For many people this will not be a happy new year, and for many more a sense of gloom hangs over world events. If you feel this gloom yourself, how will you deal with it?
Studies have shown that the most common way of dealing with bad times is through distraction: People tend to watch a lot more TV. To this we can add the time-honored tactic of denial and passive acceptance.
But there is an alternative. Happiness comes in two forms, the kind that depends on outside circumstances and the kind that is liberated from outside circumstances. The first can be snatched away from you, the second cannot. So instead of waiting for the good times to return -- as no doubt they will -- why not make a complete switch in the kind of happiness you actually want for yourself.
I've done some research into the whole question of happiness, and even among psychologists who believe that there's a set point for a person's moods -- meaning that some people are innately more cheerful or depressed than others -- around half of the happiness you experience comes down to personal choice.
What kinds of choices add to one's happiness? Being of service, giving of yourself. Sharing your feelings. Spending time with people who inspire you an avoiding people who don't. Paying attention to building strong, loving relationships. As a society, if we devoted our energies to relationships rather than consumerism, we'd all wind up much happier.
Good as these choices are, they need to be brought together with a vision of happiness. One such vision is the one popularized among Christians as "the purpose driven life." Certainly any faith offers a vision, one that is ready made and fixed in its values. But millions of people are not satisfied with second-hand value systems, however profound and true they may be. They seek something more personal, a vision that applies to their lives and the challenges of modern existence.
Is there a vision of life that also brings the kind of happiness that cannot be taken away? I think there is, and it goes by the name of finding your true self. The world's wisdom traditions urge us all to go beyond superficial pleasures, to turn inward and find out who we really are. I can think of no better New Year's resolution than to answer the question, "Who am I?" In other words, to find happiness in gloomy times, start your own journey inward. There are dozens of ways to begin such a journey, through books, teachers, meditation, and your own inner guidance.
What it takes is desire and a focused intention. No one can walk this path for you, which is why many people would rather listen to someone they think is wiser and more experienced than themselves. But once you set out to meet your true self, which lies beneath layers of old conditioning, doubts, and beliefs, nothing is more fascinating. Countless saints and sages, both East and West, have promised that inside each of us is a core of peace. Our true selves are free from anxiety; they open the doorway to joy and fulfillment. But the only way you'll find out is to begin your own journey. I hope you will. Gloomy times are stressful for everyone, yet they also serve as a starting point for personal transformation if you set your mind to it.