad but rather focus on the solution. Those who allow themselves to remain in the pit of hell when confronted with deeply disturbing circumstances essentially slam the door on any hope of resolving that problem because when you worry you make it double.

Here is just one example, there are an infinite number, but I offer the following simply to illustrate the proactive approach versus the allowing ourselves to be drawn into despair and surrender to worry.

You have worked very hard and you have gained a respectable level of happiness and financial success. Then one day you are told that your employer is shutting your division or maybe even the entire company; it doesn’t really matter because you have just learned that in two weeks you are out of work. You begin to consider all of the ramifications including the fact that if you can’t get a new job fairly soon you will be confronted with a massive financial disaster.

Meher Baba
“Don’t Worry Be Happy”

That concern is completely understandable but if you allow yourself to merely dwell on all of the negatives you will have slammed the door on the far more beneficial task of finding a real solution. So follow some sage advice and don’t worry. It might not be possible just yet to be happy, but you can set aside the obsessive worry and focus on the solution. In so doing you will ultimately find a variety of options available to resolve your situation. Clearly you need to look for new work, and as that is being done odds are you can at least get some compensation from unemployment.

If it appears that finding new work may take a bit longer than you want, you might want to consider refinancing your home or perhaps taking a second mortgage. Depending, of course, on the nature of your work you might even consider starting your own business. Now none of these options may be available to you but my goal here to demonstrate the concept of focusing on the solutions rather than dwelling on the pain. Doing that will allow you to enjoy less worry and more joy.

While this is but one of a endless number of circumstances that can cause us to have worry and stress the concept remains valid. Here is another very scary possibility. Your child was just arrested for a DUI, a terrible thing and it will cost lots of money and it will negatively impact the future of your child, but it will not end your child’s future. Clearly you have many things to deal with including getting good legal representation and also good counseling for your child. But the point is if you focus on the solution rather than dwell on the pain the problem will get resolved.

Even a situation that is severely dire; the doctor has just informed you that you have stage 4 pancreatic cancer and you have at best six months to live, while undeniably extremely painful news it is also better dealt with by not dwelling on the news but rather perhaps focusing on having best six months of the rest of your life. Yes this is extreme, but yes it is also something that hits thousands of people every year. These unfortunate people are confronted with severely disturbing and negative news, but the point here is limited to making the very best out of a truly terrifying situation. Yes it is indeed serious trouble, but to dwell on it only makes it double.

Under no circumstance am I suggesting that you should just ignore the problems that confront you because they won’t just go away. What I am saying and what an Indian spiritual master and pop song writer have said is that you will get a far better result by focusing on a real solution to the problem rather than merely dwelling on its presence in your life. So folks, don’t worry, be happy. Give it a shot, I am confident you will feel the benefit.


Ron Irwin

Literally as I was putting the final touches on this article I received an email from my 22-year-old daughter. She informed me that per her doctor she has skin cancer. Now it is extremely rare but skin cancer can be fatal. What dad cares that it is “extremely rare?” But wait Ron, you are the guy saying “Don’t worry, be happy.”

True, and with that in mind I immediately began to focus on how relatively inconsequential skin cancer generally is. Then I began to remind myself that my girl is a true fighter. When she decided she would go to the University of Southern California it seemed that the odds would overwhelm her but she didn’t care, she focused on pursuing her dream. So many people kept telling her that she would never get in and if she somehow did get in she would never be able to pay for such a school and she would never graduate.

Well in about eight weeks she will receive her Bachelor of Arts degree from USC. By focusing on these and other realities I have been able to greatly reduce my worries because my daughter has long shown her abilities to overcome many obstacles and emerge a winner. So she shall overcome this as well and now I feel far less worry.

Concern, of course, but neither I nor my daughter are overcome by bloodcurdling fear and worry. And even in the absolute worst case scenario I rejoice in the fact that for 22 years my daughter has brought immense joy to me and my wife and many others and for that gift alone I shall remain eternally happy. Fight On Trojan!