Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Worrywart Generation: The Age of Debilitating Anxieties

Apparently a large fraction of America’s creative talent is being used for the creation of imaginary anxieties. These faux phobias are doing great damage to our abilities to live our lives to the fullest.

A partial list of bogus anxieties would include sustainability, GMOs, glutens, pesticides, running out of resources, CO2, fossil fuels, insufficient diversity, climate change, endangered species, landfills, loss of wet lands, carbon footprints, fracking, plastic bags, renewability, sugary soft drinks, and “white privilege.”

President Franklin Roosevelt’s most frequently referenced quote is “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” That is an absolutely profound piece of advice. It was timely when he said it, it is timely now. Roosevelt’s quote raises an important question, why should fear be feared? Why did he say that fear “paralyzes?”

A very wise psychologist friend of mine told me the following, “Fear is the ultimate issue, the controlling factor. If you overcome your fear you’re liberated. People who don’t overcome their fears have lives that get smaller and smaller. The goal is to avoid being controlled by fear.” That, he says, is the most important lesson he’s learned after counseling hundreds of clients over his forty plus years of practice. Our societal exaggeration of dubious fears is causing too many lives to get “smaller and smaller.”

There are good reasons why society admires courage and despises cowardice.

Fear is one of the primary subjects taught in primary and secondary schools both public and private. Teaching fear to young people is a kind of collective child abuse. We are raising a generation of paranoid neurotics. Our children are being taught, erroneously, that individuals and the environment are delicate and fragile.

A huge irony of the explosion of anxieties is that it’s occurring at a time when living has never been safer or risks been fewer. Average life expectancies are almost two-thirds longer than they were just 100 years ago. Humans have never been safer yet there is more fear and anxiety than ever before. It’s as though when legitimate risks diminish, humans have to invent new ones to replace them.

The popular energy bar company Kind has as its motto: “Do the Kind Thing—for your body, your taste buds, & the world.” The company claims that its products are “economically sustainable and socially impactful.” The following list appears on its energy bar wrappers:

• All natural/non GMO • Gluten-free • Low Glycemic • 6g protein • Good source of fiber • Very low sodium • Dairy-free • Cholesterol-free • No sugar alcohols • Ingredients you can see and pronounce • 0g trans fat

What a long list of things to worry about just for eating a candy bar! Maybe they should just say, “Eat this candy bar and you will never die and you will save the world.” By implication, traditional candy bars are nothing more than slow poison.

There’s a lot more we don’t know about diet and nutrition than we do know. For example, nutritionists have recently admitted they have been wrong about the degree of harm resulting from consuming salt, cholesterol, coffee, and fats. If you were avoiding those things, think of the fun you missed!

Those who are the most paranoid seem to know the least about the objects of their anxieties. For example, fear of genetically modified foods, glutens, and hydraulic fracturing are based almost solely on complete ignorance of these issues and gross exaggerations of the actual dangers.

Fear is the primary impetus behind the population explosion of regulations over the past several decades. It is now estimated that regulations cost the U.S. economy $1.9 trillion a year, an amount equal to about ten percent of our GDP. It is a rare regulation that does more good than harm.

A particularly insidious and widespread form of fear mongering is political correctness or PC. PC is essentially fear of words. PC stifles communication and corrupts human interaction.

The latest variation of political correctness are the so-called “trigger warnings” that are the rage on college campuses. These have been appropriately labeled by Theodore Dalrymple as “pre-traumatic stress disorder.”

Too many people are squandering their one and only chance at life worrying about imaginary anxieties that, even if true, they can do nothing about.

In regard to the environment, humans are far less important than the worriers think they are. That’s particularly true of individual humans. In the big scheme of things it’s not going to make an iota’s difference whether or not you recycle, drive a Prius, or use reusable shopping bags. If you think it does you’re kidding yourself and wasting your money, time, and brain capacity. The environment “will little note or long remember” your miniscule efforts. Relax, already!

The squandering of our one chance to live life is not, of course, a recently invented habit. Omar Khayyam was a twelfth-century poet. His immortal poem the Rubaiyat offers the following ageless wisdom:

Before the phantom of False morning died Methought a Voice within the Tavern cried, “When all the Temple is prepared within, Why nods the drowsy Worshipper outside?”…

Come, fill the cup, and in the fire of Spring Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling: The Bird of Time has but a little way To flutter—and the Bird is on the Wing.…

Oh, threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise! One thing at least is certain — This Life flies; One thing is certain and the rest is Lies; The flower that once has blown forever dies.

The title of Hank Williams last recorded song put it more colloquially: “You’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.”

You only get one chance at life. Don’t squander it fretting about things beyond your control or understanding. Love and be kind to those near you. Do your job well. Those are the ways you can actually “make a difference.”


The Worrywart Generation: The Age of Debilitating Anxieties June 11, 2015

Ron Ross Ph.D. is a former economics professor and author of The Unbeatable Market. Ron resides in Arcata, California and is a founder of Premier Financial Group, a wealth management firm located in Eureka, California. He is a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma and can be reached at

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