The pursuit of happiness: how happy are we at SPA?

Ava Gallagher

Juniors Katrina Hilton and Anna Matenaer laugh and sit on the red couches in the lower library with their laptops. Hilton is happy whenever she is “being with my friends,” she said.

Even though homework, exams, and classes can pile up quickly at school, laughter still rings through hallways and smiles are still passed around. Whether it’s seeing friends, learning something new or finding a penny on the ground, people have found ways to be happy.

Over two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “…that [people] are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Despite Jefferson’s belief that seeking happiness is a right given by a higher power, it can sometimes be easy  to do and sometimes, hard.

“I guess for me it’s easy to be happy when I’m around people and stuff because I like people,” sophomore Mattie Daub said. “Because I’m so happy I worry about becoming not happy again. Right now it’s like the happiest I’ve been my entire life, and when I’m not around people I obsess about how I’m going to go back to being not happy.”

But what is happiness, anyways?

“First, people mean two different things by ‘happiness,’” University of Minnesota philosophy professor Valerie Tiberius said. Tiberius specializes in studying ethics, well-being, moral psychology, and wisdom. “Sometimes they mean something psychological, like good feelings or a good mood. This is the sense of happiness that you might be asking about if you ask someone if they are happy that it didn’t rain on the day they planned to go to the State Fair.  But sometimes they mean something broader (and deeper) than this, where happiness is something more like ‘a good life.’  Philosophers often use the word ‘well-being’ to talk about this kind of happiness.  It’s the kind of happiness you’d be asking about when you wonder whether you would really be happier as a lawyer or a scientist or a teacher.”

In a short-term sense, happiness is “a positive emotional condition, the opposite of anxiety and depression,” Tiberius said.

Upper School Counselor Susanna Short also differentiates a good mood from a good life. “Pleasure is different from happiness,” Short said. “I can derive pleasure from eating a hot fudge sundae, but if I do that every day, that’s probably not going to create long term happiness.”

To summarize, if one wanted to be happy for a longer time, one may have to think of something beyond nice weather at the State Fair and ice cream.

“In the second sense,” Tiberius said, “the well-being sense of happiness, I think happiness has to do with living a life in which you fulfill your deep and stable values. Most people value friendship, family and accomplishment, so to be happy we have to find ways of balancing these goods in our lives.  Most people also value their own positive emotional state (we want to feel good rather than anxious or depressed), so we should choose to do things that fit our emotional nature.  That will help us achieve more of our values in the long run.”

Short also believes that happiness stems from a person’s understanding of themselves. “What I think creates happiness is when people know who they are, they know what their values are, and their behaviors align with those values and identities to connect with a larger world or a larger community,” Short said.

What makes St. Paul Academy and Summit School students happy?

“Loving friends,” junior Sam Lodge said.

“Hugs,” junior Charlie Southwick said.

“Chilling with friends and having a good time,” Dozie Nwaneri said.

Or even, in a sillier sense, “Waking up in the morning and having a new face tan from the light of my computer screen,” junior Christian Koch said.

Daub credits her positivity to school and friends. “I am happy because I go to a really good school,” she said, “and I’m getting a good education and I really like my friends and when I’m around them it’s really easy to be happy.”

How to be happier

Along with happiness, some people also look for the next big thing: meaning in life. “Authentic happiness” is when life not only has joy, but also purpose. “It has meaning or a sense that I’m contributing to making the world a better place, and I think that is an integral part of happiness,” Short said.

But being happier doesn’t always need a find-the-meaning-of-life odyssey or a transformation into an extreme optimist.

“I do believe that the more we acknowledge and are grateful for all the positives we have in our life the happier we feel,” Short said. She also thinks that the way we explain an experience to ourselves can impact our outlook on our lives.

For example, one could enter math class and think, “Oh no, I don’t understand this stuff at all and I have to study for the test tomorrow and my life is awful because I couldn’t finish my homework and I woke up thirty minutes ago so I’m groggy.”

Or, one could think, “I don’t understand this stuff, but I can meet with my teacher to talk about it. And once I get it, I’ll be ready for the test tomorrow. And even though math isn’t my favorite thing in the world, this is helping me get a good education.”

“The [story] we tell ourselves,” Short said, “the one we affirm, is probably going to be the one we feel and so examining the stories we tell of our lives can really give us a clue on how we can be happier.”

What are SPA student’s definitions of happiness?

Doing what you like with who you like.”

— freshman Claudia Rosario

I don’t think I could define happiness. When I think of the word, I think of laughter, and I think of my friends.”

— sophomore Olivia Fitch

To be someone who is at peace with the world.”

— freshman Madeeha Rizvi

When serotonin or dopamine in my brain is released.”

— junior Michael Wilkens

Happiness is being in a place where you feel happy. Being positive and upbeat and having coffee.”

— sophomore Mattie Daub

True happiness comes from when life is simple at times and the challenging parts bring joy to us.”

— junior Sam Carlson

Mental stability and chocolate and lots of movies to watch on a Saturday.”

— freshman Miriam Tibbetts

Being content with who you are and enjoying the people around you.”

— freshman Caswell Burr

It’s more a state of mind than something you can get. Sometimes I’m happy when nothing particularly happy is happening.”

— junior Ysabella Johnson

When you smile and you don’t know why. And when you laugh so hard, you ache.”

— senior Ariana Amini

Good people, good food, good times.”

— sophomore Hunter Murray

Be yourself. Be content with everything.”

— sophomore Alexis Irish

My definition of happy is a life surrounded by family and friends who know you and care about you.  If you really know yourself and what you love and believe in, then you are happy.  If you make sure you are doing things you love and believe in and things for other people.”

— sophomore Dani Tiedemann

Anytime my chest doesn’t feel constricted or weighed down. When I think of things that make me smile either internally or externally.”

— junior Emily Ross

Doing something that maximizes your utility.”

— senior Ben Braman

Not being sad. It’s feeling good about yourself and confident of your abilities and overall, awesome.”

—  senior Perrin Schuster

How has SPA students’ definitions of happiness changed from childhood to adolescence?

I don’t think it has changed much because I try to keep some of the things I’ve loved to do since I was a child so that I can avoid negativity.”

— sophomore Kennedy Strombeck

Childhood = TV, toys, friends, lunch. Now = lunch, friends, cellphone, parties.”

— sophomore Asad Masood

I never really thought about what happiness as a kid. When I was confronted with the question of happiness when I was younger, things had happened where I thought I’d never be really happy again.”

— sophomore Dani Tiedemann

It doesn’t take as much to make me happy as it did when I was littler.”

— senior Ben Braman

Kids are more easily pleased with objects such as toys or dolls or by simple actions, which is probably something we can all try to do as well.”

— sophomore Deniz Kihtir

It hasn’t, actually.”

— junior Emily Ross

It’s gotten harder to achieve. Before, happiness was ‘woohoo, I have friends and toys,’ but now it’s more than just friends and toys.”

— senior Perrin Schuster