Happy New Year. There, I said it, and you heard it.
How many times has that happened over the past few days? Who can count? Even strangers in the park wish me a happy new year. We say it without thinking, a greeting by rote, bred somewhere in our response genes.
But truly, 365 days of happiness? Think about it. Is that what we truly would wish for ourselves or for others?
Now, a Happy New Year’s Day, that is something I could embrace. Even if we can’t define happiness, we can list the things that would make us unhappy – illness, violence, loneliness, despair, loss., disappointment, worry A long list. One blissful day, without anything getting in the way of the happy spot in your psyche, when you experience that glorious sense that you are one with the universe: that I could, and do, wish you. And myself.
But 365 days of that would be a rather bland diet. One could only achieve it by being completely mindless. I will not go so far as to say that the secret of happiness is stupidity, but no intelligent person could go through life completely happy all the time. To do that, we would have to be unaware of what is going on around us, live in a cocoon in which all that matters is the satisfaction of, not just our needs, but our wants, without any regard for others.
Of course, there are some people who lack the capacity to be happy. You could wish them an hour, a day or a year of it, it wouldn’t make any difference. When that butterfly of bliss lands on their shoulder their first response is suspicion, who sent this, and why? Is it real, a trick?
There are others who, no matter what they have or are given –be it material things, love, respect, success — they will constantly fret about the element that is perceived to be missing — nothing is ever quite enough, perfect enough, someone else has more.
When happiness seems to elude us, perhaps it is because we get in its way. The first response of too many people is to immediately start to worry about how long this will last, or whether they deserve it. By the time why have answered those questions, happiness has flitted by.
Others have been unhappy so long that misery is an addiction. They wallow in their distress, this is the role in the play they have chosen, they have acted that part so long they don’t know how to do anything else, don’t want to be any other way. If they could wake up one morning happy, they wouldn’t recognize themselves.
Others are muddled about what happiness is. I live in a city where I see a lot of unhappy, mouths-turned-down-faces, hear a lot of perpetually whiny voices listing the cause of their distress and it seems to me that, too often, we equate happiness with getting our own way. And you know what the sages say about that — be careful what you wish for, there are more tears shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.
Even when personal happiness is not based on something so selfish, when it is the result of a truly joyous event, falling in love, getting married, having a baby, having your efforts or the accomplishments of others recognized, happiness is a temporary condition. The love will be interrupted by periods of jealousy or anger or being out of love; the marriage will have its downs as well as its ups, the baby will cry all night, success is rarely, if ever, a steady upward climb and does not promise to be faithful. Winning the lottery means discovering a lot of relatives you’ll wish you hadn’t met. This is life.
But let us suppose that a year of happiness is possible: surely the result would be to devalue it? If we felt that surge of euphoria every moment, would we appreciate it?
So, let me amend my first sentence. I will wish you an occasional day of total happiness, and a year in which you are, for the most part, if not happy, content. In the end, that may be the more satisfactory state of mind.