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Happiness – It’s About You

This is the first post by one of our new writers, Vishrut Srivastava. Say hi to him in the comments!

College is fun. But it gets pretty stressful at times and this makes some people, you know, sad. New research shows that our happiness is made up of approximately 50% genes, 10% life circumstances, and 40% self-control.

Hold up. 40% of happiness is a personal choice? This means that even if your genes were programmed to make you perpetually delighted and your life just rocked in every way, you could still be “meh.” Clearly your choices and mental state can go a long way in making college life a lot more of a pleasant experience. So let’s leave behind the discussion of things that you have virtually no control over, genes and circumstances, and talk about what you can control. Here are some strategies for staying peppy through the stresses of college life:

Get Some Sleep

If you are a college student, chances are that you don’t get much sleep at night. And if you’re like me, your days get so busy that work inevitably spills over to 2am the night before it’s due. I won’t tell you in this post how to go about managing that, but I’ll tell you why you should.

Sleep is a time that your brain uses to process information from the day before and to prepare itself for taking in new experiences. Sleep also helps with memory and complex cognitive tasks. With college life already crazy, you don’t want to be forgetting your keys at home or unable to pay attention in class. Try being happy when you can’t even remember where you left your cell phone.

On a slightly unrelated note, lack of sleep also causes you to eat more, cripples your immune system, and at least in lab rats, causes skin lesions. You don’t want that.

Practice Mindfulness

You don’t have to be in the Himalayas to reap the benefits of a little mindfulness. If you’re not familiar with the term, this is can involve anything from taking a couple minutes in the morning to focus yourself or taking a walk through the park. Many studies have shown that these little breaks from the bustle of everyday life can help recharge your attentional ability, especially if you use the time well. Try and schedule a time in every day to relax yourself – it really works wonders for your mental state. Here is a great place to start.

Mindfulness practices serve two functions: to recharge and de-stress yourself, and to step back and process life. Speaking of stepping back…

Take Some Perspective

Jumping between classes, parties, and meetings probably means that you end up handling things as they come at you. Imagine a game of dodge ball. You narrowly avoid getting hit in the face, only to have another projectile quickly approaching behind it. You have no time to think about how to avoid the next one, let alone your strategy in the game. College goers have a similar problem – you get one exam out of the way, only to realize you haven’t even started studying for the next one.

This is an exhausting process that can take its toll on anyone. But more importantly, it obliterates your ability to put events into perspective. When you only look at the small picture, things that don’t go your way feel like the end of the world. Chill out. That B in Physics class is not the apocalypse. Take a momentary step back from the game and you realize you have a lot of things to be happy about. The funny thing is, the hardest time to do that is when you need it most. You can’t do anything about that B anymore, except learn from the situation and move on. Make it happen.

This was by no means an exhaustive list of how to stay cheerful though the school year. From experience though, this is a good start. Why not start now during the summer to prepare for the upcoming semester? Keep in mind that happiness is not a goal to be met, it’s a process. Small changes in your everyday life can mean big changes in how you feel.

Do you have any strategies that you use? Share them in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter!