I would like to begin by wishing everyone a blessed New Year. While I am a few days late, the new year 2013 is just beginning, and we still have a long way to go. So a greeting at this point is not altogether untimely. I am avoiding the usual cliché of wishing everyone a “happy” New Year, simply because that terms evokes something so ephemeral and elusive that it threatens to lose any significant meaning through an almost mindless and constant repetition. Certainly, the word “happy” has a meaning that it easily understood and shared by all, for we all share emotional, social and cultural expectations and perceptions that allow for a common discourse regarding our goals and ideals. Otherwise, we would not be able to communicate effectively. But when questioned for clarification, perhaps it is then that the elusiveness behind the concept of happiness becomes more apparent and our definitions become more uncertain. Are we “happy” when we get everything that we want? Would “having it all” make us truly happy? Would winning one of those gigantic lotteries exponentially increase our level of happiness beyond the conceivable? Or, are we happy when we manage to avoid any calamities or tragedies? Does a life free of hardship or heartbreak render us happy? Put another way, are we happy when we experience pleasure and avoid pain? Just how happy can we be when others around us are suffering or experiencing tragedy? Can you be happy when someone close to you is unhappy? Not easy questions to answer, I believe.
In a provocative essay by the Polish philosopher, Leszek Kokakowski, titled “Is God Happy?” the author strikes a blow to those who may equate their success with genuine happiness, however we define that term:
There are, of course, people who consider themselves happy because they are successful: healthy and rich, lacking nothing, respected (or feared) by their neighbors. Such people might believe that their life is what happiness is. But this is merely self-deception; and even they, from time to time, at least, realize the truth. And the truth is that they are failures like the rest of us.
The term “blessed” – much more biblical and with a deeper resonance – calls to mind a relationship with God. We are blessed by God, and we bless God in return: “Bless the Lord, O my soul! Blessed art Thou, O Lord!” We need only to recall the Beatitudes spoken by Christ. But the Beatitudes tell us that those who are blessed are so because they are “meek;” because they “mourn;” that they “hunger and thirst after righteousness;” and that they are blessed because they are “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” Not exactly what is on the mind of most people when that glittering ball dropped in New York’s Times Square! When all the kissing ended and toasts had been made, and when all the confetti had landed and the balloons had popped, a question inexorably forced itself upon the festive gathering: Now what? Perhaps that is why countless people are really quite un-happy. Looking in the wrong place makes the search for happiness a rather unattainable—and even unsatisfying—pursuit. Because happiness is such an ephemeral experience with a “here today, gone tomorrow” quality about it, after many years one can become discouraged or cynical due to its impermanence. All the promises implied by the “pursuit of happiness” may never be quite delivered. And that can cause a reaction filled with disappointment or discontent. By resisting the blessedness that comes from a Source beyond the temporal and passing quality of daily life, we could be missing the “one thing needful” that brings blessedness to our lives. To be blessed is to seek a “quality of life” marked by greater depth and permanence. It cannot be taken away by an unforeseen accident or even tragedy. This is because blessedness is God-sourced.
Now, of course, no one in his or her right mind will ever wish to be unhappy, for no one wishes to be more-or-less miserable. If happiness is what we are seeking, there are countless moments in life when we experience that happiness – together with joy, contentment, deep satisfaction, perhaps even a certain ecstasy. Life yields so many wonderful possibilities for such deeply sought-after experiences. For many, it is those experiences that “keep us going,” so to speak. And for many, life is the pursuit of connecting those moments ever more closely. That may be true for all human beings at all times, but for Christians, those experiences are again deepened by and through a living faith in the living God. Such experiences are good in and of themselves, but they also offer a foretaste of a far deeper reality: “But as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’” [1 Corinthians 2:9-10]. I believe, then, that if we are seeking to have a “blessed” New Year, then what we are seeking is to become closer to God and to grow in our relationship with Him. It is to look beyond the superficial enticements that pose as true happiness for more challenging but much more satisfying relationships and accomplishments within the very human spheres of our daily lives. Our resolutions would then be active attempts at true repentance. When all is said and done, it is truly blessed to put God above all.
Again, I wish one and all a Happy—rather, a Blessed!—New Year!!!