Don’t Worry, Be Happy

“For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” -Ecclesiastes 1:18

tl;dr – Don’t worry, be happy. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we’ll die. Or, whatever flavor you choose. Whatever variation of that theme suits you best…

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to ‘know.’ I’ve wanted to know how things work, where things come from, how they get there, why we’re here, what it all means… and it has lead me to become a non-believer; an atheist. Not because I have anything against religions necessarily, and definitely not because I ‘set out to prove religions wrong’ or any other such thing. I simply wanted to know the truth, and the stories religions told me didn’t make sense. They didn’t provide meaningful answers.

But in finding the truth, I have also found an answer that I have a hard time dealing with. The truth is, there is no meaning. There is no purpose. We’re all just here because certain chemicals under certain circumstances react to each other in ways that ultimately leads to once inanimate objects thinking about how they’re thinking. Of course, a higher power could have pushed that original domino but then who created that higher power that pushed that first domino? There are no answers there, and I don’t think it really matters either way.

Ernest Hemingway said, “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” I’m not claiming to be ‘intelligent’ by any means (there are some smart people out there!), but I do believe that my understanding of the universe is correct in the sense that life has no ultimate meaning; thereby knowing this fact elicits a level of inherit hopelessness and/or depression. I’ve been through much inner turmoil for many years now as I’ve tried to find ways of coping with that knowledge. I’ve been forced, as many others have before me, to find my own meaning and purpose in this meaningless existence – which I have. My meaning basically boils down to being a good friend and neighbor, husband and father; to love as much as I can and to be as happy as possible in this limited time I have here on this tiny ball of dust in the vastness of eternity. Easier said than done…

I’ve only recently began to really devote substantial time and energy into the idea of ‘being happy.’ It sounds counter-intuitive right? I mean, why would you have to work to be happy? Why not just be happy? Well, for me I can’t, so I have to work at it. I’ve begun to really try and let things go, to not worry so much about what I’m not accomplishing, to accept the fact that I do only have a limited time here and that fretting about what standards I’m not living up to shouldn’t count. We should only compare ourselves to ourselves, not others, and improve ourselves today from what we were yesterday. And don’t forget about the Joneses, be happy for the Joneses! They are finding their way through this thing just like you and me. We are not to judge…

In doing this, I’ve been able to let a lot of little things go that would normally get to me on a regular basis. You know when you’re an adult when you can be right without the other person being wrong. I’m still working on that, but I’m getting better. Walking away from certain situations can be very foreign and uncomfortable when you first try but after a while, a deeper fulfillment can emerge from such confrontations that you could never get from engaging in a winnerless battle.

I’ve spent an unnecessary amount of time worrying if someone would break in our house at night, whether my wife would get into an accident on her way home or not, or even if she was having an affair. I worried about little things like, who left the dishes out without putting them in the sink and why were there crumbs on the couch?! I worried about all these things and everything in between. But most of these things I can either not control so there’s no use in worrying about them, or they’re so trivial that no fretting need occur. Preparing for the big bad things then letting them go, and forgiving and forgetting the little things has made a huge impact on my daily attitude. “…do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.”

For the longest time, I could not comprehend how folks could waste away their days watching ‘pointless’ TV shows and gossiping about movie stars when there’s so much prosperous work that could be done. I’ve recently forced myself to see what all this fuss was about. Why do so many people I know rave about this TV show or that? I’ve put aside my unjustified judgments and have relaxed a little and opened my mind. I’m going to put a timestamp on this post and admit that I’m currently enthralled by a new Netflix original series called ‘Peaky Blinders.’ While it is objectively a great show – the cinematography and soundtrack are great, the acting is astounding, the story is amazing, etc. – it is still merely a ‘show.’ But again, who the hell am I to judge? So many people have put an incredible amount of work and heart into making this show become reality. It’s something they believed in and devoted themselves to. Did the Apollo project involve any less heart, devotion, and love? Maybe, probably not. Were the outcomes tangibly better for humanity afterwards? Probably. But art is art, and love is love. The folks who made that TV show made more than a few folks happy for at least a short amount of time. Isn’t that enough justification?

What’s more, what are TV shows if nothing more than modern day tales told around a campfire? Everyone needs a little time to decompress and what better way than to experience other peoples stories without all the negative effects of having to experience them first-hand? I love stories of the Old West, but sure as hell don’t want to live there! Plus, there’s demonstrable evidence that contemplating hypothetical scenarios whether fiction or non-fiction, can have a positive effect on someone’s behavior. For the longest time I’ve touted my love for video games while simultaneously giving people grief for watching movies – but I’ve come to realize that there’s no difference. Games, books, movies, TV shows, theater, concerts… they’re all just stories experienced in different ways.

In order to feel like I’m being productive and do a little self-reflection (meditation?), I’ve recently taken on small projects which have ‘meaning’ to me and which keep my mind busy and occupied. When I create something, I feel like I’m ‘contributing’ (regardless of the actual impact) instead of sitting passively, and it gives me a purpose if only for a short time. This website is an example of that. I’ve also recently completed a stop-motion video project I’ve been working on for over a year and a half which provided ample time to reflect on the days events while ‘mindlessly’ engaging in a project with a tangible goal. I’ll take on smaller projects as well like my ‘Desiderata’ framed picture (left). I’ve said this countless times but Desiderata by Max Ehrmann is my ‘bible’ so I took some time and created a framed version of it which I wrote by hand. It took a while so I used that ‘quiet time’ to relax and meditate.

I digress… The point is, sit back, relax, and enjoy! No matter your age or situation, “you are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”

And after all: a bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.

6 Comments Comment

  • Kelli on 2014-12-08

    Amen brother! I find myself in that inner struggle too. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily drama and worry. When I find myself getting caught up in it and my anxiety levels at their highest I have to remind myself that everything is relative and my situation could always be worse. I have so much to be grateful for and my trials are trivial compared to what others go through. I agree you have to work for your happiness. It has to be a conscious decision. Like we discussed last night, it’s not easy. It’s easier to be negative sometimes and it’s a daily struggle but it does get a little easier the more you do it. As for the intellectual struggle…I don’t ever feel bored. I can’t seem to turn my mind off but it’s for other reasons.

  • Everette Hatcher on 2016-01-28

    I am in the process to doing a blog post responding to your article. I am an evangelical Christian and I do appreciate your efforts to tackle these difficult questions.

    I was impressed that you quoted from my favorite book which is Ecclesiastes. In the Book of Ecclesiastes what are all of the 6 “L” words that Solomon looked into? He looked into learning (1:16-18), laughter, ladies, luxuries, and liquor (2:1-3, 8, 10, 11), and labor (2:4-6, 18-20). IRONICALLY, YOU HAVE MADE ALL SIX OF THESE BUTTS OF YOUR NIHILISTIC JOKES!!!

    Schaeffer noted that Solomon took a look at the meaning of life on the basis of human life standing alone between birth and death “under the sun.” This phrase UNDER THE SUN appears over and over in Ecclesiastes. The Christian Scholar Ravi Zacharias noted, “The key to understanding the Book of Ecclesiastes is the term UNDER THE SUN — What that literally means is you lock God out of a closed system and you are left with only this world of Time plus Chance plus matter.” This puts him in the same place that you find yourself.

    You are an atheist and you have a naturalistic materialistic worldview, and this short book of Ecclesiastes should interest you because the wisest man who ever lived in the position of King of Israel came to THREE CONCLUSIONS that will affect you.

    FIRST, chance and time have determined the past, and they will determine the future. (Ecclesiastes 9:11-13)

    These two verses below take the 3 elements mentioned in a naturalistic materialistic worldview (time, chance and matter) and so that is all the unbeliever can find “under the sun” without God in the picture. You will notice that these are the three elements that evolutionists point to also.

    Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 is following: I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.

    SECOND, Death is the great equalizer (Eccl 3:20, “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.”)

    THIRD, Power reigns in this life, and the scales are not balanced(Eccl 4:1, 8:15)

    Ecclesiastes 4:1-2: “Next I turned my attention to all the outrageous violence that takes place on this planet—the tears of the victims, no one to comfort them; the iron grip of oppressors, no one to rescue the victims from them.” Ecclesiastes 8:14; “ Here’s something that happens all the time and makes no sense at all: Good people get what’s coming to the wicked, and bad people get what’s coming to the good. I tell you, this makes no sense. It’s smoke.”

    Solomon had all the resources in the world and he found himself searching for meaning in life and trying to come up with answers concerning the afterlife. However, it seems every door he tries to open is locked. Today men try to find satisfaction in learning, liquor, ladies, luxuries, laughter, and labor and that is exactly what Solomon tried to do too. None of those were able to “fill the God-sized vacuum in his heart” (quote from famous mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal). You have to wait to the last chapter in Ecclesiastes to find what Solomon’s final conclusion is.

    In 1978 I heard the song “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas when it rose to #6 on the charts. That song told me that Kerry Livgren the writer of that song and a member of Kansas had come to the same conclusion that Solomon had. I remember mentioning to my friends at church that we may soon see some members of Kansas become Christians because their search for the meaning of life had obviously come up empty even though they had risen from being an unknown band to the top of the music business and had all the wealth and fame that came with that. Furthermore, Solomon realized death comes to everyone and there must be something more.

    Livgren wrote:

    “All we do, crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see, Dust in the Wind, All we are is dust in the wind, Don’t hang on, Nothing lasts forever but the Earth and Sky, It slips away, And all your money won’t another minute buy.”

    Take a minute and compare Kerry Livgren’s words to that of the late British humanist H.J. Blackham:

    “On humanist assumptions, life leads to nothing, and every pretense that it does not is a deceit. If there is a bridge over a gorge which spans only half the distance and ends in mid-air, and if the bridge is crowded with human beings pressing on, one after the other they fall into the abyss. The bridge leads nowhere, and those who are pressing forward to cross it are going nowhere….It does not matter where they think they are going, what preparations for the journey they may have made, how much they may be enjoying it all. The objection merely points out objectively that such a situation is a model of futility“( H. J. Blackham, et al., Objections to Humanism (Riverside, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1967).


    Both Kerry Livgren and the bass player DAVE HOPE of Kansas became Christians eventually. Kerry Livgren first tried Eastern Religions and DAVE HOPE had to come out of a heavy drug addiction. I was shocked and elated to see their personal testimony on The 700 Club in 1981 and that same interview can be seen on youtube today. Livgren lives in Topeka, Kansas today where he teaches “Diggers,” a Sunday school class at Topeka Bible Church. DAVE HOPE is the head of Worship, Evangelism and Outreach at Immanuel Anglican Church in Destin, Florida. IT IS TRULY IRONIC THAT TWO MEN WITH THE WORD “HOPE” IN THEIR NAMES HAVE SUCH DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO THE 3 PROBLEMS THAT MAN MUST FACE IN ECCLESIASTES.

    YOU believe three things. FIRST, death is the end and SECOND, chance and time are the only guiding forces in this life. FINALLY, power reigns in this life and the scales are never balanced. In contrast, DAVE HOPE believes death is not the end and the Christian can face death and also confront the world knowing that it is not determined by chance and time alone and finally there is a judge who will balance the scales.

    Solomon’s experiment was a search for meaning to life “under the sun.” Then in last few words in the Book of Ecclesiastes he looks above the sun and brings God back into the picture: “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: Fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”

  • Everette Hatcher on 2016-01-28

    Much of my earlier comment was taken from my post “Open letter to the nihilistic atheist comedian DOUG STANHOPE!!!!” and can be found at this link:

  • Everette Hatcher on 2016-01-29

    Let me just take a few moments and challenge you on a few points:

    1. Woody Allen correctly noted in his movie CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS that without God in the picture there is no good reason why Judah should not have his troublesome mistress killed since his brother was a mob hit man and Judah could get away with it.

    2. Francis Schaeffer in his book “HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE?” stated that according to Alfred North Whitehead and J. Robert Oppenheimer, both renowned philosophers and scientists of our era (but not Christians themselves), modern science was born out of the Christian world view.

    3. According to Romans 1 there is no such thing as an atheist but all people know in their hearts that God exists.

    4. The song DUST IN THE WIND released by KANSAS in 1978 correctly notes humanist man’s nihilistic outlook on life and 3 years later Kerry Livgren and Dave Hope from KANSAS admitted the message of the song was from ECCLESIASTES and they both put their faith in Christ.

    Livgren wrote:

    “All we do, crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see, Dust in the Wind, All we are is dust in the wind, Don’t hang on, Nothing lasts forever but the Earth and Sky, It slips away, And all your money won’t another minute buy.”

    5. There is evidence that indicates the Bible is accurate and can be trusted. Here are some of the posts I have done in the past on the subject: 1. The Babylonian Chronicle, of Nebuchadnezzars Siege of Jerusalem, 2. Hezekiah’s Siloam Tunnel Inscription. 3. Taylor Prism (Sennacherib Hexagonal Prism), 4. Biblical Cities Attested Archaeologically. 5. The Discovery of the Hittites, 6.Shishak Smiting His Captives, 7. Moabite Stone, 8. Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, 9A Verification of places in Gospel of John and Book of Acts., 9B Discovery of Ebla Tablets. 10. Cyrus Cylinder, 11. Puru “The lot of Yahali” 9th Century B.C.E., 12. The Uzziah Tablet Inscription, 13. The Pilate Inscription, 14. Caiaphas Ossuary, 14 B Pontius Pilate Part 2, 14c. Three greatest American Archaeologists moved to accept Bible’s accuracy through archaeology.,


  • Jeffrey on 2016-01-29

    In my experience, it doesn’t matter how you say something in text, especially in a public, anonymous, online setting, it will be interpreted the wrong way. It will be viewed as the most hostile perspective possible and be treated as such, no matter what. I am going to try and make every possible safeguard against this misinterpretation I can because I assure you, being confrontational and degrading is the very last thing I’m trying to do in this post. In fact, I’m trying to achieve the exact opposite of that and have a respectful and meaningful dialog where folks can discuss topics (admittedly, socially ‘touchy’) that interest them and have an actual impact on their lives. I think that’s a completely reasonable thing to ask; discuss something that truly matters to you in a mature setting without the fear of being personally attacked… because, hey man, we’re all in this together. We’re all looking for answers and trying to find our own way through life, and we NEED each other to do so.

    I’m not religious, but I envy deeply devoted religious people…

    I know what it’s like to be religious because I was once a very religious person. I know how encompassing religion can be to someone’s life. Most of my family is religious to this day. I grew up Catholic, went to a catholic school, transferred to a public school but remained religious and went through confirmation and was involved with Christian groups like Fellowship of Christian Athletes all throughout adolescence, on and on… I mean, that’s the point, right? To devote yourself to your god and your beliefs?

    That being said, I also understand the ‘other side’ very well since I am no longer religious. I am no longer completely immersed in that worldview, that way of life. I now look at religious people from a kind of third-person, objective standpoint. I know what it’s like to be them and to have that ideology and to be honest, I actually sort-of envy them!

    I see the Christian on his knees praying for hours on end and who is completely content and fulfilled with his beliefs. I see the Jew with long hair, conveying his commitment to his religion. I see the monk silently reflecting upon his ideologies, loyal and meek. To be so “into” something… to be so driven and sure of your beliefs that it consumes your life… to truly know why you’re here and devote yourself to it would be amazing. It would be such a relief. No more stress. No more worrying about making your own ‘meaning’ of life. To have things already worked out for you. To know beyond any doubt that you have the truth. What a dream… Just knowing you have purpose and what it is would be amazing.

    But being a non-believer, unfortunately I don’t have that luxury. With a ‘naturalist’ worldview, I do not believe that there is any ultimate meaning or purpose to existence. We are born and we will all eventually die, there’s no getting around that. And I think everyone can agree – religious or not – that life is not fair. We’re all innately different and every rule and circumstance cannot, by definition, apply to us all. So no, this life is not “fair.” That’s where it basically ends for me.

    But for people with certain religious beliefs, all of this is taken care of for them. They do have meaning and purpose from the get-go. They are born in god’s image in order to carry out his plan. And yes, they’ll die just like everyone else, so that’s the same, but death is when the last issue about ‘fairness’ is remedied. Every soul gets judged in the afterlife so even though mortal life wasn’t fair, in the afterlife everyone gets their due.

    But that’s the catch: you have to believe in a god. You have to believe in a god who created an Existence designed specifically for your species so that when you die, all of the things that you don’t like and are uncomfortable with are taken care of for you by said god. I just can’t do that… I genuinely wish I could. I’ve tried! (see above) But now, I cannot simply flip that switch back again.

    I honestly look at sports enthusiasts practically the same way I see religious people. And to be perfectly clear, I do not, in any way, mean for this to be degrading or condescending whatsoever. I understand it could be interpreted that way but I promise that is not my intent. To the contrary, I actually mean that as a compliment! My analogy is a completely innocent attempt at conveying my personal opinion of a religious person’s beliefs and beliefs alone; it has nothing to do with their character, if they’re a good or bad person, whether I like or dislike them, etc…

    To me now, a die-hard football fan isn’t that much different than someone who is religious. Take one of my best friends for example: he has loved sports all his life. He grew up with them, his father and brothers loved sports, he hung out with other sports buddies… and still to this day, sports continue to bring him unparalleled enjoyment – borderline purpose! He’ll go to football games and wear the jerseys and hats with his team’s logo plastered all over the place while reciting stats from decades ago that are practically ingrained into his mind from a lifetime of devotion and admiration. He’ll argue until he is blue in the face about how his team is the best and that the others don’t stand a chance. He has his Monday night rituals, his radio talk shows, he even has scandals and drama that keeps things exciting and staves off the monotony. And you know what? I wish I liked sports a fraction of the amount he does!

    -The comparison here is blatantly obvious. I can literally copy the paragraph above and replace ‘sports’ with ‘religion.’ In fact, let’s try it!

    “Take one of my best friends for example: he has loved god all his life. He grew up with him, his father and brothers loved god, he hung out with other religious buddies… and still to this day, religion continues to bring him unparalleled enjoyment – borderline purpose! He’ll go to church and wear the necklaces, pins, and shirts with the cross plastered all over the place while reciting versus from the bible from decades ago that are practically ingrained into his mind from a lifetime of devotion and admiration. He’ll argue until he is blue in the face about how his religion is the best and that the others don’t have the answers. He has his Sunday morning rituals, his radio talk shows, he even has scandals and drama that keeps things exciting and staves off the monotony. And you know what? I wish I liked religion a fraction of the amount he does!”

    The problem is, I can’t force myself to believe it. I can’t force myself to believe something that just goes blatantly against everything I know to be objectively true about this Universe. I mean, religion makes sense to me. I get it. It solves all your problems and then some. But religion is premised on a god – and a god (or gods) just makes absolutely no sense to me, and I can’t force it to. I’m supposed to just make that leap of faith? I mean, that’s what religion boils down to: faith. Believing in something without proof. So where does that leave me? Where does that leave someone who genuinely has the best of intentions? To a religious person, am I going to hell? That doesn’t seem fair. But hey, I guess life isn’t fair…

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