I wonder, at this point in the new year, how many times has someone offered you a specific greeting of “Happy New Year.” Whether it be on the telephone, or at the grocery store or some other retail establishment, or at church or wherever, has someone ever wished you a “Happy New Year!”?
It has happened to all of us. And most likely, unless your middle name is “Scrooge”, you have also said the same thing to many people as you pass them by! But what does it mean?
“New Year” is obvious in its meaning – the passing from 2017 to 2018. So far this year, how many times have you mistakenly written “2017”in your checkbook or on a dated document?
But what are we saying when we wishh one another a “Happy” new year?
Emily Esfahani, in a new book released just this past year entitled The Power of Meaning, suggests that happiness has become a fruitless pursuit.
In her research, she discovered that studies on the pursuit of happiness have increased in number from a few hundred back in the 1980s to well over 10,000 as late as 2014. That interest in personal happiness has developed into a deluge of public response, ranging from the publishing of books to entrepreneurs establishing start-up companies and developing personal apps to make this pursuit a reality in people’s lives.
They were followed by a deluge of celebrities, personal coaches, and motivational speakers, all eager to share the gospel of happiness– of course, all for a price!
In fact, according to Google searches, since the beginning of this century, the interest in pursuing happiness has tripled. Esfahani quotes one author who proclaimed that, “The shortcut to anything you want in your life is to BE and FEEL happy now!”
But she goes on to say that, “And yet, there is a major problem with the happiness frenzy: it has failed to deliver on its promise. Though the happiness industry continues to grow, as a society, we’re more miserable than ever. Indeed, social scientists have uncovered a sad irony — chasing happiness actually makes people unhappy.” (Emphasis mine)
So the question for you and for me becomes, “What will make this new year a happy one?” If chasing happiness is not the answer, what is?
My wife being a runner, I am always interested in stories about running. I was intrigued to read the account of 86-year-old old Joy Johnson, a veteran of 25 New York City marathons, who died with her running shoes on.
Johnson, who was the oldest runner in the 2013 NYC marathon, fell at the 20 mile marker in the event. She crossed the finish line at about eight hours. After the race she returned to her hotel room, lay down with her shoes on, and never woke up.
Amazingly, Johnson didn’t run her first marathon until she was sixty-one years old. The only hint of the sport was the verse from Isaiah 40:31 which hung on the kitchen wall in her family farm home in rural Minnesota: “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Ironically, the career gym teacher, Johnson was a stranger to personal exercise until she took a three-mile walk in 1986. Then she started jogging and competing in 10-K races. By 1988 she had competed in her first New York City Marathon. Three years later she recorded her best time at age sixty-four with a time of 3 hours and 55 minutes.
A few years ago she told a reporter about her exercise regimen. She would wake up at 4 a.m., drink her coffee while reading her Bible, and then set out on an eight mile pre-dawn run.
“When you wake up it can either be a good day or a bad day,” Ms. Johnson said. “I always say, ‘It’s going to be a good day.’”
The devout Christian ran every day but Sunday so she could attend church. Johnson sang hymns to herself to pass the time while running. According to Johnson’s daughter, “She was always a happy runner — and besides her faith and family, this was something she loved the most.”
As I read about this remarkable lady, I am impressed with what it means to be happy and to have a “Happy New Year.”
First, waking up happy is a choice, and it is determined at the very start of the day. This lady epitomized an attitude of joy and gratitude and began each day with that spirit reigning in her heart and soul.
Second, it is never too late to start a new challenge, especially as it relates to your journey with God.
Third, the beginning of a new year is a great time to begin that challenge, and to see happiness in your soul begin anew. One of the most significant challenges in the wishing to someone of a “Happy New Year” is that the coming year would bring them closer than ever in their relationship to Christ.
Walking with Him through the challenges of the coming year is truly the only way to find true happiness!
Won’t you make that choice today?
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Times-Gazette. He is also the former Pastor of Port William UMC.