It’s easy to find someone to wish you a Happy New Year. Strangers do it. Even people who don’t like you do it. It’s far more rare is to find someone who will tell you how to achieve it.

I am that rare someone. I intend, before this column ends, to present you with the secret of happiness. Call it a New Year’s gift.

But first let me tell you about happiness’s evil twin–unhappiness. Unhappiness is New York City after an 18-inch snowfall.

It happened over the holidays and the Big Apple came to a dead stop. Planes stopped flying, buses stopped busing. And as for cars–fuhgeddaboudit.

New Yorkers took this with the calm equanimity usually reserved for large fires in crowded theaters. They screamed, they wailed, they moaned. They blamed their mayor, a billionaire-philosopher-statesman named Michael Bloomberg, founder of the eponymous financial news and data empire.

He didn’t give them enough warning, New Yorkers charged. The warning he gave them was weak. He was slow to declare a “snow emergency.” He didn’t get side streets cleared for days.

The Mayor, after some defensiveness, took the fall and apologized to his constituents. He promised to do better in the future.

But let’s face it folks, you can declare all the snow emergencies you want. Eighteen inches of snow is still 18 inches of snow. And in a densely packed city like New York, it’s going to create a big mess.

This is particularly true when you’ve recently let go of some 400 sanitation workers (the snow removal people) to cut your budget.

But New York’s anger at Bloomberg’s performance is as nothing compared to the wrath incurred by President Barack Obama in his two short years in office.

Republicans have excoriated him for extending health care insurance to the poor, failing to create more jobs and over-regulating banks and industry, trying to stimulate the economy, and daring to take up the agenda of the gay rights movement.

Democrats, on the other hand, have blamed him for coddling banks and industry, not extending health care even further, failing to end the wars he inherited, and trying to compromise with Republicans who wish him dead.

It’s as though the whole country had an 18-inch snowfall, all at once.

Yet, at the end of his two-year apprenticeship, he can point to a remarkable list of achievements, given the hard road he had to travel.

His policies pulled the economy out of its freefall. The banks and corporations he bailed out with government money have repaid much, if not most, of it. He got a health care bill passed, giving at least 32 million people a chance at coverage they’d never had. He extended jobless benefits for millions of the long-term unemployed in time for the holiday season. He got an arms reduction treaty with the Russians passed by the Senate. He cleared the way for the end to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in our military. He got a financial reform package passed that will do some good in preventing another financial meltdown. He moved toward withdrawal of our combat troops in Iraq.

That’s not chopped liver. OK, he also extended the Bush tax cuts for the rich, a lousy move forced upon him by a Senate Republicans. And he had to agree to keep throwing money (uselessly, I think) at our mythical missile defense system.

That’s politics. That’s compromise. It’s our system of government.

Wouldn’t be terrible if we had a great president and we didn’t notice?

And so at last we come to the secret of happiness:

Lower your standards.

I don’t mean to imply you should accept shoddy work or failure, but less than perfection? Oh yes, that you should accept.

Because that’s the way life is. Not perfect.

They say that perfect is the enemy of good and I think that’s right. It is also the enemy of happy.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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