Last night I attended ‘Leadership Club’, a weekly gathering created by my co-worker, where a group of high school girls discuss a variety of issues. The topic last session was positive psychology: the study of happiness. Part of Leadership Club, Meg told me, is that the girls have been keeping a journal and writing things down that make them happy every day.
Something that has stunned me about these kids is how brutally honest and transparent they are. They hold nothing back and were completely open about their struggles, dreams, disappointments, joys, and sorrows. Teenagers, in my experience, need to be coaxed from their fortresses of emotion (treacherous places guarded by iphones). Within minutes, though, these girls were telling us about their innermost thoughts and feelings—some of which were tough to hear. I asked if they ever had days where they couldn’t think of anything to write that had made them happy and what they did when that happened.
All of them vehemently nodded and said that they either forced themselves to think of something—which sometimes felt contrived, but in some cases worked because it made them change perspective and see the good in little things—or wrote down why they were sad in the hopes of finding clarity.
I wrote about this practice a little while ago when I did something similar, but took photos instead of journaled. One of the girls echoed my sentiments exactly: there are days when you aren’t happy, but you can learn and grow in your unhappiness if you try to understand it.
Sometimes a new perspective and an attitude adjustment are what you need to break the barrier of unhappiness that we build around ourselves, but being unhappy doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with you and I’m so glad it took these girls far less time to figure that out than it took me.
The evening, with soft light and a crisp breeze that smelled of sweet dosas, was perfect. And when I tuned out of the conversation for just a moment, I heard the piano. On the other end of the lawn, spilling from the assembly hall, a student was practicing Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’.
The notes began to emotionally crescendo and I felt like laughing and crying because of how appropriate the song was for the moment and how nostalgic I felt. I am exactly where I should be right now, but the kids had been asking earlier to see my house on Google Maps. Thankfully, they were too distracted by the screen to see me tear up while looking at my childhood home and the house I lived in my senior of college (even though it was full of mold, I miss it).
It has only been a week, but the questions are swarming: Is this life of traveling and teaching and uncertainty what I actually want, or what I think I want? Do I want to spend the next unforeseeable amount of time living out of a suitcase or am I comparing my international experiences with others (something the girls also know you should never do) and feeling like I need to live an ‘adventurous’ life to keep up?
It is probably a mixture of both (damn you, early 20s). This morning I woke up content and am abnormally excited about my chai and instant coffee. Tomorrow I may be so homesick it hurts. Really, everyone is just confused all the time and—like the girls said—sometimes you don’t know why you feel the way you do. You just do.