Here is something everyone has heard: Yale students are stressed. Indeed, “stressed” is not so much a state of being as it is a way of life, so much so that “Lux et Veritas” might roughly translate to “Ugh kill me et I have so much to do.” Students handle this stress in different ways. Some students might channel their stress into productivity, thriving on three hours of sleep and what amounts to an IV drip of caffeine. Others may hide in their dorm rooms eating undue amounts of ice cream and crying while watching John Hughes movies. But the majority of students likely complain.
This attitude was unfortunately very prevalent at my high school. Of all the aspects of high school, this was surely my least favorite, namely because it not only affected outward vocal behavior (at any given moment, a high school student’s list of complaints is longer than the CVS receipt of a loyalty club member), but also self-perception in relation to the outside world. Students at my high school began to believe that the world was always terrible, and that it was everyone else’s fault. By constantly complaining, we ensured that self-pity dominated our life and fostered an environment that valued unhappiness and stress.
I assumed that, in graduating, I might be able to leave my high school naiveté behind and instead immerse myself in collegiate maturity and sophistication. This idealization was shattered, as idealizations about college life so often are, by the Class of 2017 Facebook group. Reading post after commiserating post, I knew that we risked returning to the very ethos from which I so longed to escape.
As we’ve all witnessed firsthand, stress and self-pity inexorably become competitive: not only do we complain about the toughness of our circumstances, we also brag about it. See how long you have to wait until a fellow student mentions his or her orgo test, internship application and how little sleep he or she has been getting. While this is obviously obnoxious for a variety of reasons, what scares me the most is our potential ability to exaggerate our workload — highlighting and advertising our unpreparedness for all to see.
It seems that we are bragging about how much work we have, as if having more work makes us more serious, more legitimate and more talented. By complaining, we project an air of being overworked, meaning that if we do happen to do well, our success is all the more impressive. We hope to become the person who can juggle it all, but somehow manages to pull it off in the end, á la Sarah Jessica Parker in “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” the classic film about a modern woman who attempts to balance work and a personal life, but ultimately ends up stressed and unhappy (though, to be honest, I have not seen this movie; I just know that in the trailer she constantly is carrying lots of bags and is overwhelmed).
It seems that being just like Sarah Jessica Parker’s character is a goal shared by most of my peers: we believe that we can only be (and seem) successful if we are overstressed and slightly depressed.
Simultaneously, by outwardly and inwardly pitying our workload and environment, we mentally excuse ourselves from responsibility for our failure. If we happen to not do well on a test, we don’t acknowledge that it might be because we chose to go on Facebook rather than reading the textbook. Instead, we blame our workload, and how little time we had to study for the test. Often, this blame is flippantly placed (“el oh el I didn’t have any time to even study, I TOTALLY bombed it”) so as to convince the listener that such a failure was not indicative of the speaker’s abilities, but merely the result of circumstance.
By portraying ourselves to be up against gratuitously difficult circumstances, we can take all the credit for our success, and none of the responsibility if we ever do fail. For the same reason, we constantly advertise how little we worked or studied for something, such that our success acts as a testament to our innate intelligence.
And yet, the most problematic aspect is that we constantly pity our circumstances. How can we be happy if we are totally preoccupied with finding reasons for our unhappiness? On vacations, we complain about how much work we should be doing. It never ends.
Until we stop glorifying our stress and start valuing actual happiness, we will forever be stressed. Let’s resolve then, as a class, that we are going to abandon Sarah Jessica Parker once and for all, and that happiness, instead of self-imposed misery, might not be so bad.
Charles Bardey is a freshman in Silliman College. Contact him at email@example.com.