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Since midnight last night, the expression ‘Happy New Year‘ would have been said and heard over and over. We will hear it for a few weeks in this month, after which it will disappear until December, when it will be preceded by the expression, “We wish you a merry Christmas.” Don’t be surprised if in saying ‘Happy New Year‘ to someone you get the response, “Happy New Year my foot!”
The fact is that the expression stirs negative emotions in many people. However, there are different ways to look at this expression, though to my mind only one of those ways really makes sense.
In the first place, people use this expression as a greeting, in the same way people say ‘compliments of the season’. For them there is no particular meaning behind the saying. It is the way of saying hello in early January. It is to January what ‘bless you’ is to a sneeze.
It is an occasional expression that simply fills a void when there is nothing else to say. It is a verbal fashion that is analogous to wearing red during Christmas to match the leaves of the red poinsettia. For these people, ‘Happy New Year‘, might well be ‘Happy ground hog day’. It is just something people say.
It is neither indicative of any particular belief about happiness nor any particular philosophy of time. When ‘Happy New Year‘ is simply a greeting, its non-use subtracts nothing from the value or meaning of life and its use only adds words. However, if we regard its use as more than merely using words, then it is more than just a ‘hello’, which leads to the second way in which we might understand the saying ‘Happy New Year‘.
A SINCERE WISH
‘Happy New Year‘ is a sincere wish that the year brings happiness. As wishful thinking, it is a suggestion that our fortunes are ‘in the stars’ and that all we can do is to wish that the coming events will work out in our favour.
Many people in fact live with this kind of captivity to the horoscope, biting their nails and crossing their fingers in the hope that the crystal ball will bring them good news; that the dice will bring them good luck. Now, there is in principle nothing bad about wishing someone good luck. However, while it is one thing to recognise that we can’t control certain events, it is quite another thing to try to wish problems away or to try to wish happiness into being.
Experience has taught us that the things that work against our happiness are not affected by good wishes. If good wishes could make a real difference to the crime and poverty that are threatening to overwhelm us, for example, then we would all be ‘grinning teeth’.
Therefore, as civil as it might be to wish someone a happy New Year, we must admit that it smacks of hollowness, unless, of course, we are prepared to add something else to our good wishes.
It means that as people, firms, committees and boards of institutions we cannot afford to be mindless or naïve about the consequences of our decisions, which might cause untold unhappiness for others and lead to a truly unhappy year. Happy New Year to you!