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Start with a fresh mind this semester

Earlier this summer I took a philosophy course called “The Science of Happiness”—very fitting after a semester that seemed to truly test my patience. The course, taught by Dr. Anthony Jack, dives into the roots of happiness in our lives. What makes us happy? What even is happiness? My class, which was an amalgamation of students from various backgrounds and upbringings, spent three weeks answering those questions. The time we spent discussing our insightful and often deeply personal ideas about happiness were some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in a classroom setting. I highly recommend taking this course if you have room in your schedule. For our back-to-school issue, I wanted to bring those answers regarding happiness to you, because we all deserve to start this semester with a fresh, healthy mind.

First, humans are astoundingly resilient.

In psychology, the term hedonic adaptation refers to the process by which positive and negative effects on one’s happiness fade over time, gradually returning to a “set point” of happiness. There are times in our lives when we are happier than usual, say you get accepted into your dream school, or you get that job offer you’ve always wanted. Eventually, you will become accustomed to that change and you won’t think much of it anymore. That might sound demoralizing, but consider that the same principle applies to negative experiences. Even after the most dreadful tragedies, scarring losses, overwhelming setbacks—experiences that might tell you to give up—you will adapt. You will get back on your feet and keep marching forward.

That single realization is one of the most useful keys to unlocking the mystery of human happiness. We all have an extraordinary ability to adapt to the best and the worst. No matter what, we will keep moving forward. As another school year begins and we resort back to our daily routines of going to class, turning in homework and studying for exams, let’s keep in mind that no matter the trials and tribulations we go through, we will come out the other end alright.

Second, mindfulness and breathing exercises are beneficial in cultivating both good physical and mental health.

Simply slowing down and consciously focusing on your breathing can reduce stress and help you sleep better. Every single one of us would benefit immensely from slowly breathing in, holding our breath and breathing out a few times when we feel overwhelmed. That constant deluge of responsibilities that creeps up on you can be put to rest by simply slowing down. Conscious, deep breathing is especially vital in combatting anxiety symptoms, which present as shallow breaths coming from the chest. Instead, try to breathe from your stomach. You’ll notice yourself feeling more relaxed and in tune with the present moment.

Meditation also has its benefits. Mindfulness meditation in particular helps clear up the mind, allowing you to be more at peace with the difficulties you encounter on a daily basis. Every morning we would spend about 30 minutes of class practicing mindfulness, and I found that it helped me a lot with my anxiety. If you’re not used to just sitting down and accepting the world around you, meditation might be difficult at first. It was for me. But, like with anything else, the more time you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. There are countless apps and tutorials online to get you in the rhythm. Headspace is one that Dr. Jack uses frequently.

Lastly, gratitude journaling—writing down anything and everything you are grateful for—leads to positive outcomes, such as stress reduction, improved sleep and stronger relationships.

Every single day for two weeks each of us practiced gratitude journaling. I found many similarities in the people, movies, shows, music and pets that I was grateful for. Friends, family, my favorite music artists, such as Porter Robinson, even my cat—all frequently appeared in each journal entry. It helped me appreciate the positive influences I have in my life and dispel the bad memories. There wasn’t much work or thought that went into it. I just sat down with a pencil in hand and wrote down whatever came to mind. It’s a simple exercise that has great benefits. You, too, should try counting your blessings.

The semester has just begun. Soon we’ll be taking long treks to get to class, writing down notes, submitting assignments, attending club activities and enjoying the time we have with the people we care about. Instead of succumbing to the stress, let’s stand tall and firm and carry these practices with us as we navigate the peaks and valleys of college life. When we finally make it to the end goal miles down the road we’ll be proud of all the work we made along the way.

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About the Contributor
Beau Bilinovich
Beau Bilinovich, Opinion Editor

Beau Bilinovich (he/him) is a fourth-year student majoring in aerospace engineering. When not struggling to turn in his homework at the last minute, he enjoys playing video games with his friends on Discord, listening to Porter Robinson’s “Nurture” on an endless loop, adoring his black and white cat, Bob and learning guitar. One day, he hopes to work for NASA and send more people into space, and accomplish his dream of publishing a book.

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