Finding the “Happy” in
Happy New Year
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I suspect that if you asked people what their main goal in the new year is that somehow their answer would boil down to being happy. Resolutions represent changing factors in our lives that are obstacles to being happy. But what is the happiness that people pursue? We usually discuss happiness as a subjective category that each person fills in for themselves. We no longer have the notion that happiness is something more defined than that.
If we are created by God, He’s made us for certain purposes, and our happiness is tied up in pursuing those purposes. God has created all kinds of things that add to our happiness, but only if we engage them in the way He intended. Misuse can never lead to their ultimate purpose.
So to be happy we have to find the proper paths to it.—Melinda Penner
Happiness = His presence
A new year brings the chance of fresh possibility and promise, of goals and aspirations, and of renewal and growth. It is the chance to start again and, of course, it is hoped that the year will be filled with happiness.
Despite the revelry and festive mood, the advent of each New Year will inevitably usher in its share of sorrow and sadness. Some of our expectations will not be met. When joy and beauty are expected, a terminal diagnosis, a terrible accident, or a series of failures and disappointments decimate plans and alter any sense of “normal.” Even if there are not these drastic deconstructions, rarely does everything go “just right.” We all know, as we wish our friends and loved ones a “happy New Year,” that there will undoubtedly be disappointments as well…
At the beginning of the New Year, the wish for a “happy New Year” is far deeper than a simple saying. Rather, what is conveyed in these words are cherished imaginations of possibility and promise. And those cherished imaginations vary depending on the way in which one defines happiness. Some define happiness as a year in which everything is aligned and all goes their way. Others hope for simpler pleasures, and still others simply hope it will be a year of stepping up to the plate, finding a job, or surviving another day despite the aching hunger or aching loneliness...
Is wanting a happy New Year simply another wish for “my will to be done”?
There is a liturgical refrain that is said in many different church traditions; the pastor says, “The Lord be with you.” And the people answer, “And also with you.” It struck me as I joined in the chorus of voices singing this refrain that a key to happiness for many persons regardless of creed or faith tradition is a sense that somehow they are noticed and that they matter. There is the hope that if there is a God, God notices and cares. Especially in the most difficult circumstances, there is the need of assurance and of God’s presence with us, the desire of divine nearness throughout all the events of the year. For in each New Year there are a great many things that conspire against belief in God’s presence, and a creeping atheism can overtake many a person of faith.
Given that each New Year will undoubtedly bring happiness and also hold its share of heartache and sorrow, wishing for the presence of God to be made manifest seems a necessary complement to the ubiquitous, yet often generic, wish for happiness. Happy is the year—regardless of what may come or what the year may hold—in which the presence of Emmanuel, God with us, is felt.—Margaret Manning1
Leveraging dissatisfaction for growth
To one degree or another, just about all of us are dissatisfied with ourselves and our circumstances—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A certain amount of dissatisfaction is necessary if we’re ever going to make progress. To become all that we can be, we must dream of being more than we are. The problem is, too many of us stop there, in the dream stage. Why do you suppose that is?
More often than not, it’s because we don’t think we have what it takes to turn our dreams into reality. And we’re usually right about that. We can make some changes by sheer willpower or working harder, like reaching a new sales quota or dropping a dress or pants size. But what about the bigger changes, the changes inside that we know would make us so much happier and enable us to truly make a difference in our corner of the world? It’s that kind of change that is usually most elusive.
Jesus summed it up so simply when He said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”2 The secret lies in putting ourselves in God’s hands and letting Him do the impossible for us and through us and sometimes in spite of us. We’re small and weak and incapable, but there is a very big and strong and capable God always present to help us to make those “impossible” changes in us.—Keith Phillips
Is happiness really attainable? It is a question many have sought to answer—debated in philosophy halls, whispered about at slumber parties, promised in innumerable marketing campaigns—and particularly at the turn of a new year. Our countless approaches to pursuing happiness are as diverse as our many definitions of the word. But what if the attainability of happiness is intimately connected to our answer to another question? Namely, what is the source of your greatest enjoyment in life? In other words, could there be a connection between your worldview and your capacity to experience happiness?
In a significant study, Armand Nicholi, professor of clinical psychiatry at Harvard University, compared the life and work of Sigmund Freud to that of C. S. Lewis. Each cultural giant was recognized for the remarkable accuracy with which he observed human emotion and experience. And yet, each man defined and experienced happiness in strikingly different manners, through radically different worldviews.
Freud’s experience and understanding of happiness emerged as fundamental to his materialist understanding of the world. He observed happiness to be “a problem of satisfying a person’s instinctual wishes.” Consequently, the possibility of attaining happiness was met with pessimism. Freud recognized that the human appetite is never fully satisfied. … Sadly, Freud’s life itself reflected his definition of happiness. His letters were increasingly filled with pessimism and depression, even mentioning drug use as the only effective mood-lifter he could find.
What makes C. S. Lewis a fascinating point of comparison is that like Freud, he too was intensely pessimistic about the possibilities of happiness early in life. And yet as emphasized by many biographers and close friends, his life was profoundly transformed in his early thirties, following a dramatic shift in worldview. … Happiness, for Lewis, could not ultimately be met in the material. As he found himself approaching a worldview shaped by something beyond the material, Lewis first thought he was coming to a place, an idea, and found instead that he came to a Person, one within the material world and also beyond and behind it. In fact, it was the surprise of finding a Person that first redefined the notion of happiness for him—happiness from within this source of joy that marked his life even during times of pain and loss.
In this new year of potential promise, ultimate sources of happiness may be as worth considering as each possible option or hopeful resolution. The psalmist writes of a creator as a source within and beyond the material. “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” There may well be a connection between our capacity for happiness and our understanding of life. In the Christian view, Christ stands in flesh and blood calling you nearer that your joy may be transformed by a present and enduring love.—Jill Carattini
Published on Anchor January 2019. Read by Gabriel Garcia Valdivieso.
Music by Michael Dooley.