As another year zips by and another New Year's looms, we find ourselves again at that proverbial fork in the Road to Happiness.
The left fork is a bleak, shadowy path perfect for the seeker with a nihilistic bent and a strong flashlight. This journey across the multiverse (a collection of universes so vast it includes planets with carbon copies of you, me and all our friends, enemies and frenemies) snakes through infinite quantities of dark matter punctuated by black potholes into which billions of once-proud suns have already vanished. Its nature is said to have been first articulated in Brooklyn circa MCMXL by a precocious second-grader named Allen Stewart Konigsberg. Disgusted with the sobriquet "Konehead" bestowed by his clueless classmates, he adopted the name Woody Allen and dedicated his life to illuminating the insignificance of human existence in an infinite cosmos that moves inexorably toward humiliation, disease and a profound yet meaningless death.
The right fork in the road, a delightful ribbon of highway known as "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)," is the natural choice for those fortunate folks who possess the happiness gene. Its moniker derives from a song discovered circa MCMXLIX by a guy named Guy on an ancient, scratchy field recording. (Full disclosure: an ancestor of mine wrote the tune.) This journey offers no New Age magic -- just a reminder, especially to older folks, to loosen up a bit and indulge your passions before it's too late.
You'd think that choosing the rightward path would be a no-brainer, but many humans are complicated creatures who have trouble enjoying themselves without feelings of guilt, unworthiness and fear of retribution.
Most fork-in-the-roaders, unable to make a clear choice, wander to and fro, bouncing pointlessly back and forth from pleasure to pain and back again. Their mantra echoes the core belief of Zen Master Sri Yogi Rinpoche, who advised, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
Sadly, there's also a large cohort of humans who, like Konigsberg/Allen, survive -- nay, thrive -- on a strict diet of the four A's: Anxiety, Adversity, Affliction and Anhedonia, the last a psychological condition defined by the utter inability to enjoy oneself.
The fork/road perplex is serious business. Nobel Laureate physicist Steven Weinberg expressed the concern of many top scientists when he told Harper's, "We now find ourselves at a historic fork in the road we travel to understand the laws of nature...If the multiverse idea is correct, then the historic mission of physics...is futile, a beautiful philosophical dream that simply isn't true."
Woody Allen alchemized his gloom and doom into stories that have brought immeasurable joy to the world. If you think his pessimism is a put-on and he's laughing all the way to the bank, the two-part documentary that recently aired on PBS will set you straight. Allen was dead serious when he chose Anhedonia as the title for his masterpiece until studio suits changed it to Annie Hall. He's been particularly effective in extracting hilarity from his preoccupation with death. In Everybody Says I Love You, for example, the erstwhile Konehead summoned all beings, especially those already deceased, to count our blessings in a scene featuring a corpse rising from his coffin to lead other old goats (I mean ghosts) in a rousing song-and-dance revival of "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)."
New Year's resolutions tend to focus on denying ourselves stuff we love, on the assumption that if it feels good it must be bad. So we swear to watch less TV, stop reading People and avoid hot fudge sundaes. When we fall short of our impossible goals, we feel no pleasure as we mindlessly inhale super-sized sundaes and torture ourselves with Baywatch marathons on cable.
As we contemplate our resolutions for 2012, let's pause to remember that there can be an upside to even the harshest reality. Our universe may have a monumental supply of dark energy, but it's precisely the right amount. An infinitesimal increase or decrease would render our corner of the cosmos lifeless.
So when you come to your own fork in the road, why not pick out something you love and resolve to enjoy yourself? Like the song says, "Another birthday's here and gone, you've turned another page/And suddenly you realize you've reached middle age/Just think of all the fun you've missed, it makes you kind of sad/It's better to have had your wish than to have wished you had."