Happiness: The Most Underutilized Asset at Harvard

It is uncanny how many of my friends have confessed with particular enthusiasm: I hate Harvard. Some attribute it to the “sophomore slump.” Others complain — rightly so — about the arrogance, stupidity and frustrating qualities of our classmates.

I will admit it is true. One of the one true pastimes of the Harvard student is complaining about Harvard. From food to bureaucracy, from professors to classes, Harvard students are notorious for the amount of complaining they do.

But — for all of our complaining, we do very little to try to nip the unhappiness bud. It seems like we glorify our unhappiness: you think your life is bad? well, I just had 3 200-level problem sets due, a thesis to write, and ten organizations to save from self-combustion.

Right. This entry will be dedicated to why happiness is as important of an asset as time (arguably one of the most valuable things a Harvard student has, but that’s another entry).

1) Unhappiness is a waste of time.

Let us assume that time is one of the most valuable and limited resources a Harvard student has. Let us also assume that people are unhappy in part due to things that they can control — the classes they take, their living situation, the extracurriculars they are involved in.

Generally, (another assumption) unhappiness is an indicator that what we are currently doing or whatever situation that we are currently in is something that we do not want. For instance, if I am unhappy because of my math problem set, it is because I do not want to do my math problem set.

Because we are all very complex human beings (particularly the species Homo Harvardian), let us assume that unhappiness is a manifestation that our actual desires are not met.

Then, we can easily see (pardon any lapses for those with formal logic training) that if we are unhappy due to circumstances within our control, it is because we are not doing the things we actually want to do but are rather doing the things we do not want to do!

I am absolutely sorry if this seems painfully obvious to the general reader, but you must remember the typical Harvard student’s painful high school career. Mine, for instance, was marked by taking a series of classes that were rigorous and impressive and while I did enjoy learning from my very amazing teachers, I did not actually like the subject matter. While I was learning about U.S. history, I would have been so much happier spending that extra time learning chemistry.

The same applies to college — except, that time is even more critical, and the options after college are even more infinite. Whereas all high school students were “destined” to college, all college students are not “destined” to only one type of destination (grad school, jobs, med school, etc.)

We are too old to be dicking around, wasting our time doing things we don’t like. If you don’t like what you’re doing, stop doing it. You’re wasting your time when you could be advancing yourself in an field that you do enjoy.

This is why I have no pity for students who “sell out” to investment banking. I can imagine certain people would actually enjoy investment banking, but the people who jump through hoops by taking an MIT accounting class they don’t care for or work on Wall Street for 80 hour weeks just to “look good” to ibankers are eating their own shit for breakfast, lunch, dinner.

2) Happiness gives you the perception of owning your time!

Yes, there are indeed only 24 hours in the day, but if you are spending the majority of it doing the things you want to do and are the happier for it, then what does it matter that you’re “occupied” for most of it?

I dropped a few extracurriculars that brought down my mood. Even though the time commitment was minimal, my mood fell disproportionately.

I challenge you to an experiment. Think of one activity that bothers you. Then, think about earnestly for the next day what it would be like for you to quit the activity. Don’t actually quit it, but envision that you will be quitting within the week. If your mood perks up just with this pretend prospect of quitting, you should follow your gut and quit.

You might be too old or jaded to buy the, life is too short to be unhappy, hoo-hah Hallmark tosses in their cards, but you need to realize the utter futility of voluntarily strapping yourself to a charging bull for the rest of your life.

3) Accept that it is okay to not be like the people around you.

This particular point addresses the reasons why we do the things we don’t want to do. I took two of the most painful math classes because I felt that I should be taking math classes. I comped Women in Business and suffered through freshmen dribble because everyone (who was a woman) was in Women in Business already. I dragged myself to the introductory meetings of Harvard Investment Association and wondered what the point was about giving us information so general as to be effectively useless.

It is okay not to be an EC/MCB/CPB/OEB/HEB/Gov concentrator. It is okay to be VES. It is also completely okay to NOT work for a hedge fund in the summer, or to not do e-recruiting, or to not comp The Crimson.

One of the main selling points of Harvard is that there is something for everyone. Conversely, somethings may be for MOST people, but NOT everyone.

4) If you cannot go to a party on Friday night without guilty for not doing work, something is wrong.

At the Business Board happy hour for The Crimson, I patiently listened to the suffering of this Pre-med comper who ranted on about how he should be writing papers and that he “should not be here.”

Honestly, if you actually “should” be writing papers, you would be happier and more inclined to be writing papers on a Friday night by the fact that writing papers is personally more enjoyable than hanging around with a bunch of strangers. If you cannot let yourself not talk about work at a social gathering, then you obviously are unhappy with some aspect of your life.

For all the courage that Harvard students have in launching web sites and companies, we are strangely lacking in the courage to stop doing what we no longer want to do.

5) Didn’t you go to Harvard because you thought it was some sort of ticket to eternal happiness anyway?

Harvard has a lot to offer. Don’t let your own hang-ups get in the way of actually doing what you personally want.

6) The Clincher: Happier People Are More Productive!

Unproven. But, they definitely appear more productive because they are happily doing whatever it is they are doing.

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2 Responses to “Happiness: The Most Underutilized Asset at Harvard”

  1. 1 Kristin

    You are amazing. I agree with most of it, nearly all of it actually. When do you find the time to write this? And when are we going to write a book together? Love ya.

  2. 2 nikki

    SO TRUE. I hate it! lol. but i invested so much into getting in i’m probably staying. def thought i bought an eternal happiness when i got in ….

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