“I could be living the best and happiest of lives if only I were not a fool.” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe wrote in his novel ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther.’ Goethe made that self-discovery back in 1774, or at least the character of Werther did.
Or it’s possible that he didn’t write that exactly, and that’s just how the translation in my copy of the novel worked out. For the sake of this article, we will pretend that he did write that.
I have always had difficulty with having a good time on New Year’s Eve, at least in the years that I could spend it with friends. Starting a few years ago, as soon as the ball would drop on the new year, I would be overwhelmed with absolute sadness and anxiety. Am I with the right people? Am I celebrating in the right way? Am I having fun? Am I going to feel pleased with myself when I wake up? Usually, the eventual answers to those questions were a mixture of yes and no.
I’m already not one for big celebrations or holidays. I start to feel quite existential about my life, and existentialism rarely comes in handy. The useless ability to bring down a room seems to be my destined super-power. Just ask my mother, who’s had to deal with my pessimism since I was a young lad. More than a few times, I’ve worn the label of a grinch. As I’ve matured and lived a while longer, I realized that there is no benefit to being the ‘party pooper,’ another label I wore more than once.
I’m about halfway through ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther,’ and near the beginning, Goethe wrote a couple of paragraphs that drew me in closer. His character Werther goes on this thought train about the evil of ill-humour. He wrote: “… it is worst of all when young people in their prime, who might be enjoying all the pleasures life offers, ruin the few sunny days they have by pulling miserable faces, and never realize the error of their ways till it is too late to do anything about it.” As the young people today would say, I felt personally attacked. Well, not attacked but definitely exposed. This year I tried harder to have a simpler experience to enjoy New Years’.
I refrained from putting any pressure to have a perfect time and tried to let things go as they may. To maybe no one’s surprise, it worked! I had a lovely evening, surrounded by the company I enjoyed and desired. This year wasn’t the most exciting or vibrant celebration I have been a part of, and I think that was a decisive element. When the atmosphere is loud and foreign, I seem to think less about myself and more about others and consequently feel less emotion. If the atmosphere is more genuine, I have easier access to how I’m feeling and a stronger ability to control my emotions. I’ve realized that feeling pleasant emotions is all I can ever ask for; what more can I want?
In the future
I feel a tad selfish in this scenario. Putting more focus on my own emotions versus others. It’s beneficial to work on my own well-being, but if I can play a hand in benefitting others’ emotions, isn’t that a greater service? I don’t have an answer for that yet, but I’m working on it. The idea of wasting my few sunny days and pulling miserable faces out of others is the opposite of any goal I have.
From now on, I’m refusing to be the grinch or the party pooper because I have a few silly dreams to have every aspect of a celebration being perfect. I don’t even know what is necessary to make a celebration perfect. The thought that I could have been why all the past celebrations I’ve attended were not perfect has created great regret. Suppose I knew then what I know now. Let my experience be a way of understanding this dilemma; I can’t be the only one who has felt this way. I’m lucky I caught this flaw about myself now before I dampened more possible pleasant experiences.