Don’t Worry, Be Happy

June 7, 2010

The 1988 a capella one-hit wonder “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin isn’t my favorite song. It is however one of the most important songs I’ve ever heard. It changed how I perceive the world and myself, and to this day I live by its lyrics. However, since its release this song has been heavily criticized for its seemingly simplistic and unrealistic positive message, as well as its silly clicks and hoo-hoo-hoo’s.

Critics of the song especially enjoy noting one line in particular: “The land lord say your rent is late. He might have to litigate. But don’t worry, be happy.”

“Ooooh, Bobby McFerrin is saying I don’t have to pay taxes and I just shouldn’t worry about it. He’s soooo stoopid!!”

No, you’re stupid.

Anyone who listens to this song enough will see that it’s not at all about ignoring your problems; in fact quite the opposite. It actually presents a powerful idea, a solution to dealing with problems in a healthy way: don’t worry, be happy. It’s hard at first to understand McFerrin’s complex suggestion since he presents it using only four words, so I’ll do my best to try to explain it as I have come to interpret it:

Everyone has and always will have problems in their life, whether they be small or major. You cannot avoid having problems, as they are an inevitable natural phenomenon and a result of being alive. The only method of guaranteeing a life full of joy is to change your attitude in a way so that the troubles you face will not crush your spirit. If you encounter a problem and you let the bad situation cause you stress or sadness, then your life will become sadder and more stressful as a result. If you choose to face your problem and keep a positive attitude despite your hardship, then even if you do not succeed you will be happy. And in the end, being happy is really all that matters. If you are a bum on the street who is happy, then you have lived a very good life.

Even if somebody came and took your bed, as said in the song, worrying about it will only make things worse. Try to recover it, or get a new bed, but don’t worry and make yourself hurt. That’s unnecessary.

Even if you ain’t got no cash or style, or a girl to make you smile, keep your chin up. Style is in the eye of the beholder, and it isn’t a big deal anyways. If you don’t have a significant other, that means the one for you is still out there, and if you’re busy being down in the dumps then you’ll probably never meet them! “Cause when you worry your face will frown, and that will bring everybody down.” Who wants to be romantically involved with someone who breaks down at the first sign of trouble?

Even if the land lord says your rent is late and he may have to litigate, keep a positive attitude. Try your best to pay the rent, but if you can’t then you’ll just have to live somewhere else. That will suck. But that doesn’t mean you have to mope about it. Find a new place to live, go live with a friend or something. Be productive. You’ll be so much happier if you work towards bettering your situation instead of moping.

This song delivers a strong message, masked by simple lyrics. I try to live by the lesson McFerrin delivers on a daily basis, whether I’m shrugging off getting a bad grade in a class, or having fun relaxing in my car as a cop checks my license to see if I have a criminal record. Too specific? Sorry.

The next time you listen to this song, really listen. It’s something special. After all, it meant enough to me to make it my yearbook quote.

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