Yesterday, Rachel Belle told us about the most popular class offered in Yale’s 316 year history. The class is on happiness. Think about that for a second. In over three centuries, why would there be this kind of appetite for one topic right now?
In the New York Times article about the class, they spoke to incoming freshman Alannah Maynez, who says: “In reality, a lot of us are anxious, stressed, unhappy, numb. The fact that a class like this has such large interest speaks to how tired students are of numbing their emotions — both positive and negative — so they can focus on their work, the next step, the next accomplishment.”
Now, I’m no PhD from Yale, but I can relate to these 19-year-olds. I’ve been on this same journey to find happiness the past few years. I’ve also experienced that same anxiety, stress, and numbness. The profound disappointment when my marriage failed was like a car crash for me. It felt like I had to completely start over.
Fast forward a few years, and I can say that I am a happy person now. But I think it’s important to define what I mean. Some people define happiness as a grinning ear-to-ear giddiness. Only when they are skipping along on cloud nine with an ice cream cone in their hand are they really happy.
Sure, I get those moments from time-to-time, but that’s not how I define happiness.
The pursuit of happiness
The biggest key for me actually evolved from a phrase in the Declaration of Independence: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” My “ah-ha” moment came when I realized that I was not guaranteed happiness. I was only guaranteed the pursuit of happiness. It’s what you put into your pursuit that matters.
This is why I think that the students at Yale are clamoring to take this course. For many of them, they are pursuing the highest grades, the best internships, and the most prestigious jobs. Even when they get those things, they find they are left wanting.
The key for me is to pursue things from the inside out, not the other way around. Some folks have been pursuing the wrong things for so long that they wouldn’t recognize happiness if it smacked them in the face.
The hardest part of the journey is to find that thing that is worth pursuing. The best tip on this I’ve ever heard came from the Oscar winning editor Walter Murch. He said to remember that thing you were obsessed with right before you experienced peer pressure for the first time. Do something related to that and it will feel like home.
The second hardest part is finding the courage to pursuit.
Nobody is guaranteed happiness, but we all can pursue it.