More than 16 years of schooling comes down to this one moment. Recruiting season is here, and our hard work and suffering are now starting to pay off. Yes! We landed the a job at a top firm in our industry. We’re happy. Wait — now we need to do really well in this new job. Then, maybe, we will get a promotion. If we get it, we will be happy. When I get that promotion, I’ll finally be able to settle down. Another external win: I’m ecstatic.
But then I have to start a family. That’ll be hard work and expensive. But if I work hard and earn a decent income, it will pay off. Then I will be happy again …
My fellow Cal Bears, I just took us through the glorified pursuit of happiness. But I don’t blame Thomas Jefferson, Will Smith or Kid Cudi for engraving this phrase in our fragile minds. A system has been put in place. The common steps toward happiness our culture embraces are narrowly defined by anything that gets us closer to a better salary. Working harder leads to success, and, finally, success supposedly leads to happiness. But when we achieve success, all that leads to is a new degree to which we measure it.
Human beings have an attachment issue. We think in terms of, “If I have this, or if do this, then I’ll be happy.” When we get that A on that research paper, we think we are the happiest person in the world. But then when the reality that this is only 20 percent of our grade kicks in, we draw back into the fetal positions of our cubicle in Main Stacks. We become depressed when all that glitters is not gold.
When we talk about happiness, we tend to treat it as this binary thing. We either have it or we don’t. We need to change this. Happiness should be placed on more of a sliding scale. Maybe you just are not as happy as you want to be. Because I believe the absence of happiness is not depression; it’s a state of no emotion. Because if we treat happiness as either we have it or don’t, we miss out on a motivating factor in our lives.
Say a track runner beats her personal record today. She is happy, and deservedly so. It would be silly to think that her new measure of success is the same time she just beat. Her celebration is short lived, because she now has a new goal to conquer. When we think about what drives her to her goal, it is not the pursuit of happiness. She’s driven simply by the happiness she finds in working toward that goal.
College, and life in general, would suck if we placed joy outside our reach. We all should have a worthy goal that powers us forward. But for many of us, happiness is not a part of this journey.
How do we become happier? As much as you would think double-fisting red cups full of Rolling Rock is they key to happiness in life, I don’t think research points to this being the best conclusion.
Gratitude is a strong predictor of lasting happiness. Finding the good out of all the shit in our lives does something to our brains. It makes us thankful — thankful to be alive and thankful we go to the number-three global university. Meditation will help too, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you have time to scroll everybody’s brilliant thoughts in 140 characters or fewer, I’m sure you have time to set aside for your well-being.
A lot of people are starting to say that all they want out of life is happiness. That’s the saddest thing in the world — it is like saying all we want out of a piece of pizza is the cheese. Don’t get me wrong. I can be satisfied with mouthful of mozzarella, but it is just one part of the bigger picture of our lives. Happiness is in the journey, not the treasures of life.
One moment will never define our happiness. We act as if happiness is some permanent state of experience, but it is always sliding. From highs in life to lows, it never leaves.
We have been conditioned by our society and culture to think pursuing external representations of success will lead us to bliss. But this chase takes us out of the driver seat of life. There has to be something else we are pursuing.
I’ll be damned if I don’t enjoy myself as I try to figure that out.
Kevin Laprocino writes the Friday blog on misguided advice students receive in college. You can contact him at [email protected].