Guest column/Some very simple advice: Don’t worry, be happy

“Don’t worry, be happy,” goes the 80’s classic tune. The advice seems a bit trite these days and downright insincere. Let’s face it; there is plenty to feel uneasy about.

January is Mental Wellness Month, bringing attention to a national health problem. Approximately one in four adults suffers from some type of diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.

Health professionals are concerned about the amount of worrying going on and its impact on health. Individuals experiencing chronic worrying are at greater risk than others for heart attack and other cardiovascular problems as reported in Harvard Medical School’s newsletter Healthbeat.

Protracted anxiety manifests itself in a variety ways, including headache, appetite, sleeplessness and bad habits that contribute to unhealthy lives. As the country focuses on this debilitating problem, (the leading cause of disability in the world since the 1990s) evidence is coming to light about an alternative way to address the concern.

Bobby McFerrin was right, constant worrying only makes things worse. In his hit single “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” the singer croons:

“Don’t worry be happy

In every life we have some trouble

When you worry you make it double.”

Turning off the worry and putting on a happy face seems a tall order as we confront modern-day pressures. But anxiety and the means of curbing it are not exclusive to contemporary generations. The subject is even mentioned in the Bible. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ brings up the subject with a hint of logic. He asks, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” That seems a reasonable point.

But what can you do about it? The answer to personal anxieties could be as simple as prayer.

A study highlighted in Crossroads, Newsletter of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University looked at the impact of in-person prayer on depression, anxiety and positive emotion. The findings are worthy of attention.

A summary of the study concluded: “At the completion of the trial, participants receiving the prayer intervention showed significant improvement of depression and anxiety, as well as increases of daily spiritual experiences and optimism compared to controls. Subjects in the prayer group maintained these significant improvements for a duration of at least one month after the final prayer session. Participants in the control group did not show significant changes during the study.” Follow-up one year later showed the same improvement among the participants receiving prayer.

The positive link between spirituality and health is well documented. The center at Duke has collected data from more than 3,000 quantitative, original data-based studies, the majority of which have been conducted within the past decade. Of the 444 studies investigating the relationships between spirituality and depression, 61 percent found less depression, faster remission or a reduction in depression severity in response to including a religious and spirituality component.

Similar findings have been reported on patients’ overall well-being. In 326 quantitative studies examining the relationships between religion and spirituality and well-being, 79 percent of them documented greater happiness and satisfaction with life in those individuals who were more spiritual.

These studies suggest a new-old approach to tackling prolonged despair. And as more knowledge is accumulated and more personal experiences shared about the benefits of prayer, the lives of those suffering from the devastating effects of depression can take a turn for the better.

We all deserve to find the “be happy” place of true well-being.

(Salt is a writer and blogger covering health, spirituality and thought. He is a Christian Science practitioner.)