NZ Herald Column Kyle MacDonald

Kyle MacDonald: Why do people worry?

This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday

“I’ve been told I worry too much. Why are some people worriers, and what can I do about it?” Lifetime worrier

There is little shortage of things to worry about. As I write this, everything I read tells me I should be very worried about the outcome of the US presidential election. Global warming, terrorism, even our household cleaners can kill us apparently.

Worrying can always seem like it makes sense, because from a certain perspective, it always does. We can define worrying as thinking about future threats and problems, and planning to avoid or otherwise solve them.

However when we worry we make a choice we often don’t know we’re making. We choose to focus on that which is negative and frightening. We pick out the negative and chew it over in our mind. We set our own emotional tone.

So much of the modern world runs on this brooding, low-level fear. Advertisers use our fear of a multitude of things to sell us solutions to problems we didn’t even know we had.

The entire insurance industry is built on it: insurance commodifies worry and sells us the illusion of security.

And the modern news media, especially the American news networks, pump worry and fear into our living rooms 24/7. The sad fact is it’s very engaging.

There’s a power in recognising that worrying is a choice though. Not in a “get over it” kind of way, but once you start to recognise that you can choose to worry, it naturally follows you can actively choose not to.

One of the cliched, but nonetheless effective, techniques for people who worry is to book a time to worry every day.

At, say five o’clock, you allow yourself to worry flat out for 30 minutes. And for the rest of the day you stop yourself and if necessary even write down the worrying thoughts, so you can return to them at 5pm. It works, not because of the time spent worrying, but the choice at other times throughout the day to put worry aside.

Whatever we choose to worry about, by definition isn’t happening right now. The only thing happening right now is this moment. And if that’s actually okay, then you better make sure you let it be okay, and indeed embrace it.

Because ultimately we can always worry, there are always threats, real or otherwise. Trumpis now president. But life is a series of choices to guide ourselves into happiness by paying attention to what makes us feel good, what makes us happy and hoping it isn’t all going to end badly.

Because most of the time it doesn’t, and worrying about it ultimately only changes how we feel.

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