How to have an open mind

by Siya Patel, Managing Editor
photo by Becky Dozortsev

“Happiness is not a goal … It’s a by-product of a life well-lived.” 

The vibrant interface depicting a scenic mountain view accompanies this quote every morning I open my phone, greeting me with a reminder every time. I’m a big fan of cheesy quotes, and sometimes that extra boost of motivation is all you need to try and start the day well. I’m not saying they work 100% of the time, but I believe there is some value in the reminders that we often tend to overlook when we live too quickly.

Most school mornings, though, I wake up exhausted and sit on my bed contemplating how long it will be until I’m back under my covers. The first thing I do is look over at my schedule, yet to no surprise, I will see the same old boring day ahead. Next comes looking out the window and contemplating excuses that will justify my bad mood. I’ll tell myself things like, “oh, the weather is gross today,” or “I have so much homework to do.” Before the day even begins, I’ve already mentally categorized each aspect of my day, sifting the tasks on my to-do list into two colorless categories: good or bad.

In my so-called “bad” classes — classes that I had so carefully selected and looked forward to during my junior year — I let my negative outlook seize control. I’ll spend days frequently glancing at the clock, wishing with all my might for the slow ticks to inch quicker. The countdown starts right as I slide into my seat, and my mind stays in a constant feeling of anticipation until the bell rings. I am so focused on the clock that I end up unable to thoroughly appreciate the actual good parts of class. I spend the whole day waiting for what’s coming next and dreading the inevitable bad moments. It has become scarily easy to slip into this mindset.

On the flip side, forcing happiness by cramming everything “fun” into one portion of my day creates additional restraints. I’ve found that I end up enjoying myself less. For example, every day after school, I’ll take one or two hours to simply lay in bed, watch a TV show and eat a snack before I take on the dreaded pile of homework that awaits me from my desk. Through these strict time slots, I only get more stressed as I panic over all the non-school related things I didn’t fit.

Why can I only have fun at certain times of the day? What is it that makes me try so hard to hold on to any free time I get? Have I somehow convinced my brain that there is no way I could ever enjoy doing work, or is it because I’ve become so used to associating school with “bad”? Some days, I’ll actually enjoy school work, that is, until I come back to reality and recognize that I’m doing work. I have started seeing every activity as something to check off my to-do list. No matter how hard I try to convince myself, I’ve come to realize that work can bring me a feeling of satisfaction, but only if I let it. 

In the end, I’ve boiled it down to one big question: what is happiness? Is it when I do well on a test and get that burst of academic validation, or is it when I get to eat that pumpkin donut I’ve been saving? 

I think I’ve come a little closer to defining it; for now, to be happy is what you make of it, and it ultimately stems from our mentality. Our brains have the ability to go beyond the labels we so carefully create, and all that’s needed is a slight shift in our fixed mindset.

I’m not saying that it’s not okay to have bad days when you’re not feeling your best. Of course, these feelings are valid and healthy. I definitely have moments when I hyperfocus on everything that’s going wrong; no one can be happy all the time because that’s just not how life works. What can be improved upon, however, is how we handle these thoughts. 

Whether I’m studying for a test or relaxing on a snowy day should not be the ultimate deciding factor whether I’m having fun or not. It’s how I look at these moments and the feelings I attach to them that should determine my happiness. Instead of predetermining what will enhance and what will ruin my day, I should keep an open mind. By telling myself “this will be terrible,” or “this will be amazing,” I’m only convincing myself of this fact. 

As I’m getting closer to graduating from South and the stress of everything seems blown out of proportion, I’ve learned to take a second and think about whether all the overthinking is truly worth it. Life fluctuates like your mind, and it’s important to give yourself the freedom to feel what you want. By avoiding labels, we can allow ourselves to truly understand our desires and keep an open mind, giving ourselves the flexibility to think how we want to think and to live how we want to live in the moment.