Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Everyone worries; some people worry excessively. But, what do we typically worry about? Author and motivational speaker, Earl Nightingale, estimates that:

  • 40% of the things you worry about will never happen.
  • 30% of the things you worry about couldn’t be changed by all the worrying in the world.
  • 12% of your worries are needless worries about your health.
  • 10% of your worries are about petty, miscellaneous things.
  • 8% of your worries are about real and legitimate concerns.

In other words, 92% of your worrying is a complete waste of time!

Excessive worry or “obsessive or abnormal reflection upon an idea or deliberation over a choice”[1] is called rumination. The origin of the word rumination derives from the Latin word ruminare, which literally refers to the act of a cow chewing cud. Just take a moment to imagine a cow chomping away – chewing and chewing the same clump of soggy grass. This cud chewing metaphor turns out to be quite illustrative of how most people experience the act of worrying.

While anxiety about an upcoming situation does not necessarily lead to rumination, it might. Sometimes our minds begin to chew on that initial anxiety over and over and over again until the worry becomes all consuming and sometimes paralyzing. And yet people ruminate because they actually believe their excessive worrying will somehow be productive.

Guess what? Rumination is not productive. Remember: 92% of your worrying is a complete waste of time!

Not only is rumination unproductive, it actually diminishes well-being by increasing stress and negative emotions. While some people suffer from anxiety disorders requiring professional attention, many people without anxiety disorders still ruminate unnecessarily. There is some evidence that the tendency to ruminate relates to a hereditary personality trait called neuroticism, which in turn correlates with lower levels of happiness and positive emotions.

But, here’s the good news for cud chewing neurotics: while genetics may predispose you to worrying tendencies, there’s some wiggle room to spit out the soggy grass!

Reducing rumination requires the act of building a new kind of mental muscle. This new mental muscle gets stronger by practicing the act of letting worry go with the same consistency, self-discipline, and perseverance applied to exercising.

So when you catch yourself ruminating, stop and sing a different tune; “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”


  • Lyubomirsky S, Nolen-Hoeksema S. (1995). Effects of self-focused rumination on negative thinking and interpersonal problem solving. Journal ofjavascript:AL_get(this, ‘jour’, ‘J Pers Soc Psychol.’); Personality and Social Psychology, 69(1),176-90.
  • Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2000). The role of rumination in depressive disorders and mixed anxiety/depressive symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109(3), 504-511.
  • Papageorgiou, C., & Wells, A. (2004). Depressive rumination: nature, theory and treatment.



[1] Miriam-Webster Dictionary

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