Today we ask you to stop worrying.
Most people don’t like to worry about things. And yet if you suggest that they might feel better if they worried less, they would get defensive.
Worrying about things is necessary. Only a very irresponsible person doesn’t worry about things. And such a person will suffer for being so irresponsible, when bad things happen to him because he wasn’t worried.
That is the story. It is important to worry about things, because then you take measures to stop bad things from happening.
But is this really true?
For the most part, worried people are miserable not because of anything that is actually happening to them in the present moment. Nor do their worries truly protect them from future misfortune.
That is because it is impossible to predict the future.
Consider the person who worries all his life about saving up enough money to retire, then is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Such things happen often. There is no way to control the future.
That is not to say, people shouldn’t make plans for the future, or that people should behave irresponsibly or self-destructively because one can die at any time.
The question is, is it necessary to worry about things? Does worry generate responsible behavior?
Consider the parent who worries about his child’s future. This begins early on — he agonizes over getting the little child into good schools, so that someday the child can get into a good university and so on. The child feels pressured and stressed by all this parental worry, causing the child to act out against the parent. By the time adolescence arrives, the child engages in substance abuse — to relieve tension and also perhaps to meet academic pressures.
So in that situation, it is apparent that worry is not useful. It is actually destructive.
This is the case in the majority of situations.
Worry is a state of mind in which one experiences fear around imaginary future scenarios, around things that have not yet happened. Sometimes the fears are based on past experiences: something bad happened in the past, you are worried it will happen again. Other times they are based on fearful stories other people spread. Your family and friends tell you that you should worried about this and that; the news tells you that you should be worried.
The problem with this is that these imaginary fears produce very real stress and tension in the physical body. And this stress in turn produces poor decision making, impulsive behavior, and physical and mental illness.
In short: worrying is bad for your health, and causes destructive behavior.
Therefore worrying is not responsible. It is not the mark of a responsible person. It is, quite simply, not good for you, and not good for the people around you — the same way addictive consumption of alcohol is not good for you or the people around you. And worry is addictive. Many people are heavily addicted to worrying — spending their days absorbing fearful news and imagining scenarios of doom.
A voice may argue: what about the proverbial story of the ant and the grasshopper? In this story, the hard-working ant saves food for the winter, while the freewheeling grasshopper doesn’t save up and starves. Surely it is because the ant worried about his future, and so saved for a rainy day and didn’t fritter away his resources. The grasshopper didn’t worry, and met with disaster. Surely worrying about the future generates positive behavior, like taking steps to conserve the environment, and so on.
In nature, animals do not “worry” about anything. They behave in intelligent ways — stockpiling food for the winter, migrating seasonally, and so on — but at no point does “worry” enter the picture. Animals behave instinctively, which is to say that their complex patterns of migration are actually part of a higher intelligence that governs the natural world.
Humans can also access this higher intelligence, but many humans have cut themselves off from this good and powerful force because of their mental processes — including neurotic thought, and worry. In other words, if birds and butterflies and whales were capable of experiencing stressful worry about their migratory patterns, they wouldn’t get anywhere.
It is entirely possible to intelligently plan for future events without worrying. For example, one can plan to take a trip somewhere, and make all the necessary arrangements, without experiencing the state of worry, or having fearful projections about things going wrong. While many people do worry and experience a great deal of stress when they plan trips, worry and stress are not useful in this process, and in fact inhibit the ability to make good decisions and move efficiently.
It is also completely possible to engage in intelligent financial planning or environmental conservation without being dominated by fear, stress, and worry. Anxiety actually leads to paralysis, not wise action.
That is to say, the more you worry, the less effective you are.
This is not to suggest that fears should be ignored, suppressed, or swallowed. But the best way to deal with fears is to look at them from a calm, clear place, the way a parent shines a flashlight under a child’s bed to dispel the child’s fear of monsters. It is poor parenting to tell a scared child to shut up about the monster under the bed and go to sleep. That will, in fact, produce a worried, anxious child.
Therefore what “worry” really indicates is that some fear is running away with you, you are in the grip of the monster under the bed. The thing to do is shine a light on it, which can only really happen when you calm down.
So when you are worried, the best course of action to take is to engage in calming activity — meditation, gentle exercise, going for a walk outdoors, listening to music, getting present with an animal or small child. Only when you are calm will you be able to think clearly about the matter, and make intelligent plans if they are required.
Only when you are calm can you access the higher intelligence that governs the migrations of birds and butterflies, dolphins and whales. That higher intelligence can tell you where to go — but only if you are quiet and calm enough to hear it.