Do you remember that Bobby McFerrin song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”? I believe it came out when I was maybe in 8th grade. That song makes me cringe every time I hear it. It’s mostly the memories attached to it, which I’m about to get into shortly. But, first, when I look further into the lyrics, I become even more disgusted. There is an attitude of nonchalance and a callus glossing over of life’s challenges that makes my skin crawl. “Look at me, I’m happy… Don’t bring everybody down like this.” AHHH!!!!
Sure, I know this is just a song… but I’d like to use it to highlight some issues I have with the way we relate to one another.
“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 (Ha-ha ha-ha ha-ha)
Be happy (Look at me, I’m happy)
Ain’t got no cash, ain’t got no style
Ain’t got no gal to make you smile
But don’t worry, be happy
‘Cause when you’re worried, your face will frown
And that will bring everybody down
Put a smile on your face
Don’t bring everybody down like this
It will soon pass, whatever it is
I’m not worried
(Cut from the full lyrics of Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin)
What I remember about that song coming out was that “don’t worry, be happy” became the catchphrase. Whenever I expressed myself at all – from the tiniest comment about an exam to my dog dying or a childhood dilemma like being grounded – classmates and friends would say “Don’t worry, be happy.”
To me, that was like being told to shut up.
Being told to just be happy and don’t worry wasn’t supportive or understanding or offering any empathy. Not being heard or allowed to feel what I was feeling when in my youth remains an ongoing tender spot for me. The undercurrent of the words weren’t that ‘life has challenges but I’m here for you’, which is what I was needing to hear, it was ‘get over it and don’t bum me out’.
I’m going though another of life’s challenging times. Though people in my world aren’t saying the exact Bobby McFerrin quote, the are attempting to cheer me up and trying to get me to look at the bright side. Most, I believe, have kind intentions. But I still feel that young part of me responds as if I’m being told to shut up, to smile and be happy and not bring everybody down. The young part of me has come to believe that it’s not okay for me to feel what I’m feeling.
I know there are a lot of factors that play into this. Sometimes our issue may run up against someone else’s. Or it could be that we aren’t okay with our emotions so it’s really hard to be with others’ emotions. Maybe it’s that we’re too overwhelmed with our own stuff to hear anyone else’s. And it could be that we love the person so much that seeing them in pain can be unbearable to witness. Or maybe it’s just simply that we’re in a good mood and don’t want to deal with someone’s bad mood.
Yes, sometimes it’s not easy to be with someone else’s sadness but instead of just talking over it or brushing it off with a ‘don’t worry, be happy’ approach, I feel it’s very important to, at the very least, acknowledge the person for sharing their emotion.
Another approach that I seem to be putting my guard up against is the unsolicited advice. I don’t want to be ‘fixed’.
I give unsolicited advice, with the intention to help, all the time to friends, family and even acquaintances. When someone tells me about a body pain, I recommend the Louise Hay Heal Your Body book. If it’s a pain I can relate to, like back pain, I recommend my chiropractor or a stretch that my physical therapist gave me.
Yes, I’m a Certified Yoga Instructor, Life Coach, Intuitive and I have a Holistic Health degree. And I’ve overcome pain in many senses of the word. These experiences have given me some knowledge on certain topics that I love to share. But it’s one thing to give advice when it’s asked for. It’s another thing to give it when it’s not asked for.
The foundation of my coach training was that, from the get-go, each and every client is “creative, resourceful and whole.”
With my coaching clients, I don’t offer my advice or a solution. I deeply listen. I listen to who they are, what makes them tick, what makes their heart shine and I reflect that back to them. If I intuit a suggestion that could work for them, we’ve created a relationship where I know how to present it to them and I am not attached to whether or not they take to it. I have fully come to own the basis that each client is resourceful, creative and whole. The answers lie within them. My role is to support them through the mining of their own truth.
And this is exactly what I need and want to put into practice when someone outside of my clientele comes to me sharing a life challenge. I don’t go spattering off unsolicited advice to my clients – why do that with anyone? Why not apply the same foundational truth, that everyone is resourceful, creative and whole, that each of us are in our own learning phase and whatever clarity we need will come to us when we are ready and open to receiving it?
If people want suggestions or help, they will ask; it’s their responsibility to ask. My job is to hear what they are expressing, not give them solutions they didn’t ask for and not to attempt to disconnect them from whatever they are feeling. If we could just let people be where they are at without trying to fix them!
So instead of “Oh, I’ve heard X and Y are really great for that” or “Oh, I used to have that trouble, too, and X and Y were my fix.” What I would like to practice saying is, “That sounds rough. I’m sorry to hear you’re struggling.” And after some deep listening, if suggestions seem appropriate, “Would you like some suggestions?” or “Take it or leave it but I wonder if what worked for me could work for you? Would you like to hear it?”
I know that I’ll get beyond the uncomfortable life phase I’m currently in. I don’t need anyone to fix that for me. I also don’t want to be shut down from what I’m feeling or told to feel something else.
I want to be trusted that I can and will find my way. What I need is to be sat next to and listened to so as not to feel alone while I muddle through life’s rough spots. Allow me to be in this rough spot and be who I am in this moment. I will do the same for you.
Will you join me in this practice?
(An important side note: This article doesn’t apply to intuitive sessions where I connect with a client’s energy and guides to share information the client is asking for. Clients come to intuitive sessions wanting information or clarity.)