Even though people say college is a time to develop your career interests, I have been spending a lot of time learning what it means to be happy and on self-exploration. When I looked for happiness and meaning, I found it hard to find. But in the end, my four most interesting findings came from the most unexpected places.
1. Feelings Define the Situation But the Situation Should Not Define the Feelings
During the summer, an elderly woman sat next to me on the bus and we were talking about how each of us were spending our summers. During our conversation, she told me that she would never be able to retire. Immediately, the thought crossed my mind: "That's so unfortunate! She must feel burnt out!" But she went on to tell me that she still enjoys the same joy of retirement by taking one day off each week and she considers that her 'retirement day'. She taught me that happiness was being content in the moment. Sure, finances were tight for her, and her work was essentially never finished, but she still wore a genuine smile on her face. Before meeting her, I thought that people are a product of their circumstance. But what I learned from her is that our circumstance doesn't define our feelings. It is actually the opposite, our feelings define our circumstance.
2. The Best Moments of Life Don't Have to End
On my flight coming back to college, I sat next to two elderly women who were returning from their high school reunion. I asked them what they missed the most about high school. I was expecting to hear that they missed their friends, memories of special events, etc. To my surprise they both said they miss their youthfulness. I found it surprising that they missed something that wasn't palpable but rather subliminal. In essence, what they missed never could be taken from them, but at the same time they felt they did not possess their youthfulness anymore.
I think the lesson I learned goes beyond the notion of age. From my conversation with them I came to the realization that if there is a moment in your past that you miss, chances are that it is not really gone. Think about the one activity that made your high school experience memorable. What is stopping you from pursuing those same things that brought you joy back then? Is your obstacle really a physical and tangible problem? Or is it more of a mental one? For me, it was pulling pranks with friends to find humor in banal situations. While I might not be able to pull the same pranks without repercussions now, I can still find the same joy and humor in mundane situations.
3. Obstacles Won't Hinder Happiness But Your Attitude Will
A little over a year ago I traveled to India for study abroad. While in India, one of my professors told me that many people in the slums are happier than many affluent people in America. I thought this statement was surprising considering higher quality of life in America compared to the poverty within the slums. She reasoned that people who have many privileges and who have all of their necessities taken care of, are often caught up with the demons in their head. In other words, they worry about situations that are more conjectural in nature. On the contrary, people who live in the slums don't have this problem because they work to solve their real-life struggles. These immediate struggles can be resolved and the person goes back to their normal routine. However, the so-called "demons in one's head" cannot be resolved as most of them are hypothetical situations that have not manifested in reality and therefore cannot be physically solved.
4. Life is a Performance, the More Graceful You Are, the Better It Looks
Finally, the last lesson is what I learned through dance. Ever since the age of four, my dance teacher taught me that the tact and aptitude of a good dancer is based on the dancer's ability to make the piece seem swift, flawless, and graceful no matter how long or difficult the routine is. I've noticed that this basis draws parallels to life as well. No matter how difficult the situation or how long an adversity persists, the true judgment of character is based on those who are able to keep a strong mindset and dig through adversity with grace. I've also noticed that those who avoid letting the situation taint their mindset are able to come closer to the prospect of attaining success because the mindset is the predecessor to the action.