Every person has a different definition of happiness and different ways to achieve it. Especially during the school year, when the stress of grades is inescapable and the balancing act of life puts us under pressure, students can find themselves slipping away from the happiness they once felt.
What is happiness? The dictionary definition says it’s “the state of being happy” or content. But what if happiness is only fragile contentment? What if it’s only the smile of a fleeting moment, which will just dissipate when something unpleasant occurs? How does one keep a lifetime of happiness?
I took to the school for answers.
Alyssa Watson, a senior, feels that happiness is to be “filled with joy” or to “fill others with joy.” She finds herself happiest when she’s making others happy or proud, when she’s sitting in the sun, and when she participates in service projects and buys gifts for her family during the holiday season. “I stay happy by taking time to do things for others,” Alyssa adds, mentioning that you also need to spend an equal amount of time for yourself to be truly content.
Helena Pleet, a junior, says making her friends happy and seeing joy come to other people makes her in return happy. She views herself a happy person, explaining that she has been struggling with depression recently, but is in a “really good place, especially right now.” In order to stay joyful, Helena does whatever she can to help others be happy. “Seeing others smile and know I’m always there for them is a way to make me happy.”
Theodore Young, a sophomore, states happiness to him is “a feeling that makes other sad things disappear for at least a while.” He would consider himself a happy person, but is unsure what exactly makes him the happiest. Several things that make him happy, especially sleep and friends. “I use the good things that happen as fuel for my optimism, which in turn keeps me happy,” Theo explains.
Estella Walsh, a freshman, says happiness is “being able to look at life positively and find joy within yourself no matter where you are.” She considers herself an “averagely” happy person and believes ultimate happiness is something you work toward your entire life. She finds herself happiest when learning something new or spending time with positive people she loves.
Mr. Andrich, who teaches Civics and World History, shared that “a wise individual (my sister) once told me that it helps to deconstruct happiness as moments in time, rather than looking at happiness as an ultimate destination. Happiness isn’t linear; it’s not an attainable constant state.” He believes people get hung up on an unattainable goal of being ‘happy’ 100% of the time. But in order to be truly happy, we need to stop glossing over discontent and acknowledge the low points. If we “normalize” experiencing unhappiness and “destigmatize” the idea that negative emotions are abnormal, it will, in turn, end our craving for a quick happiness fix. “This artificial happiness is fleeting,” says Mr. Andrich, suggesting that “learning from the low points by seeking appropriate mental health care can ultimately lead to a richer life later on.” He finds himself happiest when he is able to live in the moment. “It’s so easy to let my mind wander and worry about all the unnecessary trivial aspects of life. I’m at my happiest when I’m surfing a wave, riding a river, or climbing a mountain.”
Ms. Pullen, another AHS teacher, finds happiness to be a feeling of security. “Sometimes it is with company and sometimes it is alone; it is bright, warm, comfortable, cozy.” In her view, happiness takes work and intent. Ms. Pullen describes “cooking and dining with my siblings,” as one of the activities that bring her the greatest joy. “We riff off of each other naturally and rib each other liberally. We just have a rhythm; we easily step into our shared beat.” She finds “bliss at the end of a day” when she knits and sits before a glowing fire with her son and partner, listening to books being read. Ms. Pullen expresses that she’s struggled to staying happy, explaining that she’s “dealt with mild clinical depression since I was a teenager. Recognizing and communicating how I feel to those that love me and feel that togetherness and connectivity— that is integral to my happiness.” She says recognizing when she needs to be alone to “recharge my batteries” and “buoy my mood” also helps.
Mrs. Poggie, one of our school counselors, defines happiness as “the positive components of your life and energy that add contentment to your life. Being able to find the things that add depth and positivity to your life” makes her happy. “It’s easy to absorb the weight of others in the world,” she says, “so I tend to do plenty of reflection. I have such a desire and wanderlust to be absorbed in other places and cultures; it’s incredibly fulfilling, eye-opening, and allows me to see other perspectives on happiness.” Mrs. Poggie explains that mindfulness is central to her process of staying positive. “Stay attuned to how you’re addressing the good, bad and in between. Not every day is bliss, but self-awareness helps me maintain happiness.”
Mrs. Wells, another of our school counselors, claims happiness is “filling the bucket.” For her, filling other people’s buckets after hers is full keeps her content. “The things that make me happy ripple through to people I come into contact with,” she says, and knowing she is spreading joy, in turn, brings her joy. “My mantra is that you can spend life negative or choose to find a little hint of light in the darkness.” Mrs. Wells is happiest surrounded by loved ones, knowing eventually things will be okay. Even if the day was bad, it will end and we’ll have a fresh start the next morning.
“In a lot of ways happiness is a state of mind, for even when life is challenging and full of curve balls, you can step back and reflect on it. The better your state of mind is, the better you can radiate out to others,” Mrs. Lahey, our third school counselor, says. She’s happy most of the time because she is grateful to be here. “If you try to appreciate the things in life that are there to be appreciated,” she advises, it is easier to stay positive. “Gratefulness is a lens to being able to recognize all of the things I’m thankful for and whatever the day has to offer. Recognizing that everyone has the power to change something if it does not make us happy, being mindful and self-aware, and approaching life from a gratefulness perspective” is what she does to stay happy.
The views of students at our school seem to share a similar theme: happiness is induced, as well as destroyed, by other people. However, people only have control over your happiness if you give them permission.
The staff at our school tend to take a different approach. They see life as it is: short but full of possibility. They find happiness with people, but they know in order to be happy you must commit yourself to pursue joy since you truly only have one limited life. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t experience negative emotions; instead, when unhappy experiences occur, you’ll be able to look past the shroud of dark rain clouds to see the silver linings and the shining sun.
Happiness isn’t just a state of mind, but a lifestyle. In order to be truly happy, you need to chase joy in everyday things. Find something that makes you happy each day, regardless of what it is. You are the only one managing your happiness; to be happy is a choice. In order to be joyful as much as possible, frame your mindset purposefully and pursue the things that bring happiness to you and the people around you.