The pursuit of happiness

By Alex Swanson

I’ve had quite an unusual college experience, largely stemming from the fact that I transferred to the University of Wisconsin and back again and changed my major twice. Every single time I announced an alteration with my plan, many people informed me, again and again, that I was making the wrong decisions.

But I didn’t listen. I kept shifting and trying to find out where I was happiest.

That is not to say that I was chronically unhappy throughout my college years (though there is nothing wrong with that — happiness and unhappiness don’t exist in an unshakable dichotomy). I was fortunate in that I most always felt “happy,” more or less, but I knew I could be happier if I changed my path.

I think most of us, most of the time, could stand to take on a little more happiness. As I finish my undergraduate career, my last published opinion is an advisory to avoid large-scale stagnation if you know you could be happier.

I can’t say this with any degree of authority, but I can’t believe that people in our society who do truly extraordinary things take an ordinary path, a path they never once altered. This is the time when we are supposed to experiment, the time when we are allowed to alter our paths with little consequence.

I am, by no means, suggesting that being happy is easy, that we all have the ability to decide to “be happy.” Nor am I belittling the power in making the best of a situation.

We can, however, participate in ongoing individual pursuits of happiness, whether that can be accomplished with an alternative environment, personal relationships or psychological attention.

We can de-romanticize sadness and tragedy, which are so prevalent in our popular culture that it seems to seep into our generation’s psyche; we can stop propelling the false association between melancholy and profoundness.

Instead, we have to prioritize a fierce sort of happiness, which demands that we never settle, least of all in collegiate years when many of us do not yet have dependents. College is the time in which we train for our professional lives. Just about everyone here is here to find a career.

If we all know what we want to be when we grow up — why don’t we all pursue it? Why do any of us graduate with majors that we don’t love or secure jobs that offer little more than security?

I understand the place of security. I know that, in some respects, we have to think of what is most secure for those depending on us. But even in that situation, we are — I think — supposed to keep moving toward a more fulfilling happiness.

The movements don’t have to be enormous — actually they usually aren’t — but I do believe we should all be making an effort to continually pursue more. My own anti-stagnation philosophy allowed me to march with the Marching Illini, pledge a sorority, play with the Hillel Basketball Team and sing in the Black Chorus — a combination of activities I could never have imagined when I enrolled three and a half years ago.

I wouldn’t take back any part of my unorthodox collegiate trajectory — it has all ended up being so important to me now.

As odd as it seems, there is nothing with more importance and influence than happiness. That’s easy to lose sight of during the craze of academics and being tracked in professional paths, but we should always be engaging in self-evaluation and asking whether we can do anything else to be happier.

Alex is a senior in LAS.

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