Finding Happiness in College

By, Christine Nappi, Features Editor

As she sat in class, watching the first snow flurries of the year, Isabel Cameron felt nothing but joy. The Texas-native, who barely gets to experience the wonders of the fluffy, picturesque downfall each winter, couldn’t have been more excited at something that may seem so unimportant to others. But according to her, the little things in life really do matter and can help contribute to our feelings of happiness.

“[It’s] just the small things like that I think are so nice and so many people overlook them,” Cameron said. “I think if we paid more attention to [the little things], it could be a really good source of ‘Oh, life’s actually super great.’”

Cameron, a junior psychology major and events coordinator of the Psychology Club, describes that oftentimes students get so caught up in grades and homework that they forget to cherish the things that make them feel happy. As she describes, this past year and a half has been no easy feat with the pandemic driving us inside, keeping us online 24/7 and limiting our social interactions, yet being back on campus has allowed Cameron to appreciate the small things. Now, she sees what big of an impact the seemingly small details of college, such as socializing with friends and engaging in in-person lecture, have on one’s college experience and overall feelings of joy.

In particular, Cameron specifically notes that students can find happiness and stay positive through surrounding themselves with a solid support system of friends.

“When you have those social bonds with people, you kind of have self identifiers that make you feel more secure, and you have people to talk to about things and you have people that make your day better,” Cameron said. “It’s very hard to be happy when you’re alone…but I think having a strong social system is really important and that’s really easy to do on campus because there’s so many people that are so nice.”

Psychology professor Nuwan Jayawickreme, Ph.D., also finds that making an effort to socialize with the people in your life can lead to feelings of happiness. Amid the pandemic, it may be difficult to maintain those connections and hop on yet another video call to talk to them, but doing so can have a tremendous impact.

“Make an effort [to] engage with the important people in your life, even when it requires a bit of work,” Jayawickreme said. “Making sure that you’re maintaining those friendships, that the people who care about you know how you’re doing, that you know what’s going on in the [lives of] people you care about, that’s essential.”

Jayawickreme’s area of study is particularly focused on the topics of mental health and well-being, and he is dedicated to educating others on these topics. Aside from teaching on the topic, Jayawickreme incorporates mental health initiatives into the classroom by always checking in on students and working with them to achieve academic success. He encourages students to check out the Psychology club for opportunities to engage with others.

As events coordinator of the Psychology Club, Cameron helps craft engaging events centered around professional development in the field of psychology, but also creates events centered around topics of stress relief and mental health.

The club is an outlet not only for psychology majors, but for anyone who is looking to make friends and learn more about psychology.

“The goal of the psych club is just to kind of create a safe space where people can both, build connections with other psych majors and people within their field, as well as find good ways to understand themselves,” Cameron said. “So we just want to be there for people as much as we can, whether thats like physically talking to someone and making friends, or whether thats like making a whole event for something that people are passionate about.”

In addition to the Psychology Club events, Cameron describes that the college hosts a number of different social events on campus, including events that bring awareness to the issue of mental health. She notes that if students were to “open [their] eyes” and make the most of these events, they can help bring a “sense of peace and happiness to people.”

One of these mental health initiatives on campus is Emilia O’Neill’s “Passion Project” in the Lasallian Women and Gender Resource Center. Passion Projects is a program within the center in which each intern creates their own initiatives centered around important topics relating to gender justice, feminism, health, and more. As she describes, these research-backed projects are a way to provide support for students on campus because they’re “driven” with a passion for helping others. O’Neill, a sophomore psychology major and intern in the LWGRC, is crafting a project around mental health on campus in an effort to raise awareness on the topic.

O’Neill has been creating an Instagram series where she posts positive messages and mental health resources on the LWGRC’s Instagram each day. Her plan is to have her passion project culminate into a mental health day next semester.

“Mental health is one big bubble, but basically [the project] is all just focused towards advocating and spreading awareness and networking with different avenues of support,” O’Neill said.

The Lasallian Women and Gender Resource Center fosters a sense of security and support for students to discuss topics centered around feminism, gender justice, mental health, and more. CHRISTINE NAPPI/THE QUADRANGLE

In order for students to find happiness, O’Neill also notes that students should be aware of the many factors that can make them unhappy. She states that amid the pandemic and academic stress it’s difficult for students to stay happy these days, but prioritizing self-care and communicating your stress to professors, friends, or family can be a way to help.

However, O’Neill notes that students should care for themselves in the way that they see best fit, and find things that make them happy. Although students may not be able to control forces that make them unhappy, they can control the ones that do.

“People narrow the focus on what self care is, and self care doesn’t mean you have to lay in a dark room with a face mask, it can be a number of things, and so I think its important for people to find what it is that fulfills that,” O’Neill said. “Find the things that you can control that bring you happiness because there’s going to be outside factors that you can’t [control].”

Although finding the things that bring happiness is important to mental health, Jayawickreme describes that sometimes we won’t always be positive and happy, as seen with the pandemic, and that’s okay. Instead of expecting to live a constantly positive and happy life, Jayawickreme encourages people to be aware of downs of life too, so that when the bad days come, they know how to handle them.

“One thing we can all take away from [the pandemic], and I do hope it ends sooner rather than later, is to sort of be more aware that life has its ups and downs and that when we have good luck and when we succeed in what we’re doing we should enjoy that more, because life is not always success and good luck” Jayawickreme said. “I think life can be great, life can be wonderful. And we need to kind of think about how we can make sense of life’s curveballs a little bit more.”

As he describes, one needs the bad days in order to really experience the joy of the good ones, which is something that can make life more meaningful.

“In some ways, when you go through hardship it makes you more able to appreciate the good stuff in your life,” Jayawickreme said. “All these positive emotions are probably insufficient, you need the contrast [of emotions] to make you appreciate joy.”

Similar to Jayawickreme, O’Neill also finds that being more aware of negative emotions and one’s mental health is an important topic to examine. As she describes there is a current stigma around mental health, and although more people are talking about it, it’s still a “taboo topic” for people to discuss.

O’Neill hopes that her passion project will not only help students garner feelings of happiness and show them what resources are available to them, but she also hopes the project will remove the stigmas surrounding mental health. She hopes that doing so will create a healthier and happier campus community.

“[The project] will just foster a healthier conversation surrounding mental health which will hopefully make people more aware of maybe what they’re struggling with [and how] they can cope with those struggles, and where they can reach out for support,” O’Neill said. “And hopefully on the other side, that will come a little more apparent to the college with certain struggles that students are facing, what at the college might be inducing those difficulties, and hopefully we’ll be able to work towards just a healthier environment for all.”