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Don't worry, be joyful

17 December 2020

Don't worry, be joyful

Choosing joy can change the way we look at what is happening around us

Do you remember the song, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ by Bobby McFerrin? It became an instant hit with its catchy lyrics (maybe you are singing it in your head right now):

Here’s a little song I wrote

You might want to sing it note for note

Don’t worry, be happy

In every life you have some trouble

But when you worry you just make it double

Don’t worry, be happy

Don’t worry, be happy now.

This song took the world by storm when it was released in 1988. At the 1989 Grammy Awards, McFerrin won Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. It was a bona fide hit and people all over the world sang it. Not only did it have a catchy rhythm, but it also a contained an inspiring little motto that many people wanted to live their lives by. The phrase ‘don’t worry, be happy’ sounds incredibly encouraging, especially when life is difficult. To be honest, though, happiness is very transitory, and you just end up worrying again.

Happiness can involve warm, fuzzy feelings, giddy emotions and large smiles, but these can also fade when our circumstances change. Joy, on the other hand, is deeper and internal. It is not based on feelings but rather on what we know and what we hold on to. Joy comes when we make peace with who we are, where we are and how we are. Joy is something we choose.

Often, we feel happy when people are kind to us, or when they show us love and approval. We feel happy when things go our way and when life is going well. Joy, on the other hand, is something that we choose, even when people hurt or disappoint us, and when life throws us some serious curveballs.


As a Christian, I believe that God created me to be joyful, that he created us all to be joyful, but he left the decision to us as to whether we make that choice. I will admit it’s not always easy to choose joy; it can be hard work sometimes. These days, though, I intentionally choose joy and try not to let my feelings or circumstances dictate how my days go. Here are three things I have done to help cultivate joy in my life:

Take care of myself physically: I get up at 5.30 most mornings and walk. I listen to worship music and prepare my heart and mind for the day. It has been proven time and time again that people who engage in physical activity of some sort regain their health physically, emotionally and mentally.

Cut down on social media: I have taken myself off Facebook. I found that there was too much conflict, too much opportunity to play the comparison game and it created too much anxiety in me. Those initial likes and comments made me happy in the moment, but they did not produce lasting joy. Having been off now for six months, my mind is clearer, my anxiety has gone and my sense of self is so much better.

Learn to be grateful: I have been keeping a gratitude journal and every day try to list three things that I am grateful for. This has helped me move from my feelings and instead look for things that are fact – things I see, experience, hear and know.

It might not be as catchy, but I think these days I would change the lyrics of McFerrin’s song to include joy. Maybe it would go something like this:

Don’t worry, choose joy,

Don’t worry, choose joy now.

Captain Sandra Pawar is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) in New South Wales.



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