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Happy New Year

Sukesh Shekar | Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It is a vast, uninterrupted expanse of white outside. The snow is falling, but the cold lake is still.

My apartment is quiet, absent the ticking clock and my typing fingers.

There are no cars moving outside.

I am sitting alone in the cordiality of my couch, but I don’t feel lonely because my thoughts are keeping me company.

I am happy. It’s a calming sensation, one of serenity and satisfaction, but I have no one to share it with. Why would I? The clock reads 2:31 p.m. on a hoary Jan. 2 afternoon. South Bend is enshrined in 12 inches of snow, and I in it.

Although this moment is a solitary instance in time, this year alone constitutes 31,622,400 seconds. In how many of those moments will I get to touch upon happiness again?

Undoubtedly, there will be birthdays, parties brimming with laughter, new travels, sundresses to admire, graduations and weddings to celebrate and a smattering of accomplishments: good grades, published papers and encouraging research results.

Thoreau says there is no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of a man to elevate himself by conscious endeavor. Nevertheless, to what end are these human endeavors?

If one of David Eagleman’s alternate universes were true, in which the supreme arbiter were to reorder the events of this year, such that I live out each of my endeavors one at a time.

I would receive my allotted 468 seconds of pure unadulterated joy all at once, I would hibernate for four months and attend class for eight days. I would study unremittingly for two weeks, eat non-stop for 10 days, expend three days writing papers, 16 days procrastinating, two and a half days showering, three days dancing, and 7.6 days on Facebook.

I would go on dates for 41 hours and kiss for 61 minutes.

I would tell bad jokes for eight hours and smile for 30. Seven hours would elapse standing in line for lunch, another 15 stopped at traffic lights, eight and a half hours shopping at the Gap, 13 days at the gym, 33 hours watching ND football, another 54 tailgaiting, an entire day in a hangover, six days reading books, two months researching in lab, 27 hours brushing my teeth and perhaps a few moments imagining how wonderful life would be if I did not have to go through these events in order.

If I could fashion my own attitude, would joy become more accessible in my quotidian life?

There is a fable of a stonecutter who was unhappy because he undertook hard labor for meager wages. He thought he would be happy if he were king. How wonderful it would be to be king, a gold throne instead of this drudgery!

He transformed into the king, but as he was being carried on his throne, the sun beamed in his eye.

He said the sun is more powerful than the king and his star was born. He became lamp of the earth, in all places but one, where a cloud blocked his light. He thought the cloud has more clout than the sun and transformed into the cloud. When he was the cloud, the rain left him and nourished the earth.

He said the rain was more powerful than the cloud, so he wished to be rain. He came down as rain, quenched the parched soil and turned into a river.

The river came upon a stone that would not erode. He wanted to become the invincible stone and converted into it. When he was stone, a powerful stonecutter came along and cut him. He wished to be a stonecutter once again.

His wish came true one last time and he was a stonecutter at long last, but this time he was happy.

This year comprises 366 sunrises, 13 full moons and one Sadie Hawkins day. I wonder how many sunrises will I wake up to greet.

How many times will I laugh uncontrollably with friends? How many times will I walk past a patch of daffodils, stop and take the time to smell them?

The stone cutter became the artificer of his own happiness, perhaps we can too.

Often, I have been duped into a farce of happiness only awaiting on the horizon.

But the art of being happy is not a distant goal in the future; it is a state of mind in the present.

Every human enterprise is directed toward happiness in some regard. We do not seek happiness for the sake of something else; however, we seek so much, without sufficient regard, for the sake of happiness. Utopian as it may seem, I wanted to wish you a happy New Year with the knowledge that the unequivocal opportunity for happiness exists in each moment that this year encompasses. Let happiness happen!

Sukesh Shakar is a graduate student living off campus. He can be reached at sshekar@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.