Finding Happiness and Relief Through Relationships

As an only child growing up with working parents, I was often faced with endless hours alone at home. Despite learning to value the freedom that comes with solitude, I still despised being on my own for more than a few hours at a time, and the need to constantly surround myself with friends carried into high school. I joined the cross country and track teams, participated in clubs, worked as a tutor, and somehow balanced these activities with my schoolwork. Engaging in co-curriculars that I liked meant staying happy and healthy, while simultaneously forming friendships with my peers and avoiding the loneliness that I dread to this day.

Coming in to college, I didn’t expect that friends would be particularly hard to find. These four years have always been advertised as “the time of our lives!” and the typical Boston College student seemed to have it all under control—managing grades, internships, abundant leadership positions, working out. Sliding easily into a friend group of course must have come naturally to the successful-looking students on admissions brochures and tours. The intensity of the “never-stop-grinding” attitude on campus was apparent from my first day of classes, and the pressure to embody the seeming perfection of other students encompassed my work habits and contributed to the overwhelming stress I felt throughout my first semester at BC.

I quickly found myself struggling to manage my limited time, as pressure from my parents pushed me to prioritize academics and to allow studying to consume most of my day. In an attempt to fill my empty resume, I took on a research position that led me to quit dancing in the South Asian culture show and drop my spot in the Ascend First Year Women’s Program, both of which I joined for the chance to make connections and to get involved in communities beyond the classroom. Neglecting my happiness became the norm, as any hour not spent studying or sleeping felt like a gamble with my already drained energy. Fixated upon building a five-star resume and repaying my parents for their sacrifices, I suppressed the feelings of unhappiness that I noticed and sought only the satisfaction of academic recognition. I convinced myself that working toward a higher GPA and ensuring academic perfection at BC were worth suffering through loneliness and compromising my emotional well-being. I established superficial friendships, failing to make time for anything more and perpetuating an unhealthy cycle of barely coping with the demands of college. Making friends could no longer be a priority, and I tried my best to shove aside my vulnerabilities.

Last weekend I attended 48Hours, not at all expecting to leave with the transformative experience that other students enjoyed. My boyfriend had encouraged me to sign up, and after forcing myself to pack an hour before the retreat, I was not looking forward to devoting time to pointless activities and icebreakers when I had yet to study for my midterms. Trying to make the most of my experience, however, I opened up to my seven-person group about my diminishing mental health and why it seemed that I never felt truly happy at BC. I was beginning to hate college, and although it seems obvious now, these other freshmen had been struggling to overcome the same loneliness, too. There exists another side of campus that isn’t as bright and gold as I had expected, and learning that other students shared my sadness put my experiences into perspective. I began to recognize that the narrative of a perfect four years was a simple facade, worsened by the lack of students admitting that they had been feeling lost due to such high expectations of college alongside the urge to do freshman year “right.”

Revealing how often students struggle through freshman year, 48Hours made it clear that regaining the happiness that I found in high school would require me to step out of my comfort zone and to pencil time for developing friendships into my busy schedule. I have slowly begun to reject the mentality that deadlines and obligations require me to neglect my own emotional health. I have also committed to make the conscious effort to build relationships, in spite of an ever-increasing workload. Maintaining old friendships and gaining new ones means striking a balance between focusing on schoolwork and focusing on our well-being. As a community, we should recognize that putting work aside to socialize does not translate into procrastinating, but rather can eliminate our feelings of loneliness and may also help others feel less disconnected from meaningful relationships on campus. Prioritizing our happiness may moreover involve dropping shallow commitments to make room for activities that we actually enjoy, and there’s no shame in that.

Friends provide relief from the stresses of difficult classes and the race to get ahead, so setting aside time for relationships can give the social support needed to make schoolwork more tolerable and lead to the happiness that college students are missing. We must make decisions regarding the importance of social integration in our lives, and recognizing the emotional benefits of friendships may encourage us to spend more time with the people that matter, instead of simply finding friendships of utility or isolating ourselves to academics. The culture of overcommitment at BC holds unrealistic ideals for students and places mental health on the back-burner, but we should refuse to succumb to these standards and ultimately must incorporate happiness into our definitions of success.

Most importantly, we should reach out to others and try to make the first move when it comes to scheduling plans with new friends, even something as simple as a coffee date, eating dinner together, or just starting a conversation when you walk by them. Although it requires courage, I now realize that having my efforts reciprocated will be worth the risk and the happiness that could arise from making deeper connections with my peers. My goal is to make myself more approachable and more open to developing relationships with others, even if it means giving up some of my time that could be spent studying. Loneliness should not be a feeling that pervades a college campus, and we can all make baby steps towards prioritizing our own well being by cutting some time out of our day to value and improve friendships.

Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor