In high school I was tasked with writing a Philosophy paper about any subject I wanted.
I had recently been reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and stuck in my mind was the concept of happiness.
Aristotle defined happiness as eudaimonia, or living well and having sufficient resources to live.
Brave New World got me thinking about the difference between being content and being happy. Huxley's society members are perfectly made for the lives they leave. They are genetically predestined to be "happy." But when a "savage" enters their society from the wild, he begins to realize that being comfortable and being content are not enough.
I think that you have to have experienced sadness and hardship to truly be happy.
A grew up in a typical middle class home. My dad worked, my mom stayed at home. I went to private school, played 2.5 sports and ate dinner at the table every night. But just because it sounds stable does not mean there was not hardship. When I was a freshman in high school my dad was diagnosed with cancer. When I was a sophomore my first long-term relationship ended. When I was a senior, my favorite teacher passed away.
But overall in my life, I was comfortable. I didn't have to worry too much about money, my dad's cancer was caught early and treated, I got over my sophomore boyfriend, and my friendships were strengthened in the face of loss. That is the kind of give and take I am talking about. I do not believe that there is any ordinary act of sadness, loss, or pain that is not in turn counterbalanced by happiness, fulfillment, and relief.
I don't think I truly understood happiness until I truly felt its absence.
Last year at my previous college, I was deeply unhappy. I was uncomfortable with the social life and I was unchallenged academically, and I found myself in a situation where I could either change who I was as a person and compromise my moral values, or I could be alone. I ended up choosing to be alone, and by Christmas break I was diagnosed with depression. I learned to live with the situation I was in, and I lived out my year at WC.
In contrast, life at Olin has shown me what I was missing when I was comfortable in high school, and unhappy at Wofford. Happiness here looks like deep friendships, philosophical talks until the wee hours of the morning, the freedom to be whoever you want to be, teachers that care about you as a person, and a support system that extends into every area of life and comes from everyone here.
I have never been happier than I am at Olin, and I needed to experience hardship and sadness to recognized and understand how happiness feels.
I'll leave you all with a quote from Brave New World:
"I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."
"All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."
"Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind." There was a long silence.
"I claim them all."