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#35 Five Reasons Why “Don’t Worry Be Happy” Didn’t Work for Robin Williams

Here’s the truth, what sounds like a catchy song can actually be a dangerous theology!

I remember first hearing Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry Be Happy” when I was in middle school. To be honest with you, I kind of liked it! It had a nice laid back feel and the message seemed simple and convincingly easy.

Bobby McFerrin’s solution to worry was simple; stop worrying and be happy instead! It’s sadly ironic that Robin Williams appeared in the original music video from 1988. In the video you can see him quickly change his frown to smile when McFerrin sings “be happy!”

Unfortunately Mcferrin’s solution didn’t work for Williams!

I want to share with you several reasons why Mcferrin’s philosophy is flawed and doesn’t work in real life. If you want to go more in depth I suggest you pick up a copy of my book, “What If… How to Kill Worry and Anxiety Before They Kill You!” I spend and entire chapter debunking the “Don’t Worry Be Happy” philosophy.

Problem #1 It offers no solutions

Even in the song there are no solutions offered. Mcferrin sings about not paying your rent and then tells you not to worry. The problem is that your lack of worry isn’t going help you pay the rent and the fact that you’re happy probably isn’t going to make your landlord forgive your debt.

The song is actually a denial of reality. McFerrin took this teaching from a well-known Indian Mystic named Meher Baba, who taught that all reality is a figment of your imagination!

Problem #2 It has no legs to stand on

Not only does this philosophy not offer solutions but it also has no foundation, it has no basis for making its claim. It’s like telling someone who’s cold to be warm, it’s impossible to do unless you actually provide him with some means for warming himself up. McFerrin’s song give the listener no bases to change his thinking and to release him from his worry.

Problem #3 It relies on your own emotional strength

What McFerrin is really asking us to do is to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Yes, it can be done, but the results are always temporary. You can put a smile on your face and pretend that you don’t have a care in the world, but sooner or later your worries will catch up to you.

Problem #4 It is illogical

If you think about it there’s really no connection between not worrying and being happy. Where’s the reason? Where’s the logic? It’s not there and that’s why it doesn’t work!

Problem #5 It misunderstands man’s greatest need

There’s an assumption in the words of this song. The assumption is that man’s greatest need is to be happy. If man is happy then everything will be fine.

Man does not need to be happy!

In fact if you look at the life of Robin Williams you’ll find someone who spent much of his life making people happy. It seemed like he was happy, and I would guess that he often was happy!

Yet it wasn’t enough!

We need more than happiness, we need a deeper peace that can anchor our soul in suffering, when we’re not happy!

We need a joy that stays with us in the trials of life and holds us together with our tears won’t dry.

We need a hope that gives us strength when the world around us is boiling over with war, hatred, and all kinds of unspeakable evil!

A better solution to worry!

Maybe Bobby McFerrin’s song can be fixed. I want to offer a solution. Let’s replace “Be Happy” with “Believe in Jesus.”

“Don’t Worry, Believe in Jesus!”



Question: How does Jesus relieve you of your worries?

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I am a pastor, missionary, and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Ukraine since 2007. God blessed me with a wonderful wife and 5 amazing children! My greatest passion is to teach, encourage, and exhort others to turn to Jesus, who is Savior, Lord, and God!

  • Anonymous in WA

    Okay, so I totally get your logic in that the song mentioned changes nothing in the life of a person who has worries. Your solution is believing in Jesus. Which I do. I think. I have my whole life. But really, how does believing in Jesus take away my worry? How does it take me out of my circumstances? It doesn’t. Read a book by Phillip Yancey that talked about how God’s miracles are just that, miracles, not ordinaries. Most of us, even us Chrsitians do not have dramatic healings of our illnesses or brought out of our circumstances. And when those circumstances are long term life long battles, how does believing in Jesus really do anything more for me on this earth than listening to the song you mentioned?

    • Great question Anonymous in WA! Believing in Jesus is really the only thing in this world that can ultimately relieve you of your worries! Why? Because Jesus is God and he is perfectly able to guide you through every problem in your life! Because Jesus knows the future and has worked it out completely! Because Jesus knows you intimately! Because if you believe in Jesus, then he has sent you the Holy Spirit to comfort you, enable you and to give you new life. Because Jesus has promised all who believe in him eternal life that can never be taken away by the circumstances you find yourself in today or tomorrow or 10 years from now!

      You’re right Jesus doesn’t promise to remove us from our circumstances but he doe promise to stick with us, aid us and ultimately bring us safely home to the Father and because of all that and much, much more we have no need to worry about anything in this life!

      I hope that answers your question, obviously I go much deeper into these reason in my book, so I hope you have a chance to pick up a copy and read it.

      Let me know if you have any other questions!

  • When we put our trust and faith in Jesus, all the worry of life goes away. It’s a faith walk that has clear results.

    • Well put Dan! I think it’s also a faith walk that can be improved on. As long as we live we must continually strive to strengthen our faith and bring our walk closer inline with Jesus!

  • Mariane Kvist Doktor

    Great article! I like the don’t worry, believe in Jesus. I can’t totally avoid worrying, but I can stop worries from controlling my life, and let jesus’ yoke carry my problems so I can live in the presence!

  • Guillaume de Swardt

    Your philosophy is even worse. Anyways, anyone with halve a brain knows that the song is not meant to be a philosophy and ultimate solution. It is a fun song, and listening to it makes me smile and feel a little lighter about life – which is awesome. Your article does the opposite.

    • If you’re feelings about life don’t match the reality of life they could really lead you astray and get you into some big problems. Rather than searching for a feeling we need to search for truth, which can be found in the Bible. The truth that God is a Righteous Judge does not make us feel good, it condemns us. However, the hope that each can have in Jesus by believing his words can also give great joy and in the end make you feel much better for much longer than anything else.

  • Michael Haskey

    Join the discussion…

    Do your best, then don’t worry:
    be happy in my love.
    I will help you.