Scheduling Time for Happiness

My days repeat like clockwork. I finish class around 12, already fixating on all of the work I have to complete before rehearsal begins, or PULSE, or before that review session I swore I would go to. I stand in the endless bowl line at Eagle’s (update: it almost reaches the bathroom now) and scroll through my emails. After scarfing down my bowl—the usual combo of cauliflower, squash, Thai peanut dressing, and mac ’n‘ cheese—I hurry to the Social Work Library. For the next two hours I huddle among the rows of books and motivational quotes and get down to business. The other day, I emerged from the library around 4:30 p.m., shoved open the door to McGuinn, and realized … it was snowing. I know what you’re thinking—Maddie, this is the most worthless epiphany I have ever read. But the meaning lies in the moment’s insignificance: For the first time that day, I stopped and looked up at the sky. Instead of gripping my hood tight around my face, rushing out the door, and forcing my eyes to the ground, I delighted in the sensation of the individual flakes melting on my cheeks and sticking to my hair. I didn’t even move. I took a moment to pause and look up at the snow fluttering under the lamplight instead of marching forward. I appreciated the uniqueness of a single day, reveling in the life that was swirling and falling softly around me.

Americans dedicate, on average, $11 billion annually to the self-help industry. Throughout the United States, people devour self-help books and vow to attend meditation classes with the hope that their efforts will spell out happiness. Boston College students spend immeasurable hours obsessing over the majors, volunteer work, internships, friends, and careers that compose their image of a happy life. But through that ceaseless and frantic struggle of checking boxes, studying late into the night, worrying, and attempting to get ahead, we complicate the picture of happiness more than we clarify it. We work so tirelessly to formulate happiness that we never prioritize the things that actually make us, well, happy.

Stanford Graduate School of Business professor and happiness guru Jennifer Aaker argues that most people have an acute awareness of the activities and people that bring them the most joy, “but do not in fact spend much time on those projects and with those people.” This realization is critical. Aaker asserts that we transform our lives into perpetual to-do lists, scheduling our time so intricately that we forget to appreciate it, to revel in it. We assume that happiness rests at the end of to-do lists that are never empty. Instead, we must deliberately schedule time for joy.

When I think of the times in my life that I feel happiest, certain moments from the school year flood my memory: late nights sitting in my room laughing with friends, artsy movie theaters with yummy popcorn, the sauna at the Plex, the freedom I feel when I dance, and spontaneous snowball fights. Too often, I arrive at the end of my day exhausted by my daily attempt to grasp at the strings of time, which always slip out of reach. When I neglect to schedule happiness, I neglect life in a much more profound way. As BC students, we constantly battle the clock, maximizing efficiency so that we can go to class, study, get great grades, lead clubs, work out, and then collapse into bed. I have realized that my “to-do” list will never be blank. I must make time for the activities and people that allow me to pause and enjoy the life I often rush through.

If you are most happy surrounded by a big group of friends, schedule a nice hour for a leisurely dinner and long chat. If you feel most relaxed watching Netflix, find a night each week to catch up on your favorite shows (I personally recommend Mindhunter). If working out is a stress reliever, but you often find yourself skipping to get ahead on work, schedule a 30-minute workout into your routine. I often find myself skipping the activities I promised I would fit into my schedule at the beginning of the day, once I realize all of the homework and club meetings I have written in my planner throughout the day. Staying committed to scheduling time for joy involves physically writing down a realistic goal (like a 30 minute yoga class) and sticking to it. According to The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky, 40 percent of our happiness “lies not in changing our circumstances (seeking wealth or attractiveness or better colleagues), but in our daily intentional activities.” Realistically, school, clubs, and work will always be a priority, but writing happiness into your daily schedule—whether in a planner, cell phone, or laptop—ensures that you are dedicated to deliberately make joy a critical part of your life.

Perhaps renowned author Jonathan Safran Foer says it best: “I think and think and think, I‘ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.” We dedicate so much of our lives to the pursuit of happiness but rarely the actual experience of it. Sometimes, the key might be as uncomplicated and simple as making time to relish the snow.

Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor