About a week ago, I watched this video:
And my goodness, did it make me think of Cornell.
Anna Akana is a Youtuber, life guru, and mental health advocate who creates videos about relatable and relevant topics, as well as longer narrative films. In this particular video, she discusses how impossible it feels to be happy when it seems as if your whole world is on fire — a sentiment that many Cornellians share on a weekly basis.
Here at Cornell, sometimes it feels as though there is only one viewpoint: negative. “Look at our government; what kind of world do we live in? Look at everyone getting internships and having their lives together; do I even belong? Look at the Ivy Meme Page; does going to Cornell mean I’m not good enough? Look at my social life, or lack thereof; what am I even doing here?” It is just so easy to feel like we are helplessly and hopelessly falling through a spiral of uncertainty.
We justify this unhappiness by telling ourselves that we’ll be happy later. When we graduate with a good job, when we find a new relationship, when you finish some rough period of time, at the end there will be happiness. In her video, Akana quotes her 50-year-old friend Linda:
“Most people, specifically young people, think they will be happy ‘when’…Then when they don’t get it, they move the goalpost till later down the line, and when you get to my age you have to realize that if you want to be happy later, you have to be happy now.”
What I’ve come to realize is that we Cornell students never stop moving that goalpost down the line. We put off developing relationships for a school project. We delay sleep to finish a problem set that we could finish the next day. We put off happiness because we feel it is something that is more worthy to sacrifice than pushing ourselves to the brink in school and work. But what is the point of life if you don’t get to be happy until the end?
Anna Akana promotes a solution that may sound oversimplified but really isn’t: actively choosing to be happy. She explains:
“Actively choosing to be happy when you’re not sounds easy; it’s not easy at all. It involves really focusing hard on what I’m grateful for until that feeling is sort of evoked [in me], resisting negative thought patterns, upturning limiting beliefs, and really staying on top of what [I’m] allowing [myself] to think… Yeah I still feel like a flailing can of emotions half the time, but realigning myself to be happy gets just a little bit, a tiny bit easier.”
If it were so easy, our most common dinner table topic would not be how little we slept and how much we have left to do, and our most common phrase would not be “I’m dying.”
There is scientific evidence that 40% of happiness is within our control. You could be 40% happy all of the time, if you choose to be.
Though choosing happiness is far easier said than done — and there are cases of mental illness or consistent abuse where this does not apply — at least when it comes to your own personal and professional development at Cornell, it is attainable.
It is time to choose to be happy. Stop surrounding yourself with negative people — don’t cut them out, but take a break. Once you’re in a good place, return and spread the love. Know yourself and which emotions make you unhappiest. If it’s regret, slowly begin to practice choosing what you want despite societal pressure. If it’s jealousy, find exercises that help you realize just how great you are. Don’t waste time on courses, activities, or people that make you unhappy.
This does not mean you should drop your school work or not care about the terrible things in the world. But it does mean you need to allot guilt-free time dedicated to you, your personal happiness, your reflections, and your relationships. You have time to live happily and accomplish all your goals. Many of us are pursuing 5 minors and doing 18 clubs — some of which we aren’t even interested in — in an effort to feel like we’re covering all our bases and doing this whole college thing right. But everyone has their own individual college journey, and the one that your passionate about will be the most fulfilling path that will help you the most in the long run.
Take time to consider this once-in-a-lifetime college experience. Consider going abroad. Consider putting off med school or a career for a year to travel. Slow down. Read this poem about slowing down!
Even if lessening your workload isn’t on your agenda, you can still choose happiness in the attitude you take towards your tasks. When you are doing homework, when you’re studying for an exam, when an interview doesn’t go well, when you wake up late, when you are in an irreversibly bad situation, don’t think, “I’m going to fail. There is no solution. I’m not good enough. This is the end-all, be-all. Nothing goes right for me, ever. What did I do to deserve this?” That is utterly unproductive and will set you down a dangerous road of self-pity that is very hard to come back from, and can lead to even darker places. Learn to choose happiness and think positively. Channel your inner Ariana Grande and thank u, next that ish. Learn values from your hardships. Try your very best to see every bad situation as an opportunity to grow as a person. Be ready to be punched down by the world, but also be ready to accept those punches knowing that you are growing stronger from each one.
We must stop expecting happiness to come after our misery. If you take anything away from this article, take that. Anna Akana puts it best:
“If we are expecting happiness to come from some kind of external factor, we have it all wrong. And if we think happiness is going to come to us in the future magically, we have it all wrong. If we think happiness is a mindset that we actively have to cultivate moment to moment by reframing the way we see our situation and carefully curating our thoughts to service, then unfortunately you are right and it is a really hard habit to create and maintain. But it’s not impossible.”
Your political, professional, and personal life might very well be on fire right now, but there is a way to douse the flames. Choose happiness, because it is only when you are happy with yourself and where you’re at that you will be stable enough to make a difference for yourself and for others.
Choose to be happy, and do it now.
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