‘Happy’ New Year?

 

Over the last month I have said ‘Happy New Year’ to a lot of people as,  I am sure,  you have too. But surely this phrase begs the question: what does it mean to be ‘happy’? Measuring happiness, or ‘well-being’ as it’s often referred to has become increasingly popular in the last few years. Governments try to measure the well-being of the nation, usually from a fiscal perspective. However, by their own admission the ONS (Office for National Statistics) ‘is exploring existing indicators and datasets that measure societal wellbeing beyond economic growth.’1 Companies, particularly with larger workforces, have to put resources into making sure the well-being of their employees is promoted, realising that this often boosts productivity.  Schools in recent years and at curriculum level have been encouraged to nurture physical, emotional and spiritual well-being in pupils. There seems to be an increasing awareness of the many components that go towards making us happy, yet has there been any discernible increase in happiness?

 

Of course, happiness and well-being are not necessarily the same thing. Well-being, particularly in the aforementioned scenarios, might be defined as a state of being financially comfortable, of achieving an agreed level of physical and mental health, and of having the liberty to pursue opportunities free from abuse, discrimination or persecution. And yet some of the ‘happiest’ people I have known have also been some of the poorest, or those who genuinely fear for their lives. I recall the Zambians who extended heartfelt hospitality amidst abject poverty, or the displaced peoples in Myanmar, such as the Karen who my father visited, ever ready to laugh, smile and give thanks to God, despite the acts of genocide being perpetrated against them. It seems that well-being alone does not guarantee happiness.

 

The reason for this is that our ability to be happy is entirely governed by our own attitudes towards life. It’s the age old ‘glass half full or half empty’ analogy. How we perceive the situations we find ourselves in relies heavily on having a good attitude towards life. So what is a good attitude towards life? One teaching that many religious traditions share is that life itself should be seen as a gift.  In this school of thought life is not purely accidental, but is intentional and manifestly purposeful. That we are, to a greater or lesser degree depending on circumstances, creative beings capable of forming purpose and meaning, is an immensely valuable gift. Yet our attitude must be orientated that way in order for us to see it that way. In order to be happy, one must choose to be happy. ‘Count your blessings’ is a saying that comes to mind – it requires a predisposition of attitude towards weighing the positives above the negatives, the good above the bad, the blessings above the curses.

 

So once again, may I wish you a Happy New Year. I pray that throughout 2012 we will celebrate all those glimmers of happiness which come from being created and nurtured by our ever-loving God.

 

God bless, Tim