Happiness; not what we think


Ava Wittman photographed by Isabella Kneeshaw.

Ava Wittman, Co-Editor-in-Chief

As college application season drags on, the threat of my future is becoming increasingly apparent. One thing any senior will relate to, and anyone else will relate to soon, is that during this season unwelcome advice is going to flow in from every sector of your life, each offering the path to a happy life, as they see it. What I have come to notice is that idea of happy is starkly different depending on who is speaking; sometimes it is wealth, sometimes it is love of what you do, sometimes it is a high-profile career, and through all this, I have noticed I have absolutely no idea what happy means to me – that it is nearly entirely impossible to separate what I want versus what I have been taught to want – and it is my presumption that I am not alone in that. So what is to be done? 

I have taken all of the impromptu college advisory sessions from my peers, my family, my mentors and frankly anyone who hears I am applying to college as an opportunity to examine happiness as opposed to truly heeding advice regarding university decisions. I have been told to chase what I truly love (academically), I have been told to chase a paycheck and I have been told to chase neither and simply explore. At the beginning, I believed this to be a reflection of what each person sought in their life, what made each individual happy, and they were trying to impart that wisdom to others; however, the more I hear, the more I fear that this is all merely a reflection of what each individual has been taught as success, what each individual has learned they are supposed to desire. Every day I draw closer to the horrifying conclusion that none of us really knows what we want – just what we are supposed to want. 

So I have begun to seriously examine what I want out of life, what I believe will make me happy, and I must say it has brought me an intense amount of existential dread. Again, I presume I am not alone in this. What I have learned is I have an intense lack of knowledge as to what makes me happy. Of course I know spending time with friends and family makes me happy, I know academic success makes me happy, I know succeeding in my field of work makes me happy, I know hiking and baking makes me happy, I know discussing literature makes me happy, I know dancing and singing makes me happy, I know a warm home full of those I love makes me happy and I know a difficult and dangerous adventure makes me happy. Which of these are me? Which of these truly brings me a sense of fulfillment because it is what I love, and which brings me joy because I feel as if I am succeeding at the game others have built for me? And does it matter? 

You may – somewhat fairly – argue that it does not matter: they are both joy, albeit different types, but I would argue that only one type is my joy. The other is joy placed upon me by others. 

Which all brings me to what is to be done, and the realization I have been wrong all along. I have focused my life on my next steps, my next application, my next success, my next set of classes, my next degree, my next interview, my next job, hoping that somewhere along the way I would discover happiness, that I would luck into one of these steps working out exactly I as needed it to, in order to find happiness. I have pursued it as if happiness was a secondary goal in my life, that success came before it. 

I have re-centered my approach. First, I must find what makes me happy; then, I must find what to do about it, and I have begun to learn it is not the desk chair and title I believed it to be.

But I cannot tell you that the same is true for you, or else I fall into the same pitfall as those I gently complained about earlier in this piece. What I can tell you, and I hope you heed, is that we should each take the time now to examine what we want, do the painstaking, draining and terrifying labor to separate what we love versus what we have learned to love, and to learn if we care about that separation. 

These are short lives we live. I know I am not interested in living beyond what I want.