We all get tired from the pressure of projects, the late-night study sessions, and the constant feeling of falling behind. And when it’s time to rest, all have felt a sense of anxiety hovering over our body as we don’t know what will happen on exam day or if all this work will even be worth it in the end.

It’s not easy to get rid of this feeling and exchange it for a sense of happiness. Thus, it’s what makes the perception of constant stress and anxiety around schoolwork so dangerous.

Picture collage of a young person smiling while holding a flower surrounded by images of books, leaves, and a dog.
Happiness is subjective, but can be characterized as the “feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment”.

But I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to feel stuck in a constant negative stage while working towards your next chapter in life. There are ways to dig yourself out of the hole and position yourself in a better state of mind. But what exactly drives happiness?

What is happiness?

According to Daniel Gilbert, the author of Stumbling on Happiness, happiness is a subjective experience. It is impossible to compare two different levels of happiness between different individuals. What we do know according to the definition of happiness, is that within an individual, happiness can be characterized as the “feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment”.

While these are subjective and vary from one person to the next, understanding your level of happiness can be boiled down into two different areas.

  • The balance of emotions: We all feel sad and happy, but knowing when you’re happy is when you experience more positive feelings than negative ones.
  • Life satisfaction: This applies to how satisfied you feel with different aspects of your life, including work, school, personal achievements, and other important areas.

How to find happiness in your work

After understanding more about the definition of happiness and how you view your own happiness, the million-dollar question now is, how do you achieve happiness as a student, in your school work, and in your career?

While happiness may be a natural occurrence for some people, there are things you can do to be happier if you’re someone who finds it hard to achieve happiness on a daily basis.

1. Meaningful work:

When you read a book you don’t like or work on an assignment you don’t fully understand, it’s hard to be happy when the time spent reading or working on an assignment can be better used somewhere else. To be happy, you have to find work that is meaningful to you. Seek out work that involves your passion, values, and gifts. Then take those classes or choose a career that best fits your skills.

But what if your work doesn’t pertain to your interest? How can you find meaning when your work feels meaningless? If that’s the case, there’s still hope to be happy.

According to Professor Hatice Necla Keleş at Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul who did research on work and happiness, you must start by clearly understanding your purpose and evaluate why you’re doing what you’re doing. Without a clear purpose and an understanding of your goals, it can be extremely tiresome to roll out of bed in the morning.

The biggest misconception of the happiness industry is that happiness is an end, not a means.
Shawn Achor, author of Positive Intelligence

Once you have a clear purpose and goal, reflect on what you care about most and what motivates you. This could be getting a certification, working a dream job, or having the skills to help others later in life. Ask yourself questions like “what are my values?” or “what drives me?” can be a great way to refocus on why you’re spending your precious time doing homework instead of going out with friends. Think about why you decided to go to school in the first place or consider how the work you’re doing now can help solve work/personal problems in the future.

2. Learn to thrive

If you’re thriving, you have a bit of an edge compared to those around you. When you thrive, you are satisfied and productive in your work. So how do you thrive at school? According to Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath, authors of Creating Sustainable Performance, there are two keys to increasing your ability to thrive at work.

  • Vitality: Vitality is the sense of being excited, alive, and passionate. Those who experience vitality feel that what they do daily can make a difference in the community.
  • Learning: Why? Learning often increases personal growth, and those who are in the process of learning are likely to have faith in their potential growth. And that’s precisely what you’re doing when you pick up a book to study.

3. Minor milestones

When it comes to achieving happiness, we tend to think of larger life milestones like graduating from school, getting a car, or even a job promotion. The problem is, people are not great at forecasting the events that make them happy and how long that happiness can last.

What does that mean?

People overestimate how a positive event can make them happier than those events actually do. In The Science Behind the Smile by Daniel Gilbert and Gardiner Morse, they said that “very few experiences affect us for more than three months. When good things happen, we celebrate for a while and then sober up. When bad things happen, we weep and whine for a while and then pick ourselves up and get on with it”. Therefore, these large milestone events won’t make you any happier than the small, consistent ones.

To be happier more often, sit down and think about the small milestones you’ve accomplished throughout the school year. This could range from passing an important exam, completing a semester, or adapting to a better study habit. All these smaller milestones are worth being happy for as they take time, hard work, and dedication to achieve a larger goal. Celebrating small wins will often help you feel good, and rewarding yourself for success can give you something to look forward to.

The challenge to achieving happiness

Even with modern-day technologies where you can get your favorite food in an instant and buy whatever you want just by clicking a few links, it’s still hard to be happy while everyone seems to be doing so well on Instagram.

The issues may not be your external environment but your understanding of how to chase and achieve happiness. According to Shawn Achor, author of Positive Intelligence, “The biggest misconception of the happiness industry is that happiness is an end, not a means”. We think that if we get what we want, then we’ll be happy. But it turns out that our brains actually work in the opposite direction.”

We always see happiness or being happy as an end goal, but what we need to focus on is the journey by analyzing what truly makes us the happiest and constantly engaging in the activities or processes that help us retain a more fulfilling life.

Simply put, you’ll be happiest when you enjoy the present moment and small wins along the way. When you finish a meaningful project or assignment or help someone who needs it from you, then you’re tapping into your value and purpose that can be celebrated more often.

Achieving happiness

One of the most extraordinary things about being human is that we don’t always have to seek out a therapist to achieve happiness every time we’re feeling down. We are more resilient than we know.

When you want to be happy even with all the stress from school, think about the bigger goal, how far you’ve gotten to the finish line since you first started, and always remember that you have a community of people who are there to lend you their support to help you grow.