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The tireless pursuit of happiness

My journey of looking to the present to ensure a better future for myself

It’s the start of a new year — a time when resolutions start being thrown around in every other conversation. If you’re anything like me, these resolutions are often overly optimistic and ambitious. Every year, I desire to significantly alter my lifestyle. The goals are pretty basic — I want to read a couple dozen books, go to the gym three times a week and spend less time on my phone. And yet, I struggle to stay consistent with them year after year. Moreover, these goals compel me to constantly look forward to the future instead of finding solace in my present.

When I brainstorm my goals, I keep on thinking about how I’d feel immediately after completing them, rather than reflect on how I’ll feel consistently in the long run. In a way, I feel like there’s a certain amount of happiness I attach to the conclusion of these goals. Moreover, this isn’t limited to New Year’s resolutions. This idea of anticipating happiness persists generally throughout my life as well. 

Growing up in a competitive school environment made it easy to get caught up with worrying about the future — my college, career and more. Even throughout my high school years, I’d often give up social activities for academic priorities. Why? I thought that in college, things would be different. I thought putting in the work in high school would result in less stress, lots of nights out and mental satisfaction in my undergraduate career. It didn’t matter how I was feeling in the moment, since my idealized conception of the future was enough to keep me going. 

Moreover, I’ve grown up in a generation that has been becoming increasingly competitive. Beyond academic feats, social media has exacerbated different types of pressure. Especially on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, it’s become so accessible to catch a glimpse of each other’s lives. Fancy vacations, trendy outfits and appearances, perfect by society’s standards, have taken over my feed. While these moments should be shared and are inevitable, they still foster a sense of dissatisfaction within me. When I see this type of content, I can’t help but wonder what I could one day be like and how my life could be.

Even now at college, while I’ve found more time to truly do things I enjoy, I still sometimes feel like my classes and activities are a step to a certain destination. I’m not even sure what that “destination” exactly is. In a way, that destination is almost like this vague idea of having achieved all that I’ve wanted to at some point in the future. 

To add fuel to the fire, all this anticipation has led to my joy lasting shorter amounts of time. When I achieve a certain feat, I do feel happy, but I revert back to a normal, neutral state very quickly. In those times, I feel more excited in the anticipation of a certain moment than when it finally comes. It’s a disheartening plateau of emotion. 

Needless to say, this is a less than ideal situation. In a way, I like this notion of always having something to look forward to. At the same time, it’s crushing to find myself constantly thinking about this distant future. I don’t want to be tied to this idea that might not even be my reality five or 10 years from now. I don’t want my current actions to merely be steps in my mind to something greater. 

After reflecting on all this, I’m still not sure how to resolve this issue. Part of this is addressing today’s culture. Social media creates such unrealistic expectations and unhealthy habits —  reform is surely needed. Even educational institutions could do better in alleviating the competition that pushes students a bit too far. But this one time, this circumstance requires more of an internal, mental change. 

So this new year, I’m going to alter my resolutions a bit. Instead of having a concrete idea of items I want to have checked off at the end of this year, I want to focus on what I can do every single day. It sounds cheesy, but I think we could all benefit from directing our energy on the present a little more. I recognize it’s important to keep my future in mind — especially as a college student — but my current state is also essential to consider. Therefore, I want to take small steps. Things like reflecting in my journal, meditating, spending more time with people and most importantly, controlling my urges to think about a potential future. A romanticized future. 

It’s good to have a bucket list and goals to keep us moving. But it’s also important to not let the anticipation of them be the primary driver of our present. Even if you find this all to be vastly unrelatable, I think we could all benefit from pushing ourselves to let a little loose and live more in the present. Because at the end of the day, our idea of tomorrow is never promised.