Opinion

Don’t worry, be happy? Maybe we need to worry to be happy

Do you need to worry to be happy? Many of us have commonly seen these words used together, but rarely like this. Recently I came across an article on Psychology.com that explored the topic, titled, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy: Good Advice or Bad?” by Susan Heitler, Ph.D.

The article went into a little story about how one of the author’s patients was concerned about having stomach cancer, but was told by her doctor “don’t worry, be happy.” Agitated, the patient approached the author — her therapist — and explained her reservations with her doctor’s advice.

Upon the author’s suggestion to seek out additional advice, the patient discovered a rapidly growing cancerous tumor that required immediate surgical attention. The surgery saved her life. Had she not sought out further advice about her fears, the outcome may not have been so fortunate.

What was it we were supposed to learn from this story? According to the author, a lot. The author tied it together by saying that we should try to understand our worries and develop a way to find solutions to them.

She even goes as far as to say, “Worries are there to motivate information-gathering and problem-solving.  To keep yourself happy, treat your worried thoughts as valuable signals.”

After this read, it started to seem like the only destructive part of worrying is our attitude toward it.

“Don’t worry, be happy” may be fine advice for somebody who incessantly worries about things entirely beyond his or her control, but for the average person it is important to note that those fears aren’t just there to populate an already overcrowded mind.

It is important to pay attention to these “valuable signals” rather than ignoring to the point of forced ignorance. Ignorance may be bliss, but that bliss is usually temporary. Honesty and effort create long-lasting results.

The problem is that in today’s world anything that is remotely negative must be banished from our thoughts immediately, and worrying is painted as inherently useless. Common belief holds that burying fear leads to relief, albeit temporary.

Unfortunately, ridding yourself of the negatives does not always breed positive outcomes. Sometimes it is necessary to acknowledge areas that need improvement in your life to create a better situation for yourself.

Like many things, it’s easier said than done. So why not say it? Say out loud what’s bothering you, or write it down. Once you say it or get it on paper you can at least know it’s not “just in your head” anymore.

Once you get your concern out of your head in some shape or form, you can begin assessing what you can do about it. Is it something that you have no control over? If so, that is when you have to start thinking about ways to handle the cards in your hand. What will make you more accepting of these circumstances?

If it is something that is within your control, you can tackle it like you would any other problem. A good approach to solving problems is taking a step back from the issue at hand and taking an objective look at it.

Consider the advice you would give to a friend if she came to you seeking guidance, and then consider taking it yourself. Too many times we give advice we would be unwilling to apply to our own situation, not because it’s bad advice, but because we tend to expect more from ourselves than from others.

To get effective results, though, it is important not to expect a solution right away and be willing to start small. An all-or-nothing approach usually generates more worries than it alleviates.

Next time you start worrying about something and somebody tells you to “not make a mountain out of a molehill,” feel free to do just the opposite. As Heitler explained, if you use your worries proactively to problem-solve, it won’t matter if you create your very own Everest — you just have to figure out how to climb it.

Views expressed in the opinion pages represent the opinions of the columnists.