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Worrying Is A Choice (And So Is Not Worrying)

Updated: Oct 16, 2022

So, the other day my husband and I headed up to Estes Park, Colorado for our annual leaf drive. The gold aspens here are really a gorgeous sight to see, (although honestly they don’t compare to the breathtakingly exquisite leaf drives we used to take in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont). But we still make it a point to go out and appreciate the beauty of nature every year, like we’ve been doing for the past few decades (and counting…)

This time my husband found a very special place for us to visit on the way to our destination up in the Rocky Mountains. It’s called the Carousel of Happiness and its motto is “Don’t delay joy.” How perfect! Especially since riding a carousel is one of my favorite things on the planet to do, and I can’t go past one without begging for a ride. 

After that, we drove on a bit further, and when we got to the spot that had the best view of the brilliant yellow aspen trees, we found a place to park on the side of the road and jumped out (with the rest of the leaf peepers) to take some pictures. We then decided to go for a short hike up to a rock formation nearby to get an even better view. As we started off, we had only gone a few steps when I turned to my husband and asked him, “Did you lock the car?” “No,” he replied. “I didn’t think we’d be gone for more than a few moments.” “I know,” I answered, that’s why I left my purse in there.”

Now let me just say here than I NEVER leave my purse in the car. Not when I’m just running in somewhere to pick something up, not when the car is safely ensconced inside the garage, NEVER EVER EVER do I get out of the car and leave my purse behind. But I did this time, for reasons known to no one, including myself. My husband asked, “Do you want to go back for it?” I thought for a moment, and said, “No, that’s okay, we’re pretty far away from it,” at which point he took out the key fob, put it under his chin to use his head as an antenna (yes, he actually did this) and pressed the “Lock” button. “Did it work?” I asked. “I think so,” he replied. “Do you want to just not worry about it?”

His question stopped me in my tracks. Do I want to just NOT worry about it? WHAT? That would imply that worrying about it or not worrying about it was a choice I could make. What was this new and unfamiliar proposal that I had not considered before? I had just assumed that if there was a possibility that something bad could happen, even if it was completely out of my control, I needed to worry about it. As if the worrying would magically cause the bad thing not to happen.

Have you ever felt like this? Like if we worry enough it will prevent something? Or cause something? Or change a situation in some way for the better?

I stood there for a moment, considering my choices. I could go back to the car and grab my purse, OR, I could make the choice to not go back and get it, and try not worrying about what might happen if I didn’t. I decided that it was highly unlikely that anyone was going to break into our car during that short time that we were away from it so I consciously chose to let go of the worry and instead keep my head in the glorious moment of us taking in the beauty and magnificence of nature. We hiked up to the rocks, we climbed up on the rocks, we took pictures of people, they took pictures of us, we chatted and laughed as people clambered up and down, and we were all in a state of awe and appreciation together. That symbiosis really made the time extra special, and I completely immersed myself in the collective joy we mere mortals were experiencing in the midst of once-a-year Autumnal splendor.

Eventually we made our way back to the car, which had indeed been locked and there was my purse, still sitting on the console where I had left it. Now of course, if it hadn’t been there, this story would be a PSA about never leaving valuables in a car, even if it’s just for a few minutes, but thankfully I can instead emphasize the importance of making the choice to not worry about things that are beyond our control. Nor should we worry about things that are within our control either, we should take whatever action we can to change those. But either way, it does absolutely no good to worry about anything.

Sometimes we can get caught up in the feeling of “If I worry about this enough, it will cause the situation to change.” Show of hands: how many times has that worked? A grand total of zero. None. No times. All worrying does is make us sick to our stomachs, takes up precious real estate in our heads, or causes us to experience extreme stress, and usually it’s all three of those things at once. It may be a hard habit to break, but making the choice to NOT worry about things is a powerful choice toward a happy and healthy life. It shows that we have control over our thoughts – that we can choose to change our thoughts at any time, and it also shows that we are at peace enough with ourselves and with the world around us that we don’t have to worry about anything. Not only does it not change the situation, but it doesn’t make us feel any better about it, and it propagates the lie that the more we worry the more control we have.

There’s a quote that says, “No amount of regretting can change the past and no amount of worrying can change the future.” This is so true. And wasting time staying mired in regret or worry is the opposite of choosing happiness. Life is way too short for that. Instead, choose to fill your mind with gratitude for the present moment and keep yourself steady knowing that it’s all going to be okay, whether we worry about it or not.

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