Through the Looking Glass: Finding Your Happy Place
By Heather Roland
Published on Friday, May 4, 2012
Editor’s Note: Through the Looking Glass is The Mirror’s newest feature. We welcome submissions from all members of the community — both past and present — who wish to write about defining experiences, moments or relationships during their time at Dartmouth. Please submit articles of 800-1,000 words to email@example.com.
Before coming to Dartmouth, many students believe that everything here will be packed full of happiness. You’ll come in freshman year and find a wonderful group of friends right away, you’ll love every moment in the organizations you belong to and you definitely will never stop smiling. Well, at least that was my mindset coming here back in 2008. I started out freshmen fall as a recruited athlete, pumped about Trips and living in a sick two-room double in Fahey-McLane. I was ready to throw myself head first into Dartmouth culture.
Well, freshman year didn’t end up quite as perfectly as I had originally hoped.
I started off my academic career with my Writing 5 during 9Ls (derp). Sitting in that classroom in Baker Hall, I spent most of the class thinking about how much I didn’t belong. We were talking about the philosophical aspects of positive psychology, and I was tired, overwhelmed and terrified.
Hoping to make up for my seeming lack of ability to contribute in the classroom, I was really banking on my fall golf season going well. I needed something to remind me or convince me that I deserved to be here. To say my season went poorly, however, would be an understatement. This chipped away at my confidence and left me feeling yet again like I had cheated my way into this place.
By the time freshman spring rolled around, my academics weren’t so hot, my golf game was terrible, I didn’t have very many friends and I was less than thrilled about Dartmouth in general.
I started doing — or at least trying to do — everything “Dartmouth.” By sophomore summer, one of my friends even told me that I was the most “Dartmouth” person he knew. This confused me because in my mind, people who are “Dartmouth” were supposed to be happy all the time and love everything about this place, and I had absolutely lost that sense of excitement and optimism.
As time went by, I started to become more reflective about my life here and began to think about the reasons that my experience continued to be less than ideal. I had set high expectations for Dartmouth life and hadn’t let myself diverge from this misconception of happiness and perfection. Since I didn’t think that I inherently belonged here, I felt like I had to earn happiness, to earn my place and do everything I thought I was supposed to do. Everything in my life felt like an obligation or requirement in the hopes of finding those college friends that are supposed to last forever.
As most of you know, it is extremely easy and almost expected to have lots of acquaintances at Dartmouth. You say hello to them when you pass, and you talk to them about the confusing Hanover weather and what they did this past weekend. However, the most crucial thing to have at this school are true friends you can turn to for anything. You need people here to help you navigate through the letdowns, the confusion and the sadness because even though it seems taboo, it’s OK to be sad at Dartmouth. Realizing this helped me in more ways than I will be able to express in this short column, though I’ll try my best to explain how I finally learned to be happy here.
Dartmouth is hard, competitive, brutal and deceiving, but if you find the right people to help you navigate through the chaos, it can be one of the most wonderful places to develop friendships and really get to know people.
Starting to be open about my feelings and troubles here was one of the most difficult and wonderful parts of my last four years. This isn’t to say that my time here has been terrible and full of tragic events — it hasn’t. But I have begun to acknowledge that things can always get better. The friends I made during the end of my sophomore summer and throughout junior year showed me how helpful it is to vent and sometimes show my weakness. They helped me to realize that you grow when things fall short of your expectations. These opportunities give you a chance to reflect on your life and think about what makes you happy.
Don’t do things here out of obligation. After two years of playing mediocre golf, I started to really focus on practice and helping the team improve. I felt like I needed to play well, not for my own benefit but in order to deserve my spot as a student here, striving to find a sense of belonging. While I was so caught up in my golf game, I sacrificed my academics and friendships. It wasn’t until this spring that I finally acknowledged to myself that I was not comfortable with the way the team was being run and that it didn’t make me happy anymore. I realized that it is possible to “earn” your spot here and belong simply by befriending and helping people around me, just as many of my friends have done for me. Do things because you love them, not because you feel like you have to.
As the alumni board so kindly reminded us last week at the Daniel Webster senior dinners, the ’12s don’t have many days left, and our friendships and connections we make here are the parts of Dartmouth that are going to stick with us the most after graduation. There is no right way to do Dartmouth in the sense that there isn’t a one-way path to happiness here. The way to find happiness is to think about how to make your Dartmouth experience the best for you.
So take a little time to reflect on your life here. As cliche as it might sound, life is short, and college is even shorter. You really don’t have time to sit back and passively let your life happen before your eyes. You are in control of your happiness, so find friends that love you, do activities that make you happy and take classes that you find interesting. In the end, those are the things that are going to matter most after leaving this place.
Heather Roland ’12 is skillfully avoiding her life and refusing to grow up. On a similar note, she is confused as to why Neverland isn’t a real place.