This may initially strike you as bland, nonspecific and a bit sentimental. But bear with me, please.
Granted, in part this wish displays my altruistic side. But the lion's share of it springs from my snarkier and more discouraged nature. I look around and see us abusing, controlling and taking advantage of one another, and I know happy people don't behave like that. They have no need to.
In short, looking around at modern society, I have concluded that we are suffering from a severe happiness shortage.
Here are some thoughts I'll employ for finding my own happiness in the new year. I don't know to what extent anyone else will adopt them or how much happiness they'll find, but I can just about guarantee these ideas won't make folks any less happy than they are right now.
No more excuses: My life is a combination of welcome and unwelcome factors. What a surprise, right? Just like everyone else in the human club. Since this is consistently true, I've decided it's a bad excuse for being unhappy. It stuns me how long I postponed happiness for some nebulous moment in the future when all my ducks would be in a row. Obviously I didn't know ducks very well. As it turns out, quack happens. So my (admittedly challenging) personal quest is to be happy now. Anyway. No excuses.
I've found great freedom in being happy "in spite of" rather than "because of" life circumstances. "Because of" puts happiness squarely out of my reach, leaving me at the mercy of events beyond my control. "In spite of" is mine any time I care to reach for it.
Let others misbehave: Possibly my greatest freedom from suffering came in the form of allowing others to misbehave. I used to be an angry driver. Now I know that, though certain fellow motorists should indeed learn to drive, it's not my role to teach them. I remind myself that I know there are bad drivers in the world, so I should not be too surprised to encounter one. It was my need to change that person that used to cause stress. Dropping it feels heavenly. And, by the way, dropping the need to change others had no real-world effect on anything but my stress level, because I was never able to change others anyway. Why do you think it's so stressful? Impossible tasks always are.
Need less: Happy people don't acquire more. They need less. Simplicity is a good match with happiness. The blind collecting of "things" seems intended to fill a gaping hole in our happiness. I've tried it. I'm amazed by how long it took me to notice it never works.
Look at the long term: Happy people don't reach for short-term pleasure if it only causes more pain in the long run. But that was me, almost 22 years ago, as a practicing addict and alcoholic. In recovery, I've found the maturity to invest in my life long term. And it pays big dividends every year.
Happiness first: In the past, I made New Year's resolutions and didn't keep them. I vowed to eat better, so I could be thinner, convinced that if only I were thinner, I'd be happier. But I had it backward. First I got happier. Then I got thinner.
If you're not sure how to do this, here's a hint: Search in the bonds between you and any other being -- your spouse, your dog or your waitress at breakfast. Relationships seem to hold the key.
And, whatever you do, don't try to find it in any moment but this one. Happiness is hiding in plain sight. Check the now.
Happy New Year.
Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of 16 published and forthcoming books, including the novels "Jumpstart the World," "Love in the Present Tense," "Becoming Chloe" and "Pay It Forward," which was translated into 23 languages and chosen by the American Library Association for its Best Books for Young Adults list. Read her blog on Red Room.
My Wish for 2011 -- An AOL News Year-End Special
We asked a dozen top writers to share their wishes for the New Year. Click on any headline to read what they hope will happen in 2011.
- Better TV News – By Barry W. Lynn
- A Better World for My Daughter – By G. Willow Wilson
- More Companies That Don't Suck – By Dave Logan
- More Progress for Women – By Talia Carner
- A Just Transition to Clean Energy – By Jeff Biggers
- Closing the Happiness Gap – By Catherine Ryan Hyde
- Honor for the Kalahari Bushmen – By James G. Workman
- The Courage to Ask Questions – By Sonya Huber
- More Adoptions – By Brett Battles
- A Smile, Freely Given – By J.T. Ellison
- We Stop Kicking the Can Down the Road – By Rebecca York
- A Better Next Decade – Kate Clinton