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Friday, May 24, 2024
The Observer

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Are you happier now?

Reflecting on happiness from a bird's eye view

In the season finale of NBC’s hit show, “Parks and Recreation,” protagonist Leslie Knope is experiencing serious heat. During her first year as a city councilor, she busted her tail to enact policy and better the lives of her constituents in the city of Pawnee. Despite her hard work, a disgruntled sector of the population leads a charge for her recall. In the midst of this turmoil, Leslie poses a question to the citizens of Pawnee: “Are you better off now than you were a year ago?” 

This weekend, a few of my friends and I were chatting on the way down from a hike in the Lakes District of Chile. Exhausted from a rigorous uphill climb, which turned out to be double the length we had initially anticipated, conversation was the only thing to distract us from the long path back. As the discussion probed deeper — as it often does when you’re left in the wilderness — one of my friends posed a variation of Leslie Knope’s question: “Are you happier now than you were before college?”

At first, the answer felt obvious. Of course I am happier. My time in college has exposed me to a wealth of knowledge. I have been able to explore my interests and have grown academically. I have been integrated into the community and traditions of Notre Dame. I have made deep friendships and fallen in love. 

However, as my friends explained their perspectives, I realized that there are also many things that make it more challenging to be happy now. I don’t spend as much time with my family or childhood friends. I face new pressures around academic performance and anxieties surrounding my career. I have to navigate my life more independently. And, what’s more, I spend most of the year under the permacloud in South Bend instead of under the sunshine in Florida. 

As I have reflected more on this question and consulted with other friends, I feel unequivocally confident that, yes, I am happier now for what I see as two reasons. First, I have had a plethora of new, strange and wonderful experiences including:

  • Sharing a room with a stranger
  • Living through all four seasons
  • Taking lake walks
  • Going to my first hockey game and monster truck show
  • Babysitting for families in South Bend
  • Marching to the dining hall in my pajamas 
  • Tailgating with my parents
  • Dressing up for SYRs
  • Drinking coffee and knitting in the PLS lounge

All of these little moments have given me a window into pockets of joy that I didn’t see before. 

Second, my education at Notre Dame and summer volunteer experiences have instilled within me a different understanding of the world and my role in it. Learning about Catholic Social Tradition, taking ethics and philosophy courses and doing service beyond the walls of Notre Dame have grounded my life in a moral framework and understanding. 

I can confidently say that I am happier now, not because college has been without its difficulties, but because it has equipped me with the resilience, knowledge and relationships that have enriched my life in ways I never imagined. So, for my last article for the year, I want to pose the same question to you: Are you happier now than you were before college?

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.