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Hakuna Matata: No Passing Craze

Updated on November 23, 2017

Hakuna Matata: no passing craze

Hakuna Matata: no passing craze

Hannah Terejko, Department of Biology & Department of Outdoor Recreation, Parks & Tourism, Lakehead University

Photo cred: Hannah TBay
Photo cred: Hannah TBay

What does hakuna matata mean? Why is it so important?

Hakuna Matata – it means no worries. This well-known Kiswahili phrase, translated as “no problem” (Van Acker, Oostrom, Rath, & de Kemp, 1999), was brought to Western culture through song in the much-adored Disney movie, The Lion King (Hahn, Minkoff, & Allers, 1994). This isn’t a phrase most people think about too much as they go about their busy days. With the fast-paced society that most of us live in, stress in various forms becomes unavoidable. Deadlines, grades, bills, social events, getting dinner on the table, interviews, travels, natural disasters, health, safety, shelter – though experience with these factors differs between individuals, these are stresses that may become a part of everyday life for most people. Stress and worry seems inevitable – no one can avoid it completely, but it can be managed and reduced. People may have many strategies to manage stress and improve mental health, but one of the most important steps to take is changing your mindset and attitude towards stress. Having a positive mindset is achievable and one of the most beneficial steps towards improving mental health, and on a large scale can help more than just the individual. Having the right mindset and attitude can make a huge difference in life, but one can stray too far off course if there is a misunderstanding of how to deal with a situation. Hakuna matata – what a wonderful phrase, if it is used properly.

“Oh yes, the past can hurt. But from the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.”

— Rafiki, "The Lion King" (Hahn, Minkoff, & Allers, 1994)

What we learn from Disney's "The Lion King"

Take a look at Disney’s The Lion King (Hahn, Minkoff, & Allers, 1994). Timon and Pumbaa, Simba’s new friends, teach Simba a phrase they live by – Hakuna matata. Outcasts, they had been living by this phrase, completely unaware of the happenings outside of their own paradise. Simba joins these two, living care free and leaving behind his responsibility to take his place as king upon the tragic death of his father. The pride of lions he was to rule then came under the power of his evil uncle, causing tremendous suffering. Simba, living by Timon and Pumbaa’s “problem-free philosophy” (Hahn, Minkoff, & Allers, 1994) seemed to have been living his life peacefully and at ease, having no worries. While Simba was turning a cold shoulder to his past, his friends and family were in anguish. So, is hakuna matata really a good mindset to have?


What is the true message?

It can be argued that Simba misused this phrase, the message getting lost when he began to ignore his responsibilities back home and give no care. This is where one must be careful – do not let this no-worries lifestyle lead to having and giving no care. It is important to understand that having no worries is not the equivalent of having no cares. Not caring about personal or societal crises is not goal of hakuna matata. As mentioned in an article about street children in Nairobi, we should not be saying “hakuna matata” to street children and poverty issues just because it may not be an issue that directly affects many of us (Van Acker et al, 1999). These issues matter greatly and require attention and action.

Here’s the dilemma: when it comes to an issue you care about, it is nearly impossible to avoid stress and worry – you can’t have no concern about something you care about. This is where it is all about understanding how mindset can manipulate stress and allow a whole other view on a certain situation. One may take a negative approach and look at how an unfortunate situation is making their life worse, focusing on everything that has gone wrong and where it has put them. But then there is a positive approach. Looking at what has happened, learning from it and putting in the past, and then doing something about it to move forward. Let worries from the past go since it cannot be changed, and do not let worries for the future block your path, because it is in your hands to prevent issues from occurring. Where action can be taken, take it. Where action is not possible, keep searching for a solution and have hope. Bob Marley, icon of reggae music and Rastafarianism, so many times has encouraged hope, peace and activism through his music. For example, his song Three Little Birds quite literally tells us not to worry, that everything will be alright (Marley, 1977). In general, from him we learn that when we are in a tough spot in life, we should look on the bright side and have hope. When situations are out of our hands, worries and negativity are only a waste of time and energy. So, have hope, let it create a positive mindset when nothing else can be done. While having faith for the future cannot serve as functional if action is not taken to fulfill it, hope is the beginning of the positivity required for action to take place.

Climbing the ladder: benefits from small to large scale

Let’s see where a positive mindset can take us. It starts on an individual basis, but with enough action and sharing of this mindset, real change can be made.

  • On an individual level, a positive mindset leads us to improved mental health and happiness, lifting our spirits and allowing room for hope. A positive outlook on stress can enhance our motivation to create and work towards personal goals (Achor, 2012).

  • Motivation and positivity of an individual can be shared with others, taking the benefits beyond a purely personal level. If an individual is positively motivated, it is very likely that they can spread this positive thinking to their family, friends, and coworkers. Someone with a positive attitude and motivation is bound to be more supportive of those who need a more motivated outlook. As motivation spreads, people are more able to get on the same level and work together to reach common goals. For example, a motivated, positive boss will make for happier, determined employees by spreading motivation. This work team will be more successful at reaching goals with their combined raise in productivity due to positivity and healthy minds (Achor, 2012).

  • In an even larger scale, groups of people with these positive outlooks and high determination can come together to create change, in some cases on an international or even global scale. This accumulation of potential for positive change all stems from the individuals positive outlook. Things just need to be taken one step at a time.

Photo cred: Hannah TBay
Photo cred: Hannah TBay

Managing stress and practicing positive thinking

Of course, without set backs and a bit of stress, there would be no pressure to act. Action is only taken when needed, and when there is enough care and concern for one to do so. Thus, while stress is un avoidable, it can be managed and taken in a positive way to create great success from any situation.

Many people have strategies to manage stress levels, which can include anything from regular exercise to meditation, or a mix of multiple practices. Students attend non-related stress-buster events during exams as a way of giving their minds a break from work, whereas those struggling with their mental health may use counselling services to deal directly with the root issue. While these are great ways to reduce the already impacting stress, we need strategies to prevent a large impact from stress. We need to practice having a positive mindset, so it slowly becomes easier and more natural or automatic. As explained in Achor’s article, there are small acts we can do daily, even at school or work, to improve our outlook on stress and general content with our lives (Achor, 2012). Apart from exercise and meditation, small daily tasks focusing on positivity greatly improved the mental health of the workers. The other tasks included writing down a few things they were grateful for, a short journal entry on the most meaningful part of their day, and writing a positive note to someone in their social support network (Achor, 2012). These few simple tasks were enough to improve their general life satisfaction, and are things most anyone can put to practice.

Even before stress has the chance to affect someone, practicing positive thinking can greatly benefit you. If stress does occur, then having a positive outlook can drastically change the effect is has on you. Remember, hakuna matata.


Journal Articles

Achor, S. (2012). Positive intelligence. Harvard Business Review, 90(1), 100-102.

Van Acker, J., Oostrom, B., Rath, B., & de Kemp, R. (1999). Street children in

Nairobi: Hakuna matata? Journal of Community Phsycology, 27(4), 393–404.


Hahn, D. (Producer), Minkoff, R. (Director), & Allers, R. (Director). (1994). The

Lion King [Motion Picture]. United States: Walt Disney Pictures.

Recorded Music

Marley, B. (1977). Three little birds. [Recorded by B. Marley and the Wailers]. On

Exodus [Vinyl]. London, England: Island.

Tell me what you think!

What did you think about hakuna matata?

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    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      14 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      When I first saw the movie, The Lion King, the Hakuna Matata song reminded me of the hippies of the 70’s. They took their rejection of Society a bit to the extreme. Since then, my life experiences have taught me that there is a time and a place for that mentality. For Simba, it allowed his mind and spirit to heal. He would have lost his life had he returned home as a lion cub. Staying away gave him time to grow to maturity. When the time was right for him to return, he did so, enabling good to triumph in the end. When we are stressed to the point of ill health, we have to step back for a time, allow ourselves some Hakuna Matata, reasses, regroup, and come back with new eyes to see things differently. Then, we can make those decisions that allow us to manage our stress successfully.


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