Happiness Is…


Photo courtesy Mandy Schoen

Seniors Josie Starr, Dani London, Mandy Schoen, Gillian Berman, Julia Lvovsky, and Brooke Pitt snuggle during a summer camp fire.

I came up with a potential concept for this reflection article a year ago, soon after I first heard about the assignment. The outline was based on Charles Shulz‘s children’s book titled “Happiness Is A Warm Puppy, one of my favorites as a kid. The book pictures different Charlie Brown characters engaging in small moments that bring them happiness. It follows a repetitive syntax structure, each page headlined with the anaphora “Happiness is…” For example “Happiness is a good old fashioned game of hide and seek,” “Happiness is an umbrella and a new raincoat,” or “Happiness is realizing you’re not so dumb after all.”

My initial idea at the time was to take my own spin on the book with some of the stand-out memories of my fondest moments of high school. It goes something like this:

Happiness is….those classes where everyone becomes friends even if you’ve never talked before.
Happiness is… racing onto the field and piling on top of the girl who just scored the game-winning goal.
Happiness is…. laughing so hard at lunch that you have to wheeze into a paper bag.
Happiness is… realizing that you can be the upperclassman who you once looked up to.

I could go on and on. I am lucky that my high school experience has been filled with so many moments of joy. I get teary-eyed just thinking about leaving the people who have shaped my adolescence: the friends, classmates and teammates who have been with me since the beginning.

However, I realized this ‘Happiness is’ reflection would not be truly representative of my high school experience, because my outlook on life has changed so much since I first crafted the idea. When I formulated this outline, I believed that I had already identified the meaning of life: to be happy. Over the past four years, with the help of my own life experience and existential talks with science teacher Michael Thompson, I have realized that I am setting myself up for a life of failure if my only goal is to be happy.

These past four years have been defined by my happy moments. But they have also been defined by our months of isolation, the tears I’ve cried over college rejections and the constant feeling of apprehension I have felt throughout my body as graduation approaches. High school is a time for growth, a time where I’ve absorbed the beliefs, habits, and knowledge of the people around me, and used trial and error to decide which of these I would adopt for myself.

With my new perspective, I identify most with this quote from poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” I noticed a common similarity amongst all my “happiest moments” from earlier – they are structured around interpersonal connection and leaving an impact on people. That, I believe, is the value of high school and of life.

The final line of Shulz’s book states, “Happiness is one thing to one person and another thing to another person.” My favorite part of being online editor-in-chief this past year is getting to read almost every article that is published on the website. I find it fascinating how completely unique each article subject is because every staff writer has a different definition of happiness. In one day, I will publish topics ranging from the Irish potato famine to a Love is Blind review. That rare academic freedom is what makes this class, and our sponsor Evva Starr so incredibly special.

I claim to have life and happiness all figured out now, but I am certain I will look back on this article in four years and laugh at my naivety, just as I have done with my past self. I am a completely different person leaving Wootton than I was entering it. As of next week, all that I will leave of this incredibly influential palace are memories. However, I find comfort in the fact that every single moment – joyous or heartbreaking – has shaped me into a person I’m proud of as I begin this new chapter of my life.