Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why I Choose Joy

A gray cloud descends on the Boston skyline. It’s 9 am on a Monday morning in mid-March. Slushy snow begins to fall, melting into mini pools at every crosswalk on campus. NorthFace-clad students walk to class with their heads down, hiding their faces from the snow and sporadic hail. Some stop to commiserate about the weather, about Mondays, or about fatigue. Others march along, indifferent to the world around them.
            I am among these students, lost in my own thoughts while crossing the Boston University Bridge. I think of my errands, my schoolwork, and then my newest predicament: there’s a blizzard outside and I am not prepared. I am angry with myself for not checking the weather, but I take out my iPod and trudge on with my peers.
            Within a few moments, the sounds of a flute and the beats of a Tarbouka drum stream through my headphones. My mind travels to a place I feel most at peace: Arad, a tiny city in Israel’s desert. I pause for a second and remember falling asleep under millions of stars, in awe of the boundless universe. I remember the children at the Arad foster home, whom I nurtured and cared for like family. I remember sitting next to Holocaust survivors at Shabbat dinner, listening to their stories over bowls of homemade chicken soup.
I stop at Marsh plaza, close my eyes, and a surge of gratitude pours in like an insight. I feel like I received my golden ticket.
Soon, I’m nearly skipping across campus, allowing the water to seep through my boots until my feet are blocks of ice. My hair is rain-soaked, my face blackened by mascara, my fingers are numb--and I am overcome with bliss. 
            I continue walking down Commonwealth Avenue, smiling at strangers and saying hello. Some give me quizzical looks, but most smile back.  I hope that they too see beauty in the clouds, the naked trees, and in the rippling puddles.
            A friend stops me on the street and asks, “You look so happy today—how come?”
            I reply in a matter-of-fact tone, “Because I choose it.”
            I want everyone to understand that happiness does not depend on external events, people, or weather—It comes from gratitude, which is a choice. Of course, friends and sunny days bring joy to moments. But does the sun make you generally happy? Does that “A” grade make you a positive person? People often think, Once I lose ten pounds, I’ll be happy.  When I have these clothes, I’ll be happy. When he loves me back, I’ll be happy. But if we constantly depend on external “things” for happiness, we will inevitably be let down.
I want to start a gratitude revolution on college campuses. During my few years at university, I have heard too many conversations centered on complaints, the main ones being, “I’m so tired,” or  “I have so much work.” The one I dislike the most is, “I’m so bored.” 
 I can’t take it anymore. 
 I go to one of the best university's in the nation, and yet I hear more complaints about dining hall food than I hear gratitude for professors or for the amazing city we live in.
But this phenomenon of negativity is not entirely our fault. Our society encourages it with consumerism. Our education system facilitates it by awarding grade point averages over achievements in altruism or innovative thinking. We are constantly being told that getting job right after college will make us happy and fulfilled.
Although these institutions may be difficult to change, we do have the power to change our perspective nowWe can see the slushy snow as a burden to our own day, or as an opportunity to make a stranger who looks miserable smile. I promise if you choose the latter, you will be better off because of it. It’s not only the more joyful way to live—it’s the only way to truly live.