What if I told you that I know the secret to happiness?
Take it from psychologists and their surveys — it’s not money. It also isn’t getting that dream job, or meeting your celebrity crush or even marrying Timothée Chalamet. It’s actually a lot simpler; a lot less about looking into the future and more about savoring the present.
Here it is (drumroll please), the secret: close relationships. Have a few good friends, and boom — depression gone.
Maybe it’s not that simple, but there is something hopeful about the general universality of this scientifically-proven happiness solution. It’s accessible, and luckily for us college students, it’s completely free. But it’s also something that can feel a bit abstract — and it might not be as straightforward as finding friends and gaining lifelong satisfaction. Relationships can be far more complicated than that.
I think that it starts somewhere even smaller and even more personal. It begins when I open my eyes in the morning; when the light from my window reflects across the white walls of my room. In the quietness of the moment, I allow myself to forget about my responsibilities and am simply glad to be alive. I pad into my kitchen, pour myself a glass of cold water while looking on at the mason jars of green onions lining the windowsill above the sink and listen to the hum of passing cars. I admire the Berkeley garden that I pass every time I walk to campus; the cherry blossom trees on the way in; the Campanile’s chimes.
I watch in awe as throngs of students walk between classes, seeing bright colors from their carefully-constructed outfits before stepping onto the Glade. I spot and run toward my friends who are splayed out across a picnic blanket and sprawled lazily in their hammocks, and together we enjoy the day.
Do you feel that?
This feeling of being able to take in what I usually don’t think twice about reminds me of my love languages. Quality time, as I’ve learned, can be enjoyed in the presence of people as well as in solitude, and words of affirmation can be delivered between friends or within myself. This realization is what motivated me to start affirming the things that make me feel good on a whiteboard attached to my fridge. Every day I add to my gratitude log — which includes things like “chimichurri sauce” and “warm hugs” — and read what my roommates and visiting friends put on the list. Recently, when I went to grab some dip for my chips, I saw a new entry that made me smile: “The good, the bad, everything.”
All of this might make me sound like a yoga instructor telling her students to “exhale out all the negative energy” or a writer who uses too many descriptors. I might be one of the two, but trust me when I say that I’m naturally a very pessimistic person. Call me a who-drank-my-now-half-empty-glass kind of girl. This manifests itself in my existential wonderings about whether my presence has an impact on people — on the world. I doubt my significance because of how small I feel in the grand scheme of things. It can be easy to slip into the mindset that what I have to offer makes little difference in the end. But when I take a step back, I’m able to see the ways in which I have been the recipient of other people’s influence and the bounty they add just for existing. There is so much power in being present, and that goes for me as well as all the people who make me happy.
Except we don’t express that aloud as much as we should. Whether it be pride, or shyness or forgetfulness — or maybe just feeling like there’s no need — giving out compliments can feel harder than it needs to be. What I’ve found about doing so, however, is that it forces me to verbalize how lucky I feel to be part of someone else’s story and what a privilege it is that they are a part of mine. And while I can appreciate sunny weather and pineapples, nothing quite beats a movie night with friends; the laughter from an inside joke; the closeness felt after a deep conversation; a knowing smile — products of connection p that you and I should never take for granted.
Appreciating the people around you has the potential to diminish those feelings of doubt and assure those you value that they indeed matter so much, that their presence is important and that they are more than worthy of love. It gives us the chance to acknowledge the significance of our own life as it is weaved into the fabric of other people’s realities. It’s so simple, and yet it has the incredible ability to cement the truth that the world is better because you are here.
Expressing gratitude is a practice — one that can start with the little things. And then something amazing happens: It ripples. It grows. It blossoms in bursts of radiating joy, encapsulated in two simple words:
Thank you, thank you, thank you.