Fretting Needlessly? A Lesson from the Irish: ‘Not to Worry’

As a husband or wife, do you worry too much? I think I do but I’m learning not to. A few weeks ago, I was invited to Ireland to give some speeches on marriage and family. I represented Brigham Young University and was to speak to Latter-day Saints in both the North and South of Ireland.

Arriving at Dublin Airport, I had lost several hours of sleep and was experiencing jet lag. Members of the LDS Church met me at the airport, and I soon found myself standing in the foyer of the Finglas Branch chapel in Dublin. It was evening and there was a Youth Conference for all young Irish Latter-day Saints. There was a dance that night, and I was to speak to the group the following day.

There are, indeed, some universal truths about teenagers. One young Irish fellow came up, shook my hand, and introduced himself. He then asked, “Are you the man from BYU who is going to give us a talk tomorrow?”

I answered that I was.

He then grinned as he walked away. “Just remember one thing.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Keep it short,” he called back as he went in the cultural hall. It seems that my capability for long-winded speeches somehow preceded me.

Also in the foyer was a young Irish mother who was waiting to take some of the young people home after the dance. I apparently seemed a little disoriented, since I was wondering out loud about my now “short” speech the following day—where it would be, how it would be received, etc.

Finally, the young woman said, “Brother Barlow, it looks like we are going to have to teach you an Irish saying.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Not to worry,” she replied.

“Not to worry?” I repeated. “What does that mean?”

She went on to explain that it means we should not worry excessively, if at all. She stated that too much of our mental energy is often used up on unprofitable thoughts and concerns. The Irish saying “Not to worry” is consequently both simple and profound.

Upon returning from my trip to Ireland I read something that reminded me of my earlier experience that evening in Dublin, I read that, as the young Irish woman had suggested, most of our worries are useless. About 40 percent of what we worry about never occurs; 30 percent of our worries are about things or events that are over and past and cannot be changed; 12 percent are needless worries about health; and 10 percent are petty worries, unfounded by logic or rational thought.

It is estimated only 8 percent of those things we worry about are legitimate concerns that demand our thought, time, and attention. Nearly 92 percent of what we worry about is needless.

The next time you find yourself worrying about something, give it the Irish test. Simply ask yourself:
  1. Is it likely to happen? 
  2. Has it already occurred and cannot be changed? 
  3. Is it a needless or unfounded worry about health? 
  4. Is it a petty worry not worth the amount of time and energy spent on it?
If your worries and concerns do not “pass” the test, try to focus your time and attention on more productive worthwhile thoughts.

I know that many Irish actually practice this philosophy of life. While in one of the gift shops in Ireland I noticed a little plaque titled “A Prayer of Serenity.” I purchased it and it reads as follows:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to Know the difference.

Perhaps husbands and wives should print three small words on a piece of paper and place it somewhere in their homes, offices, briefcases or purses. And thank our Irish friends for those three words expressing the simple, but sane philosophy of life, “Not to worry.

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