The lyrics of Bobby McFerrin’s song include:
Don’t worry. It will soon pass, whatever it is / In your life expect some trouble / But when you worry / You make it double / Don’t worry, be happy
Being happy and positive in general is a preferable stance toward life, better for our health, creativity and longevity, according to many experts, but there may be benefits to having some degree of fear.
An ABC 20/20 program [The ‘Fear Industrial Complex’ Feb 23, 2007] had numerous examples of how the media “provides the public with no shortage of things to fear. The message is clear: the world is a scary place, and you should be worried.”
But as the program explained, many of those fears are really unfounded.
“We often worry about things that… are not very dangerous, but which seem it. And the reason they seem it is because of… the media who show images and tell stories about terrible, terrible things that happen,” said Stephen Dubner, co-author of “Freakonomics.”
Psychiatrist Judith Orloff [author of “Positive Energy..”] warns,
“Fear is the biggest energy thief there is. A master seducer and gigantic source of negative energy, fear shamelessly robs of us of everything good and powerful, preys on our vulnerabilities.
“Many people become mesmerized for a lifetime, letting negative attitudes seize control. Enough! Though some fears are intuitively protective but we can’t let the irrational ones bamboozle us.”
[From her article Breaking the Trance of Fear]
[Image: Photographer Annie Leibovitz and her assistant, standing on one of the eight gargoyles atop the Chrysler Building – from article How Can We Create More Confidently?]
Actor Jim Carrey once commented in an interview, “I wanted to find out what makes people happy. I thought it was just making them laugh.
“And that’s a fantastic thing, because that does give them temporary freedom from themselves.
“But it’s not the answer. The cure is people realizing who they are and that there’s nothing they can do on the earth or nothing that can happen here that will add to them or take away from them at all. You need to just relax.”
He added, “What can I make out of the Lego set of life? Can I make something fun out of this? It’s all about being happy, man.” [Mr. Happy, by Jay A. Fernandez, Los Angeles Times February 23, 2007]
Happy all the time?
Seemingly endowed with endless effervescent glee, Drew Barrymore has been quoted, “You have to fight unhappiness… As much light as I have inside me, there’s just as much darkness, I’m afraid. There’s a polarity, and I still have demons to work out.” [imdb.com bio]
But we aren’t only about feeling happy all the time, and some degree of fear or anxiety can benefit us, although “too much” anxiety such as phobias, social anxiety, stage fright and other forms may be disruptive, emotionally and creatively corrosive or limiting.
Alanis Morissette thinks “We’re taught to be ashamed of confusion, anger, fear and sadness, and to me they’re of equal value as happiness, excitement and inspiration.” [imdb.com bio]
And temperament is an aspect of all this.
“The best you can do with positive emotion is you can get people to live at the top of their set range. But you can’t take a grouch and make him giggle all the time.”
Musician Sting was asked about suffering as an artist in the documentary “All We Are Saying”: “Do I have to be in pain to write? I thought so, as most of my contemporaries did; you had to be the struggling artist, the tortured, painful, poetic wreck.
“I tried that for a while, and to a certain extent that was successful. I was ‘The King of Pain’ after all. I only know that people who are getting into this archetype of the tortured poet end up really torturing themselves to death.
“And I’m thinking, well, I would just like to be happy,” he continues. “I’d like to do my work, and be a happy man. I’ve got enough memories of pain, of dysfunctional living, a reservoir to last me the rest of my life…”
[From my article Pain and suffering and developing creativity.]
How can anxiety or fear be useful?
In my High Ability blog post Being a perfectionist, being anxious, I quote AIDS researcher Anthony Fauci, MD: “One of the by-products of being a perfectionist and constantly trying to improve myself are sobering feelings of low-grade anxiety and a nagging sense of inadequacy… This anxiety keeps me humble.”
In his article Writers Thrive On Anxiety, Bryan Knight recalls reading a “startling statement”: “A writer’s fears are never ‘conquered.’ Nor should they be. When anxious, I’m also sharp: alert, observant, sometimes even witty. Fear energizes me.”
The quotation is from Ralph Keyes, author of The Courage to Write.
Psychologist Robert Maurer thinks “Fear is good. As children, fear is a natural part of our lives, but as adults we view fear as a disease. It’s not a disease. Children say they are afraid or scared, but adults use the clinical terms anxiety or depression. A writer should not view fear as something bad, but as essentially doing something right.”
From article Living and Creating: Fear Is Not A Disease – which includes this photo of Sandra Bullock in “Gravity.”
She once commented, “If it doesn’t scare the crap out of you, then you’re not doing the right thing.”
All of these terms – fear, anxiety, happiness – are highly variable, with many layers and levels.
Based on my life-long experience with mood disorders (depression, anxiety) of varying intensity and duration, I think one of the most significant aspects of them is in terms of energy economy: having to deal with a disruptive level of anxiety diverts energy for feeling and thinking in self-limiting ways.
So overall, keeping ourselves feeling good, with a positive disposition about ourselves and life, is probably the most healthy and productive way to empower ourselves and develop creativity.
If you are dealing with more than “everyday” fear – such as social anxiety, phobias and other forms of anxiety, you may benefit from medical help.
Here are some self help resources if you don’t feel you need that kind of intervention:
Anxiety Relief Solutions site.