Dutch king promotes unity and common ground; Cautions against obsessing over happiness

Willem-Alexander, Christmas, Huis ten Bosch
King Willem-Alexander delivering his Christmas Address at the Huis ten Bosch Palace in December 2019© RVD - Arenda OomenKoninklijk Huis / Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst

Freedom unites us, our differences do not divide us, and the pursuit of happiness should not be an obsession: Those were the main themes of King Willem-Alexander's annual Christmas Day address to the Netherlands, the seventh such speech he's delivered during his reign. The Dutch king recorded the five-minute address last week at the Huis ten Bosch palace in The Hague, where he has resided with his family since January.

"Even though the emotions can sometimes run high, the Dutch still have the feeling that they belong together. That is our great strength," he said on Wednesday.

"The Dutch can differ enormously from each other," he stated in starting off his speech, before noting that which he says Dutch people almost unilaterally revere. "Our Dutch language, our democracy, the equality of everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, standing together against the water, the holidays that we celebrate together, the gezelligheid," he said.

But it is freedom that truly brings the people of the Netherlands together, the king pointed out, whether it be the Resistance Fighters who helped bring freedom back to the Netherlands nearly 75 years ago, or the young people happy to be able to live in this environment. That freedom requires people to trust each other, and give each other space, and to "understand why tolerance is so important."

As the public is tempted to become heated and divisive on contested issues, anything may be resolved by embracing the skill of speaking with each other, he said. "No matter how sharp the contradictions are, it is always possible to find solutions."

Gaining perspective also helps, he added, speaking of the Dutch abroad that realizes how "well organized" the Netherlands is once they have visited and lived elsewhere. "The Netherlands is still one of the most successful countries in the world," he said.

That is because of the, "Millions of professionals and volunteers who make the best of things together in difficult circumstances."

While saying that people in the Netherlands are happy on average, he cautioned against fixating on happiness. "That pursuit of happiness is beautiful, but it should not become an obsession. Grief may also be there. Doubts and feelings of loneliness may also be there. Failures and setbacks are also part of life," he emphasized. "I also say this to young people. Do not worry too much if things go wrong. Give yourself some space. It's okay."

Willem-Alexander said there should not be a taboo when it comes to falling short of a goal, and people should not beat themselves up when things do not work out. "With a listening ear, an outstretched hand or an arm around the shoulder we give each other the most beautiful gift that a person can give to a person. Not only this Christmas, but also afterwards."

Themes of a strong and prosperous future together, instead of a sad, angry, and divided land, have been a focus in many of the king's prior national addresses.

In his last Christmas speech, Willem-Alexander reminded people of their power as members of a community to embrace their freedom, and to provide an environment of equality and opportunity for one another. He asked people to find strength in their families, neighborhoods, and surroundings much the same as the founding provincial lands did 450 years ago.

"It is not always easy to hold the belief [in a happy and peaceful future]. Those who follow the news sometimes lose faith," he said last year.

A year earlier he pressed all Netherlands residents to interact with people of diverse backgrounds and to recognize the limitations placed that exist when one lives in a bubble. He also encouraged solidarity despite one's differences in 2016, and in the preceding year he pointed to the need to stand strong even when atrocities make the world seem like a dismal place.

Unlike in 2018, Willem-Alexander on Wednesday did not take a moment to remember those people who had passed away, instead telling people to celebrate their family and friends whenever possible. The king's aunt, Princess Christina, passed away in August at the age of 72 after a two-year battle with bone cancer.

"I wish you all - wherever you are and whatever your personal circumstances may be - a blessed Christmas celebration," he said in closing.