I’ve been doing a lot of
obsessing worrying freaking out thinking about my future lately. I know it’s not really good for my peace of mind to have anxiety about things that haven’t happened yet and may not ever happen – but on the other hand, it’s not good for my peace of mind to just assure myself that everything will work out fine and that I don’t need to worry about the future. I’m a single woman of a certain age, limited means, and a tiny retirement account– I can’t rely on anyone else to support me when I get even older. Don’t get me wrong, I really wish I could just say “to hell with it all!” and grab the first plane to someplace warm and beachy, living out the rest of my days soaking up the sun, drinking rum punch, and not thinking about tomorrow – but that’s just not going to happen. I’m too attached to the idea of having food and shelter in my old age to up and do something crazy like that.
On the way to work this morning, that jovial song by Bobby McFerrin came on the radio. You know the one – “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Have you ever really listened to the lyrics of that song? He cheerfully sings:
Ain’t got no place to lay your head
Somebody came and took your bed
Don’t worry, be happy
The landlord say your rent is late
He may have to litigate
Don’t worry, be happy
‘Cause when you worry, your face will frown
And that will bring everybody down
So don’t worry, be happy
What the hell is wrong with you, Bobby McFerrin? If people are robbing you and you’re on the verge of being homeless because you can’t pay your rent – that is the perfect time to worry! Perhaps you are a single man, with no responsibilities and another fifty or sixty years to figure out how you are going to support yourself when you can no longer work. Perchance you live in an island paradise with abundant food growing wild that is just ripe for the picking and eating. Maybe your idea of a swell time is to string a hammock between two palm trees and sleep there despite the mosquitos and occasional hurricane. Conceivably you really don’t need to worry about anything – but I don’t think that is true for most of the population. Also, I give zero fucks about the fact that my frowny face might bring “everybody down” – just saying.
I should probably note here that I just barely did some research on Mr. McFerrin and he is actually 66-years old, married, with three beautiful adult children. He was born in New York and raised in California – so I don’t suppose he is living on a beach anywhere – and he is living, contrary to rumors otherwise which claimed he was not so happy and committed suicide. Now, his little song came out 28 years ago, so he was a lot younger then, but I don’t think he was a beach bum (as he was busy being a jazz musician and conductor). Plus, his kids would have been little and he would have had normal responsibilities – like making sure they were housed, fed, and clothed. Quite frankly, I imagine Mr. McFerrin probably did have some worries occasionally – but I’m sure that they were soothed a bit due to the healthy, steady royalty income “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” has generated all these years.
I realize that I probably worry too much about things that are totally out of my control. I understand that no problem is ever solved by the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. I’ve also come to recognize that worrying about the future in an abstract way is driving me a little crazy.
Let me explain.
I’ve noticed that I tend to worry about the big picture and worst possible scenario, such as: “I’m going to end up unhappy and alone, never able to travel or realize my dreams, working until I am 75 in order to have enough money to barely sustain me until I die when I’m 80ish – eaten by my many cats because I’m going to keel over in my tiny apartment and no one will notice until the stench becomes unbearable.”
Really – how does one even begin to address that outcome? It’s so frightening to think about that it is practically paralyzing. But the very fact that it is so big and so scary and so overwhelming feeds back into the anxiety, which makes me feel even more unable to figure out how to 1) stop worrying and 2) prevent this from becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. I’m in denial. All I want to do is to close my eyes and pretend that I will never have to deal with the future – which, of course, is not working.
I know myself well enough to discern that I don’t do well in limbo. I like to know and prepare myself for outcomes, (which is probably why I worry and focus on the worst possible scenario – because if I’m ready for that, anything else that might happen won’t be nearly as bad). But, as mentioned above, the abstract and overwhelming worry about “the future” has become a vicious loop, of sorts. I worry, which makes me worry, which makes me worry more.
What I haven’t been doing is taking any action to address my worry – because I couldn’t even envisage how to start. So, in contemplating this dilemma and realizing that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life (or even the short term) weighed down by my fears, I started to do a little research (and I may spend several hours each day listening to Ted Talks while doing my daily tasks at work, but we won’t mention that to anyone, ‘kay?).
First, I investigated how to set manageable goals. I’m doing some soul searching to try to figure out what I really want to achieve (not being eaten by cats is high on the list). Then I’m setting my long-term goals (enough money to retired comfortably; places I really want to see before I die; what type of job I really want). Next, I’m trying to break down those long term goals into smaller, short term goals that are I can imagine actually achieving (tracking my spending; putting a budget in place; increasing my retirement savings; saving a percentage of my salary for travel; looking at available jobs here and elsewhere; investigating other areas to see if I want to live there). I imagine what barriers might be in the way of these goals (money; time; fear; lack of knowledge) and figure out what I might do to overcome them (meeting with a financial adviser; setting reasonable timetables; stepping outside of my comfort zone on smaller, less frightening tasks).
Now, I have to be honest – I’ve barely started with all of this. But I have started. Just the simple act of doing something is going a long way towards setting my mind more at ease. I may never get to the “Don’t Worry” level that Bobby McFerrin embraces – but my goal is to at least get the “Be Happy” down pat.