Warning – these are my own reflections and not opinions I derived from anyone else. We can agree to disagree.
It’s the eve of Chinese New Year. Families are gathered around tables brimming with delicacies, busily smacking their lips and rubbing their full bellies. The rare evening of the year that people gather to celebrate a one-ness that is made possible only by the ties of blood. Ties of patrilineal blood, the tiny voice of anthropology in me cries.
I’m thinking of what everyone is saying, wishing to each other and to themselves. Huat ah. I see on Facebook statuses and posts. We’re eager to usher in the new year with catchy phrases and sayings. Do we really mean what we say? Do we even bother to mean what we say?
Huat ah. Gong xi fa cai. Nian nian you yu. They sound good to the ears, I will admit. Who doesn’t want wealth? Who doesn’t want to prosper? The more I thought about these popular new year wishes though, the more I felt uncomfortable hearing them escape my lips. Okay, at this point, I will be blunt and say that I don’t like those wishes. One simple reason. They carry the assumption that we need more money in order to be happier.
I know that not all new year greetings are like this. You have things like xin nian kuai le and sheng ti jian kang and my favourite – xin xiang shi cheng – that are innocent and well-meaning. But phrases like huat ah just grind at my inner conscience because we all wish to be happy and for one another to be happy on this occasion, but in the act of saying that or wishing someone wealth or prosperity, we seem to imply (even if unintentionally) that they need to somehow stumble into more fortune to be happier. This irks me. It gets worse every year, I cringe a little more the older I get when I hear these words.
I know. We have to be pragmatic people. We need money to survive. Money can’t buy you happiness but it can buy a lot of things, like your COE or your HDB flat or a trip to Europe. But money doesn’t guarantee happiness. You can have money and still be the loneliest person in the world.
If I had a choice, I wouldn’t wish you prosperity. I know it doesn’t just mean wealth. It is an overall state of having wealth, being successful and having a happy family. But why would I wish you prosperity when I can just wish you simple happiness? I wish you happiness whether or not you have wealth, whether or not you have a happy family, whether or not you’re successful as defined by society or the education system. Because you can be happy without all those things, you deserve to be.
So this new year, I won’t wish you greater fortune, but I will wish you love, from your friends, from your family, from people you have yet to know and strangers whose gazes you will meet in the train and maybe even a special significant other waiting for you to enter their lives, pining for your companionship at this very moment. I won’t wish for you to reap profits or see the digits in your bank account steadily increase, but I will wish you peace from your inner self, to love yourself despite what the cultural violence of the media and beauty industry forces down your throat, to believe in yourself and that you can no matter how many times people tell you that you can’t. Above all, I’d wish you a happiness that you wouldn’t need to derive from material wealth but one that you can find in the human connections around you or in God.
I am aware the new year wishes we probably created in a context where times were hard and physical survival was important, accounting for the emphasis on not simply wealth, but a notion of abundance, so that the family could endure by having enough to feed the hungry mouths at home and multiply the generations. Times have changed, though. So maybe it’s time new year greetings changed too. If I could without having anyone think I was being deliberately insolent or disrespectful or rude, I’d wish you love and happiness and peace. And you can bet that that wish will be more sincere and more heartfelt than all the new year wishes I’ve ever wished anyone else added together.