Advice on Happiness From My Students

Last semester, my first-year college students did a deep dive into the topic of happiness, reading, talking, and writing about ways we can be happier. Below are excerpts from their writing. I feel such admiration for their thoughtfulness, compassion, and wisdomProfessor Jennifer Hurley

Some people decide to be happy despite the difficulties they face, so they are strong and do not
give in to anything and do not allow anything to affect their happiness.  Others give up easily. I will give an example of not giving up and staying happy despite life’s difficulties. There is someone I know who lost his home and his job and everything he had been seeking and working for a long time, but he had a very big problem that made him lose everything, even his home. Nevertheless, he remained strong and happy for himself, his wife and children. He decided to be happy despite these circumstances, because his happiness is his family and not what he lost.—Kholoud

Not everything is meant for our comfort. Happiness “is not except in very rare cases, something that drops into the mouth like a ripe fruit… Happiness must be, for most men and women, an achievement rather than a gift of the gods” (Valeo). Happiness isn’t just going to come to us. Strive to become happy rather than it being all a thought in your head. Stop thinking and worrying, just do. —Derek

Poor environments, like a toxic workplace, home, and friendship can drain someone of their happiness. In order to escape from these poor environments, you have to realize they are toxic in the first place. Also, how these relationships are affecting you. For some it might be harder to realize and even harder if not impossible to leave. A lot of these problems arise in relationships because boundaries aren’t set. In the text, The Courage of Being Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi, he states that “Intervening in other people’s tasks and talking on other people’s tasks turns one’s life into something heavy and a full hardship. If you are leading a life of worry and suffering—which stems from interpersonal relationships—first, learn the boundary of ‘from here on, that is not my task’. And discard other people’s tasks. That is the first step in lightening the load and making life simpler” (Kishimi 10). I experienced this before. When I was younger my two friends were always fighting and a lot of the times I involved myself and tried to sort it out. This created a lot of stress in my life and eventually caused a rift between all three of us because at the end, we were all fighting.  I shouldn’t have gotten involved because it didn’t involve me in the first place and my friends shouldn’t have let me get involved. Taking on other people’s tasks is the same as taking other people’s problems and turning them into your own.—Samantha

The 2011 documentary Happy talked about how we have extrinsic goals and intrinsic goals. To make it brief, extrinsic goals derive from money, fame, status, or anything that makes you feel validation. An intrinsic goal is yourself, personal growth, health and relationships with yourself. It said people with intrinsic goals are more happy than people who have extrinsic goals. That’s true because it took me some time to make myself happy. This was genuine happiness. For the people with extrinsic goals, they get temporarily happy. The reason is that people buy stuff with money to validate themselves and the cycle continues. They buy something expensive to feel good about themselves and then seconds later, it’s back to being sad. This prompts them from spending money because things validate them. —Benedict

During these tough times, social media seems to be treated as a depression healer, an escape to relaxation and peace. Not only are people online much more, there are also a lot more posts containing motivational messages. For example, when I scroll through my Facebook or Instagram feed, I notice a large increase in inspirational and motivational posts. …As good as it may sound that positivity is being spread across the world, some individuals have a difference of opinion and argue “The calls to “Choose Happiness” do far more harm than good and often contribute to the negative stigma surrounding mental illness… They alienate individuals and reinforce the isolation often experienced with a mood disorder.” (Brennan) I can see where the author is coming from with this statement, but I believe it depends on the way one interprets the “calls.” …The messages posted and sent around are not meant to pressurize individuals but more to remind them that they are not alone and that others have gone through the same feelings they have. They are made to support everyone and encourage growth in whatever way intended.—Basil

Because humans are social animals, we need other people to be happy. To put a simple argument, we feel happy when we watch Netflix with some snacks on our bed. But it is temporary happiness or replacement for if we cannot hang out with friends. Watching Netflix at a friend’s house with gathered friends is more fun than watching alone in my bed. There is a quote “Friendships multiply joys and divide griefs” by Thomas Fuller. Being with friends makes people happier. For example, I want to eat barbecue. Being alone, I can eat as much as I can. But there will be a limit of the amount I could feel happy…. If it was a barbecue party with many friends, there will be a lot of different types of meat that we can share with friends. Talking and sharing food with friends is much better than eating alone. —Boseong

After everything is said and done, happiness will certainly be found and controllable—and not just temporary happiness, but real and permanent happiness that does not occur by coincidence. In reality, most individuals must strive hard for an extremely long period of time before they can eventually discover happiness or at least the finest possible form of it. Furthermore, happiness is something that every individual may construct on their own. It is important for individuals to understand that they may find meaning in their life and strive to be the greatest version of themselves possible. Having a sense of fulfillment in one’s life, of being needed, and of being loved by others should be the goal of everyone. Having supportive friends, family, and meaningful connections may assist individuals in achieving their happiness objectives. Happiness is not impossible to achieve. Everybody has the potential to be happy,
primarily because everyone has the right to be happy. —Simranpreet

Happiness comes from within and if you think that someone is making you happy, it’s actually how you chose to think of that person and your relationship. Your significant other can make you breakfast, buy you flowers, and write a sweet poem for you, but what is making you happy from it exactly? It’s how you choose to react from all that. For example, someone may react negatively like how they didn’t want pancakes for breakfast, they wanted daisies instead of roses, and they wanted a song and not a poem, so ultimately at the end of the day it’s how we choose to think and react of situations and relationships with others is what determines if we are happy or not. If you can think negatively about a person and it brings you bad feelings, we can also choose to think positively about them which will bring happiness. —Desiree

According to the study which ranks people’s happiness over the world, the result shows that Nordic countries are always at the top five of the ranking. After I read an article about this ranking, I found that some of their policies are part of the reason which brings this outcome. “Nordic countries rank so high on the happiness report because they have things like free education and healthcare, low crime rates, cushy social security nets, a relatively homogeneous population and they’re fairly prosperous”(Stieg 1). According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, human beings have five needs, which are the basic needs called Physiological Needs, Safety Needs, Love and Belonging, Esteem, and the top one is Self Actualization. The researchers defined happiness which is “satisfaction with the way one’s life is going” (Stieg 1). The Nordic countries’ policies meet many of the factors included in the pyramid, which might be why people in these countries are more satisfied with their lives. “Healthcare” and “low crime rate” satisfied human’s needs for safety. —Dorothy

People who find it difficult to feel happy tend to have entrenched ideas and a narrow perspective. It is important to be particular and have your own opinions, but it can also narrow your perspective. You should make a conscious effort to broaden your perspective. A concrete way to do this is to change the way you look at things. Some people see the same thing in a positive light, while others see it in a negative light. Just like when your date is cancelled, you may feel angry and say, “How dare you cancel!” …On the other hand, some people may think, “It’s too bad, but now I have some time to myself, I’ll watch my favorite movie and relax. Try to look at the positive side as much as possible to broaden your perspective.—Yoshi

Gratitude becomes the key factor to obtaining happiness because those who are greedy will never have their needs fulfilled. “One interesting thing about greed is that although the underlying motive is to seek satisfaction, the irony is that even after obtaining the object of your desire, you are still not satisfied” (Lama 29). In fact, it’s not that they are in constant competition with themselves, but with others. “Past research on money and happiness has also found that it’s not absolute wealth that’s linked with happiness, but relative wealth or status that is, how much more money you have than your neighbors” (Luscombe 2). For instance, if we place a rich person in a middle-class neighborhood at the expense of their house not valuing as much, they still get a sense of satisfaction from owning the largest house on the block. “We also look around and compare ourselves to others. No matter how much we make, we tend to be dissatisfied with our income if our neighbor is making more” (Lama 22). It is hard for people to be happy when they know that others with more money can be happier. This is because those people directly associate happiness with money when that shouldn’t be the case.—Emily


Psychologists Dr. Kristin Neff concluded three significant components of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness is when people recognize that being imperfect or falling short is a part of living without putting themselves down and being gentle with themselves. For example, I used to be anxious about being an imperfect student. I forced myself to wake up at 6:00 am, study till 7:00 pm, and sacrifice all my leisure time. Even though I could rank the top 3 in every class, I became grumpy and irritable due to hard work. After realizing that I don’t have to be perfect to be appreciated and loved, I gave up that study regimen and got happier. Furthermore, when we face challenges, it can be easy to feel alone in our experience, as if others would not relate to what we are going through. Such frustration is accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation. All humans suffer, however. “Once we truly know that life is difficult… then life is so longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters,” said Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled. He also thinks that suffering and personal inadequacy are part of shared human experience, and we should always learn from it instead of being panic about it. For instance, breaking up with a girlfriend/boyfriend, our pets dying, or other heartbreaking events. Those challenges are typical for a lot of people, and we are not alone. Last, but not least, mindfulness requires taking a balanced approach to observe our uncomfortable feelings and emotions without exaggerating or ignoring them. This equilibrated stance stems from relating personal experiences to those of others suffering, thus putting our situation into a larger perspective. Moreover, it stems from the willingness to observe our thoughts and feelings with openness and clarity to hold them in mindful awareness. It is a non-judgmental, receptive mind in which one observes thoughts and feelings without suppressing or denying them. To sum up, being self-compassionate is accepting ourselves as imperfect beings, facing challenges with courage, and carefully observing our emotions and feelings. With such ability, you can forgive yourself, understand yourself instead of judgment and anxiety, and, therefore, be happy.—Diana

The most important thing about being in control of happiness is slowly letting go of the past and forgiving the people who hurt us the most or even ourselves. As the article by Tom Valeo mentions “Finally, try to hold on to forgiveness. Don’t dwell on your anger, hurt, and desire for vengeance.” Because holding on to anger doesn’t heal any wounds and at this point, you’re only hurting yourself with this hatred. I know forgiveness isn’t always easy to say, especially when a person really hurts you that badly. All we need to do is mature in order to forgive other people even. Then give some time for yourself to reflect on the past with this person, all the good and bad things. And remember that there are some good and bad memories with that person but let go of all bad memories and hold on to good ones. Because there was always a time where you and this person were happy together at one point. The purpose of forgiveness is letting go of all the bad memories from the past and creating a new relationship with this person if you want to. Or go on a different path without carrying the pain from the past. Another great way to give forgiveness is letting yourself be vulnerable towards this person, which I know is also hard to do sometimes.  But explain how this person hurt you in the past and tell them that you no longer want the pain anymore. Lastly, the hardest part of forgiveness is forgiving yourself because we also hurt ourselves from time to time. Allowing yourself to reach out to other people like a therapist and tell them how you feel and that you no longer want pain towards yourself. Once we forgive ourselves and others who hurt us, the pain slowly goes away, and we can finally feel happy again.—Nina

I believe that the mindset that people have influences our happiness more than other things. For example, in the video I remember there is a man who does not have a high income, does not live in a high-quality living environment but he feels very happy about his life. I can feel his happiness through his facial expressions and his words in the video. And he gives me a new point of view on happiness. After considering his circumstances, I believe that company plays an important role in people’s happiness. The man in the video is not a millionaire but he really enjoys the relationships and connections with the people around him. For example, we can observe that he cares about his children and his family a lot. Also, he has a great relationship with his neighbors. They even look like they belong to his family. And I can feel their happiness from their connections with one another. It is a beautiful thing that has connections with other people in this world. I always believe that a person can beat the whole world when they would like to protect the people they love. So, this is the reason why the man can receive a
huge amount of happiness through his relationships rather than receiving happiness by possessing an enormous amount of fortune. —Chen

There is your perspective of happiness, your friends, families, colleagues, etc. And there are also societies and your culture’s view of happiness, which will influence what you and all the people around you’s perspectives are on happiness. In the article “Why science says the pursuit of happiness has a dark side” by Erin Carson, an example was used about the difference between what people in the United States and people in Japan view as happiness. And that “people in the US aren’t more or less focused on achieving happiness compared with, say, people in Japan. But they pursue happiness differently” (Carson pg.4). The US people were more individually focused on things like money and status, versus Japan’s cultural standard of happiness was seen as being centralized more around togetherness, like with family and friends. The article was arguing that the people in the United States are less happy than some other countries because of their more self-focused behaviors. And that this is why the US has a decreasing amount of people who claim that they are happy. … These observations show the way we see or pursue happiness will be heavily influenced and reinforced by our surrounding culture. And when something is continuously reinforced, especially from a young age, it makes it even harder to break out of.—Zoey

In the movie Happy, the researcher defines extrinsic goal as the one that’s achievable through rewards and from others, such as money, status, popularity. While intrinsic goals are something done for the improvement of oneself, such as making friends, personal growth, and helping others. The researcher had also mentioned data where they found that people who focus on intrinsic goals tend to be happier than the one who’s focusing on extrinsic goals. After thinking about why it might be the case, I came up with a hypothesis that maybe it is because what a person gains from the intrinsic goals are things that cannot be lost. No matter if it’s friendship, skills, or the experience of helping others, those memories are always held and protected within one’s heart. On the other hand, the reward that’s gained from extrinsic goals, such as money and status, could easily be lost and disappear when one makes a mistake or failed once. Consequently, the person that’s focused on intrinsic goals would be happier since they could enjoy the reward when they gain it. While the one that’s focused on extrinsic goals have to worry and work to keep the price that they gain. —Selina



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