Photo: Crisitan Pereira
“Yeah, no, Branford’s great. Only downside is I’m forced to hear the bells every time they play.”
Two weeks into my first year, I’d just done that thing that new Yalies do where they sit down to eat at a table full of strangers and proceed to meet everyone. Oh, the confidence I’d had back then! But I’d made a new friend, a Branford junior, who was lucky enough to hear my envy of his Branford residency. The courtyard! The architecture! The sick-ass tower!
Only, the sick-ass tower was a downside for him. This struck me. Harkness is beloved — it’s what tourists gawk at, it’s on all the “Y&le” pamphlets, it’s a symbol of the historicism and grandeur that defines our university. Earlier that week I’d stopped under Harkness, looked up and listened. How fortunate am I, I thought to myself, to get to experience this? Whose God do I thank? Yet here my new friend was, wishing it wasn’t there.
I remember the day I got into Yale. Everyone does, I assume, and will for a time. And though I can’t speak for others, I’m tempted to believe we felt similar things. Shock, disbelief, immeasurable joy. A high-school-sized weight, gracefully lifted off the shoulders. It’s wild what a few dancing bulldogs accomplished that day. I’ve carefully compartmentalized it among other pleasanter memories. Many come from my first days at Yale, just a few months later. Moving into my dorm, a physical representation of the undergraduate spot the admissions office felt I could fill. Swiping into Sterling for the first time. The first college parties, orientation week, “Camp Yale.” And every day I would inevitably meet a new, wildly interesting person. My first semester was among the happiest periods of my life, as I’m sure was the case for many of you.
This feeling faded. Six months into my first year, when the bells chimed, I turned my AirPods to “Noise Canceling.” To the carillonneurs: I deeply apologize. I heeled the Guild for a bit, and even played the carillon once. I know how much you all practice. I just wanted to keep listening to Bowie.
It’s hard to remember everything about college that makes it great. I walk past these buildings every day; It’s just my life now. It’s easier for my indolent brain to focus on the puddle my non-waterproof shoe stepped in; the arm-and-a-leg cost of sliced pineapple at the Bow Wow; the people around me who’ve written for the Times, broken athletic records, advanced molecular research. Sometimes I ask myself what the admissions office was thinking when they offered me room.
Prof. Laurie Santos gave a lecture that made sense of all this (my one stroke of luck at Yale so far has been snagging a spot in Psych and the Good Life). Hedonic adaptation, focalism, she said, is hurting us all. We grow numb to the good, fixate on the bad and forget to be grateful for what satisfied us just months ago. To combat this, she recommended: deliberate your gratitude, recall experiential memories and imagine life without the things you take for granted.
I tried her strategies. Though I’ve not achieved true happiness, or close to it, I can say they work. I still take things for granted, don’t get me wrong. I just do a bit less, and as a result, I’m a bit happier. It’s been wonderful to purposefully remind myself what makes this such a place to be. The centuries-old stained glass in Linsly-Chittenden. The sun reflecting off Pierson Tower’s golden spire. Seminars with Nobel laureates and Pulitzer winners.
People often bring up issues they have with the College; All are valid, and deserve to be written in word. I can only imagine how badly a junior, or a senior, yearns for the zeal of new places. I urge even them, however, to occasionally stand under Harkness Tower. Listen, and imagine life without it. No bells; no gothic spires or gargoyles; no thrilling classes or star-striking lecturers; no Yale.
I put my AirPods away now if I’m near a chiming Harkness. Not always, I will admit, but often enough to appreciate it more than I used to. As I seek Yale’s challenges, find my limits and go beyond them, I try to breathe and slow my walk. I remember where I am, how satisfied that once made me. I remember that where I am remains a reality — and it’s enough for me to be forever grateful.
Cristian Pereira is a first year in Pierson College, majoring in English. Contact him at email@example.com