Once it was "Have a nice day." Now it's "Have a great day." Nice was not good enough. If you're not having an E Pluribus Unum, eye-popping, mind-boggling, world-beating day, there's something wrong. You're not trying hard enough.
You ought to be having the time of your life 24 hours a day. Each successive moment should be a peak experience. The Declaration of Independence requires you to pursue happiness like an insatiable predator with foam dripping from your jaws. Drive life into the corner and suck its marrow out. Wring the turnip until it screams. There's got to be another drop of blood.
That's the Great Day theory. But truth is that most of us would be happy to make it through the day without getting drawn and quartered at the office or shot at by someone in the grip of road rage on the way home. A quiet day without having your ear drums burst by someone else's boom box. One day without a heart attack, a flat tire or bubble gum stuck to the soles of your shoes.
So think twice about wishing someone a "Happy New Year." The galleries of sorrow are filled with wretches who crashed and burned chasing happiness with too much greed and lust. Consider using the device of litotes in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary and pronounce when the clock strikes 12: "Have a not unhappy New Year."
Spurn all desires, that's the key to happiness according to great sages. If you don't want anything you can't lack anything. If you have nothing you can't suffer any loss. Happiness lies in the extinction of the self. Thus the custodians of wisdom instruct us. So, drop dead. Just kidding, of course.
But, seriously, isn't there something unbearable about people who beam and exclaim "Great!" when you ask them how they are? It's a form of aggression, a smug, peacock display, a boasting: "I'm doing better than you."
For some reason, public displays of exuberance dampen my spirits rather than lift them. The bumper sticker promoting "random acts of kindness" provokes me almost to violence. Whereas the grimmest of texts produce within the dank sarcophagous of my soul a little flicker of delight.
When I drive up the hill that leads to Baldwin, I pass a sign that reads: "We are all unclean and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." That's the kind of sentiment that warms the cockles of my heart.
Let me also share the thrilling words of Jorge Luis Borges, which I find apt on the threshold of a New Year: "Our days are a web of petty miseries and is there a greater blessing than to be the ashes of which oblivion is made?"
By comparison, inspirational messages such as "Today is the first day of the rest of your life," plunge me into the abyss of despair.
Freud said that the aim of psychotherapy was to get people over their neuroses so that they could attain the state of normal unhappiness. The idea that each of us is entitled to perfect bliss, that a jackpot lies at the end of each spin of fortune's wheel, puts an intolerable pressure on our days and is a cruel hoax. Disappointment is the destination of most human beings. Acceptance of failure is a liberation and a salve.
"You can do anything you want to," said the guru of "Positive Thinking," Norman Vincent Peale. Yes, but if you don't want to do anything that's all right too.
These insights into the human condition may lead you to suspect that I'm just another miserable basketcase looking for sympathy or a hand out, but you'd be very wrong, my friend.
Thanks to boundless energy and prodigious talents, I've actually grasped the grail of genuine happiness. I have climbed over the backs of weaker sorts to pile up the kind of superfluous possessions most men only dream about. No need to wish me a "Great Day." I'll have a Great Day whether you like it or not. Just try to get in my way.
Do you like that kind of talk? Would you like to join me at the mountain top and become the kind of Successful Person that makes others burn with envy? The secrets are simple and they can be yours. Just sign over all your assets to me. You'll laugh when you look back and see how paltry they were.
Do you have the courage to take more than your share and to become a self-satisfied bully like me? If so, I wish you the Happiest New Year that money can buy.
George Gurley, a resident of rural Baldwin, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.