In the last few weeks, America has been shredded by hurricanes – first Harvey tore up much of Texas, and then Irma ripped through Florida and the Caribbean.
It’s been a time of great sorrow, consternation, and worry.
We’ve been inundated with news updates, not just from news channels, but from our friends sharing and re-sharing on social media over and over again. It’s been impossible to ignore the devastation, even if we wanted to.
And few have wanted to.
People talked about the storms as conversation starters, played live video coverage at the dinner table, and basically kept up a constant flow of news and information, making sure that the latest storm-related catastrophe was always in the front of their minds.
With such universal commitment to focusing on the terror of the hurricanes, it’s no wonder there was so much worry.
Don’t get me wrong, I know the numbers. Hurricane Irma was twice the size of Hurricane Andrew, the monster storm that destroyed much of Miami in 1992. The damage from Irma and Harvey is going to cost billions of dollars to repair. Whole island communities in the Caribbean have been flattened.
There’s no question that the storms were massive, destructive, and terrifying.
Yet there’s an important parallel to be made between how people responded to the storms of the hurricanes and how they respond to the storms of life.
So many of us have a natural inclination to worry about almost everything. We worry about our job, our marriage, our kids. Perhaps we worry that we won’t have enough for retirement, that we’ll never get to go on that big trip, that some unforeseen storm will knock out all of our hard-earned savings.
We worry about so many things that we have no control over, many of which will never come to pass.
The French playwright Molière is famously quoted as having said that “people spend most of their lives worrying about things that never happen.”
Another Frenchman, Michel de Montaigne once said: “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”
A few years ago, a study came out that showed that 85% of what subjects worried about never happened. With the remaining 15% that did happen, 8 out of 10 times it proved to either be easier to manage than expected, or to impart an important life lesson.
That means that, according to this study, 97% of our worry is over nothing!
Part of me wonders how much of the remaining 3% of misfortune is actually caused by worry. Worry increases stress hormone levels, which have been linked to serious health problems, depression, and marital and familial dysfunction.
If there is something you can do to improve the situation, do it. If there is nothing, don’t stress about it.
I wonder how our lives would change if we were able to focus not on worries about the future, or regrets about the past, but simply on getting the most out of the present.