Here’s a question to ponder: what is the least productive activity you can engage in? Likewise, what is the activity that is most likely to make you less happy in your life? The answer is worrying. No other behavior has the potential to rob you of so much of your happiness. That’s why I want to give you some concrete advice that can help you stop worrying and start being happy.
When I tell people that worrying is one of the worst human activities, they sometimes look at me with confusion. For some, worrying is such a part of their daily lives they can’t imagine existing without it. Others hold onto the nearly superstitious belief that worrying somehow protects them from unhappiness instead of actually causing their unhappiness. A few have even told me that they worry because they want to be prepared for the bad things when they happen.
In reality, worrying keeps us in a state of apathy. Let’s say you get a letter from the IRS on a Friday afternoon. You can’t find out whether the letter is a mistake or if there is a problem with your taxes until Monday. Now if you simply worry about what you are going to find out on Monday then you’ve ruined your whole weekend. All of your happy moments will be darkened by the dread of finding out you’re going to be audited or you’re going to have to pay back taxes or you’ll have to untangle some error that’s been made. On the other hand, you could be proactive. Read the letter carefully, pull out your old tax forms, double check the information, and try to contact your tax preparer if possible. You can also follow one of the easiest strategies to combat worry: be prepared for the worst case scenario.
When we worry, we are basically saying to ourselves that we have no control over our lives. We can only dwell on the horrors that might befall us. But that’s not true. Instead of worrying, assume the very worst possible situation has occurred. With the IRS letter, for example, assume you are going to be audited. Now prepare yourself for that. Think it through: how will you deal with it, what you need to do to prepare, what might the benefits be of going through the audit. Once you’ve thought these issues through you no longer need to worry: you are prepared for the bad news and have a plan for handling it.
Of course, the letter may not be so bad at all. Maybe an error was made on your tax returns and you owe a small amount to the IRS. That’s much simpler than an audit so you actually feel relieved instead of upset.
The bottom line is preparing mentally for the worst case scenario will allow you to take control over your life. Whenever we give up that control, we also give up our ability to really find and maintain happiness. That’s why worrying, especially excessive worrying, is the fastest route to long-term unhappiness.