Club election season is looming. For many, this means the chance to serve on an executive board for a reputable club, adding to an extensive resume and elongating one’s list of prospective employers. Some students strain themselves and mentally invest their all. For those involved, it’s a time of stress, pressure and, sometimes, disappointment.

But is the pressure we place on ourselves going to be worth it — are we promised happiness as an end result of this duress?

Although Penn students know how to get a 3.7 GPA, be the social chair of 14 different consulting clubs and get recruited to McKinsey, there is one thing that Quakers fail at: appreciating and finding happiness from smaller details in life. They are stuck in a grind of placing too much emphasis on resume stuffers, believing that career success can secure all future happiness. Penn students must remember that a small, daily or weekly ritual is ultimately more meaningful.

As a volunteer at a retirement home, I had many conversations with senior citizens that centered around memories in their lives. Their eyes sparkled when they reminisced about old times. What happened in their pasts that could have possibly brought about such happiness and fond nostalgia? You guessed it — that internship at Goldman Sachs followed by a permanent recruitment when they were 20 years old was “Treasured Memory Number One.” It was practically a recurring theme among the senior citizens.

Seriously though, it wasn’t. They recounted weekly rituals and activities, and time enjoyed at events or with family and friends. I remember one lady, Nina, very strongly. The way her face lit up when she reminisced about playing tennis with her colleagues from the bank every Sunday, you would've thought she had lived a life of grandeur — or secured an internship at Google. Nina talked about the small things like they were the most significant moments in her life. But actually, weren't they?

Penn students are often trapped inside a different sort of "Penn bubble." Everyone is scrambling to secure a new position on an executive board and add another line to their resume. For Generic Quaker No. 1, an extra line on a LinkedIn profile means internal and external validation, and that equates to increased happiness points. And our little Quaker here isn’t to blame. He is a guinea pig in our toxic pre-professional culture that makes students forget how to gauge the real importance of different elements in life. Generic Quaker No. 1 is trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle as students continue one-upping each other.

Through the endless strive for superficial professional success, Penn students forget that, at the end of the road, happiness is truly found in the minutiae of everyday life: not a one-off position or achievement, but a consistent facet of life that is not taken for granted. It may be that game of tennis that you play every week with your roommates. It may be a conversation you have every day with your favorite barista. It may be sitting in the sun on College Green on spring afternoons.

This is obvious. It doesn’t take an opinion columnist to tell you that happiness comes from fun, small things. Yet, Penn students are still trapped in that bubble where this fact has been erased. They still cry when they don’t get internships, feel jealous when their friends do, apply for prestigious-sounding positions to appear important and rely heavily on external validation. The bubble has blurred the line between validation and happiness, which is a slippery slope for mental health issues and life dissatisfaction.

In the 2013 National College Health Assessment, almost 50 percent of college students said they “felt overwhelming anxiety in the last year,” undeniably resulting from the snowballed pressures of college. Some psychology researchers define happiness as “subjective well-being”; we must stray from Penn’s outlook that the one objective way to gain happiness is through a resume.

Of course, it’s not all gloomy. I concede that this culture pushes and drives students to achieve, discover and learn. It’s good motivation, but it has become skewed to a point where students buckle under external pressure because they don’t have impressive-enough internships, or are more concerned with outward appearances than activities that they actually love. 

A reminder is necessary, that it’s OK to not get an exec position in a club, or even a job at a prestigious firm. What’s going to matter in the very end is how you appreciated the details of what you did have — how you lived every day. Because when you’re looking back on your life in a retirement home, what are you really going to reminisce about? What memories are you going to wish that you could relive, one last time? It probably won’t be anything on your LinkedIn.


LUCY HU is a College sophomore from Auckland, New Zealand, studying political science. Her email address is lucyhu@sas.upenn.edu. “Fresh Take” usually appears every other Wednesday.

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