"Don't Worry, Be Happy"

In the bottom drawer of my desk is an old cassette tape (now you know how old it is!), with these words scribbled on its label, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Turns out it’s a 1988 a cappella recording of composer-singer Bobby McFerrin, singing and whistling the jingle: “Here’s a little song I wrote, you might want to sing it note for note—Don’t worry, be happy. . . . In every life we have some trouble, but when you worry you make it double—Don’t worry, be happy. . . . When you worry, your face will frown, and that will bring everybody down—Don’t worry, be happy!” But what’s astounding is that this nursery rhyme bit of feel-good quick-fix philosophy stole the ear of the nation that year, skyrocketing to the top of the charts, selling 18 million copies, and garnering four Grammy awards! (You can listen to McFerrin singing and whistling his own lyrics—http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cVWrIQl7fU.) But is “Don’t worry, be happy” nothing more than a catchy tune and rhyme? Not according to research published just last week. Julia Boehm of the Harvard School of Public Health has reviewed scores of studies examining the effect of a positive outlook in life on heart health. Prior to these studies, most research was focused on showing how stress is associated with “negative psychological traits” that can “lead to damage of arteries and the heart itself.” But after reviewing dozens of more recent studies focusing on the effect of positive thinking on personal health, Julia Boehm says it’s time to change strategies. “Optimism in particular seems key, as a number of studies found the most optimistic people had half the risk of a first heart attack when compared to the least optimistic. . . . Boehm found that people with a better sense of well-being tend to have healthier blood pressure, cholesterol and weight, and are more likely to exercise, eat healthier, get enough sleep and avoid smoking” (South Bend Tribune 4-18-12, emphasis supplied).  However, she cautions that these conclusions will need to be teased out in order to ascertain whether an optimistic spirit leads people to pursue a healthy lifestyle or “whether living healthier helps you feel more positive.” But either way, it turns out “Don’t worry, be happy” may be more truth than poetry (or jingle). How did that wise King Solomon once put it? “For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7 KJV). And as the research now shows, how we think not only affects our emotional or mental heart—it also impacts the health of our physical heart as well, that blessed ticker that is keeping us alive. So what do you say we keep that beating heart healthy to the max by choosing an optimistic spirit over a negative one. Rather than be the person who’s always complaining that the glass is half empty, let’s be the one who’s excited because it’s half full! “Courage, hope, faith, sympathy, love, promote health and prolong life. A contented mind, a cheerful spirit, is health to the body and strength to the soul. ‘A merry [rejoicing] heart doeth good like a medicine.’ Proverbs 17:22” (Ministry of Healing 241). Sounds an awful lot like “Don’t worry, be happy,” doesn’t it?

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