“Happy New Year” means I hope you find happiness this year. As we enter the New Year and reflect on the past, let’s consider the meaning of happiness.

Pondering the search for happiness, I recently saw a long line of people buying lottery tickets. The jackpot was a near-record $648 million! Nothing stokes the imagination like the thought “winning the lottery,” conjuring images of wealth, comfort and life free from worry. Surely it’s a ticket to happiness.

Of course, studies show lottery winners aren’t necessarily happier, and in many cases, face more problems than before. Don’t get me wrong. I hope you win. If you do, please remember your neighborhood Buddhist temple!

But it’s true. You know the saying, “Rich people are different than you and me: They have more money.” In other words, we’re all the same regardless of wealth. We all face difficulties in life, especially the great sufferings noted by the Buddha of sickness, aging and death. The “three poisons” of greed, anger and delusion afflict everyone.

Too often, people assume something will make us automatically happy, like saying, “I won the lottery,” meaning, “I’m set for life.” Just the thought of winning gives people pleasure. It’s fun to think, “If I won, I would buy…”

The Buddha called this thinking delusion. In the Nirvana Sutra, the Buddha described a man lost in the desert, thirsting for water. He thinks he sees an oasis, but it’s a mirage. Just the thought of getting there and drinking gives him pleasure, so he stumbles forth toward a place that doesn’t exist. The Buddha says we are like that man, forever searching for happiness in the wrong place.

If happiness doesn’t exist in satisfying our worldly desires, where is it?

Imagine one morning being told you won the lottery. You’d be happy, right? But that afternoon a medical test showed you had terminal cancer. Happiness would suddenly disappear.

Now imagine the opposite. In the morning you were told you lost the lottery, but in the afternoon you discovered a cancer test was negative, and really, you were healthy.

Which would you want? Which would you want if it were your loved ones? Which would make you happier? The answer I think would be health. Money can’t buy happiness if you’re not healthy.

We often lose sight of what’s important. Moreover, we’re distracted or misled by what we think we want. Consumed by desires, we forget what we have.

Realizing what we have here and now fills us with appreciation and gratitude, two great dimensions of joy, a much deeper and richer feeling than fleeting happiness. What we have now are family, friends, community, earth and life itself. We are blessed in ways money can’t buy.

In this coming year of 2014, let’s together listen to the Buddha Dharma, contemplate the true meaning of our lives, and go forth with appreciation, gratitude and joy.