At the end of my first semester and at the peak of college application season for my high school friends, I find myself reflecting quite frequently on why I chose Yale. I remember writing about the epic admissions music video, the residential college system and alumni I adored, such as Sam Tsui ’11 and Leigh Bardugo ’97, but the main reason I chose Yale was because of something that felt too cliche to explain on paper: the people.
During campus visits and Bulldog Days, Yale’s infectious vibrancy dug into my skin, too deep for even the dreary April rain and my awkward friendlessness to shake. It was a sense that everyone was in on a shared secret of endless, exciting possibility and that behind this secret lay a magical, relentless optimism. I never let myself get too invested in the transformative powers of college, but I fell in love with this one ideal that I sensed only at Yale. So I enrolled.
Some days, I wonder if maybe Marina Keegan’s ’12 hopeful sentiments written so eloquently in “The Opposite of Loneliness” had just gotten too deep in my head. While I never doubt that I made the right choice, I’ve been discouraged by the culture of complaint and criticism that persists just as much here as elsewhere. On my first day of pre-orientation, one of my group leaders dove straight into a long-winded critique of Yale’s beauty culture and social scene before discussing anything else. A week ago, when I asked my friend how his day was going, he replied with an only half-joking, “It kind of sucks, but so does every other day.”
On a daily basis, at least half my conversations with friends center around P-sets we’re too stressed to start, papers we don’t want to write and the futures we’re sure we’re going to mess up. I say “we” because, sometimes, I’m just as vocal as everyone else; sometimes, complaining is cathartic and fun. Other times, though, it’s unproductive, disheartening and even isolating; as negativity becomes the staple of social dialogue, it becomes alienating to not participate.
Maybe I was naive to think that any campus, even one that promotes happiness and self-care as much as Yale, can elude the tempting pull of negativity. It’s not a Yale problem or even a college problem. In fact, it doesn’t even really feel like a problem so much as an unfortunate human condition until the world begins to fall apart in much bigger ways, forcing me to really contemplate just how much more negativity we can all take.
A growing threat from North Korea. Gunman opens fire in Reno, Nevada. Harvey Weinstein’s desperate attempts at a cover-up. Escaping Puerto Rico, but not the guilt. These are just some of the summarized headlines that have been sent to my inbox recently, a small but representative sample of the mess that is our current global state. When I read them, I lose so much faith in humanity. But the ironic side-effect of this disillusionment is a stronger, almost stubborn appreciation and consciousness of all the good that exists, too. From the “Chainsaw Nun” who garnered international attention for her help in clearing debris after Hurricane Irma to the dining hall workers who always greet students with genuine smiles on their faces, all the positive forces I’m exposed to spur me to live positively as well.
To be clear, I’m not trying to condemn the expression of sorrow or discontentment. Neither true happiness nor contentment can exist without its counterparts, and I, like most students, have experienced my fair share of both. But rooting ourselves in positivity, even through something as small as expressing one point of gratitude a day, may help us combat these hardships more effectively than anything else.
My friends back home often tell me that I exude a certain wide-eyed innocence and wholesomeness, just like a little kid. I used to protest, wishing I were “mature” and “cool” instead, but now I’m grateful for the way I am: a little naive in my optimism and love for life but optimistic and loving nonetheless. I wouldn’t say that I’m magically optimistic, and maybe none of us should be. That would imply that optimism is something that comes into being only by a mystical turn of fate, when it is really a conscious choice. Maybe for the new year, we can all resolve to be a little more positive and grateful in our daily lives. I can’t tell you how much change that would make, but let me just say one thing: I’m quite optimistic about the results.
Lillian Yuan is a first year in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .