My two sons Finn & Aero have had trouble falling asleep over the last few months. We’ve tried a few things (cherry juice before bed, meditation, stories before bed) and have also listened to their ideas. The biggest idea came from our discussions around mantras. They thought it would be good to listen to a song on repeat as their mantra. The song they chose was Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 hit “Don’t Worry Be Happy”.
Over the years, this simple tune that stresses positivity and happiness has become something that most of our popular culture hates. Google “Don’t Worry Be Happy” and some of the first hits will be focused on how much people all around the world seem to hate this song. It has been referred to as “a real steaming pile of crap” in many essays. In Blender Magazine’s 50 Worst Songs of All Time, this tune made the list at #7. The writer of that list said that “it’s difficult to think of a song more likely to plunge you into suicidal despondency than this“. I think these two quotes sum up the collective attitude towards this song.
I was 8 years old when this song came out. I was immedietly struck by the positivity and simple catchiness of the tune back then. I got the cassette single, listened to the tune quite a bit, and it became part of my human experience. It’s just a simple pop song. It occupied a part of my life and then it went away, only to return here and there. I hadn’t thought much about it since 1988 but when I did in the following years I was always suprised to see the negativity and hate around the tune. Why do so many human beings hate such a simple song with a positive message? Since my boys have been listening to this tune to help them fall asleep I have begun asking myself this question daily once again.
Why is it that a simple pop song with a positive and kind message at the core get so much hate? Who are the people making these “worst songs ever” lists? And why do we take something with a positive and kind message and put so much hate and anger towards it?
It feels like the hatred towards “Don’t Worry Be Happy” is a microcosm of our modern society. At some point it became super hip to hate things that were positive, kind, and a bit cheesy. If growing old has shown me anything, it’s that for some reason it’s so easy for humans to get grumpier and more filled with hate as they get older. It becomes harder to turn towards the positive, to look towards happiness, as we grow older, as we see some things, and as we ourselves get burnt by something in our lives. But for me I keep coming back to the idea that honesty, kindness, and positivity win out in the end. This is the message I always end on.
I simply do not understand the hatred behind “Don’t Worry Be Happy”. It sure isn’t the best song ever, but at the core it isn’t a terrible song. It has a simple structure and melody. It’s in tune. And the best thing yet? It’s positive and kind. “In your life expect some troubles, but when you worry you make it double”. That’s some fantastic advice. Our world is not perfect, but don’t get too hung up on that fact. Project positivity and kindess. That’s what Bobby McFerrin is saying. I think he’s onto something.