Follow this one simple rule to be happierApril 8, 2014
I recently had a baby. And amidst the groggy haze of my first year of motherhood, I’ve devoted a considerable amount of time to devouring many a “How to Raise Your Baby” book. Equal parts fascinating and amusing, they sometimes teach me less about raising my baby and more about self-help tactics, but I digress. One of the popular topics addressed in a number of these books is happiness—what is it, who has it, how do we facilitate it? Given my line of work in educational consulting, I can’t help but relate what I encounter page after page to what I see day after day.
You see, too often I witness students shuffling in and out of my office, weary from endless homework assignments coupled with what seems like limitless hours spent on sports and extracurricular activities. The heaviness with which they take each belabored step in this shuffle is further slowed by the almost visible weight on their backs—the pressures of social life and peer relations that every high schooler inevitably faces. Smiles vanished, energy diminished—I worry about their sanity and indeed, their happiness.
Don’t get me wrong. Many of my students are quite happy, but there are those ones that repeat mantras like, “I’ll be happy once I get into a good college” and “I’ll be happy if I ace this test” and even “I’ll be happy when I get a good job.” But what all of these statements inherently indicate is that, for them, happiness lies in the future—and sadly not now. Happiness is tied to accomplishments and linked with goal attainment. It’s surely not found in these students’ everyday experiences.
These are the students who tell me that they don’t have time for relationships. Their commitments to school and sports have engulfed the time that they otherwise would have spent with their family and friends. But at what price?
Which brings me back to my “raising baby” books and finding the key to happiness—that is, finding happiness now…present tense. Thanks to the Grant Study, a famous 75-year endeavor, we have an idea. Interestingly, it isn’t getting into a “good college,” acing a test, or getting a good job that makes us happy. It’s not buying a new car, making loads of money, or going on vacation either. No, instead our relationships are the greatest predictor of our happiness. That’s right—ironically, happiness is linked to the very thing we’re neglecting only to pursue the things that we mistakenly think will make us happy.
It seems odd to me, then, that not only these students but I would say all of us at times, spend so much energy in pursuit of getting that promotion or buying that shiny new piece of jewelry when the key to happiness is so much simpler than that. It involves taking time away from the things we think will make us happy and instead spending that time with those whom we love—our family and our friends. The more time and energy we invest in others, the more fulfilled we become. So the next time you have the chance to gab on the phone with a friend or grab a frozen yogurt with your sister, I urge you to take the time to cultivate your relationships and truly unlock the key to happiness.
Jenn Curtis, MSW is the owner and co-founder of FutureWise Consulting, a college counseling, test prep, and academic tutoring business in Orange County, California. As an educational consultant, she works alongside high school students and their families to prepare them for the college admissions process. Jenn also developed and teaches a college and career readiness program for first generation students. She is the editorial assistant for an academic journal, has edited several books, and works with graduate and doctoral students in developing effective writing skills. With a background in mental health, Jenn’s passion lies in empowering students to become self-advocates, to uncover their strengths, and to find the motivation to reach their potential.