“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue”  
-Dr. Viktor Frankl

If ever there was a year to wish one another, “Happy New Year,” that would seem to be this year. Recapping the headaches and heartaches is beyond redundant at this point. You know what they are. You lived them and are still living them. And these days, happy is not a term I hear being batted around.

In every area, 2020 will go down as a year of many things, but happiness will not be at the top of the list.

Remember the good ole days; a time not that long ago when we were all humming and clapping that annoyingly addictive song, “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams: 

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you know what happiness is to you

Because I’m happy

Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do (hey)

Ya, that’s what I want to do. That’s what everyone I know wants to do. And you know what? If 2021 is anything like the prior year, we could clap till 2022 and all we’ll have is hand-aches to add to the list of headaches and heartaches – cause we ain’t happy. 

Let me tell you about some amazing people whom I guide (names changed) and definitely aren’t clapping along these days, because they aren’t happy:

  • Take, for instance, a woman named Claire whose husband died recently due to COVID complications. Claire definitely ain’t clapping along cause as happiness isn’t her truth.
  • Or how about Joe? Joe lost his job this year as he was in the restaurant business. He’s got a wife and daughter, and not so happy clappy these days.
  • Then there’s Jenny. She is in a time of deep darkness. She is a senior who lives alone, an extrovert who loves to be with people, and is struggling with loneliness and depression: no time with the grandkids, no visits with friends, no social interaction at all. 

But here’s the truth. Although each of them had a year from hell, and are anything but happy, interestingly, each one is stronger, more powerful and though not living a better life than 2019, nonetheless are living good lives today.

That’s because each of them has stopped pursuing happiness and instead focused on goodness. 

In the words of Dr. Viktor Frankl, in his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, 

Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.

Sure, happiness is nice. It’s something they want, we all want. But it is just that, a want not a need.  And in some ways 2020 simply made clear what they knew all along – the pursuit of happiness is a futile cause. 

Here’s why. 

Happiness is a feeling. It’s something that happens to us. It is fleeting and fickle, and it takes very little for it to tell us to f-off and take off. 

Goodness, however, is not necessarily something we feel, it’s something we do. It’s something that is grounded, enduring, and unwavering. Most of all, goodness, unless happiness, is ours to decide.

People are happy depending on the circumstances. 

People are good by choice. It’s something that is yours to do, to determine, and to hold onto, regardless of the shit storms life brings your way.

You can know goodness even as everything is stripped from your life. 

You can set a good example regardless, or especially, when experiencing injustice, betrayal or suffering.

You can demonstrate goodness until your last, dying breath.

Hoping for happiness, striving for happiness, holding happiness out as the benchmark to be achieved in the new year leaves us victims of circumstance, powerless in our storms, and ultimately empty in the end. 

Goodness however, having a good year, making it a good year, pursuing goodness in this new year, that is in our power and what makes us powerful – just like Claire, Joe and Jenny.

When we devote ourselves to something bigger than ourselves, when we dedicate ourselves to others we may or may not know happiness, but we will always and forever know goodness. It’s ours. No one can take it away, and we may not feel happy, but we definitely feel powerful, while doing it. 

Okay, fine Pharrell. The damn song is stuck in my head, but if I’m gonna sing it, I’m singing it my way:

Clap along if you feel like goodness is the truth

Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do (hey)!

Goodness, not happiness, is the truth and that’s what each of us needs, not wants, to do. 

May this be a year of the pursuit of goodness, and yes, a year where happiness ultimately ensues. 

Have A Good New Year!