Archives for the month of: May, 2013

Ah, happiness. Such a complicated word. Does anyone even know what it means? Or is the point that we each give it the meaning we think it has? A discussion I regularly have with people around me is whether happiness can be defined by having everything in your life be perfect, by learning to dance in the rain, or by making the little things matter as much as the big ones if not more.

I think the very idea of happiness is intrinsically linked to gratitude. It is impossible to be happy if you lack the capacity to appreciate what you have and instead spend your time worrying about what you do not have. Recently I have gotten quite angry at people complaining about the economic crisis – this does not mean there are not people who suffer tremendously from it, but I mean complaints coming from those who live a pretty decent life but can’t afford to go on vacation five times a year anymore. You see I think it is important for us to realize several things. For starters, with the exception of Greece and maybe Spain amid the crisis nowadays, we live in countries where life is made quite easy for us with good infrastructure, education systems open to all, safety nets, etc. Just look at a city center or parking lot of a mall on any given Saturday afternoon. Or see what people have in their carts when checking out of the supermarket. Good thing we’re supposedly broke, because I honestly have no idea what it would be if we weren’t. I go to a school where easily 70% of the student body have a Macbook Pro plus an iPhone or equally expensive smartphone, yet we all complain about being broke students (ok not everyone complains). But I digress. My point is that as soon as you take a moment to reflect, you will realize that you are an incredibly lucky human being who has a place to live, a family, some friends, an education, and all that in a country where even with no income you are still considered to be a part of the top 10% of the World population when it comes to wealth. Let that sink in for a moment.

This means that most of us don’t have to worry about our physical well-being and that we can start worrying about our first world problems. What I wanted to show was that life is beautiful. My favorite mantra is probably “Everything happens for a reason.” Every once in a while bad things will happen, as they do to everyone. Some of these will be much harder on you than others, like losing a loved one. But then maybe after a while, you will walk into a bookstore and realize that you will be okay because you can still find joy in the things you used to. Or someone will pick up the pieces and tell you everything is going to be fine. Sometimes you will be on your own and will suddenly be able to rejoice in funny cat gifs on Buzzfeed or a good TV show. The reason I’m writing this is because one of my friends is struggling with anxiety about the small things in life, and it made me realize that the key to how we see life really does lie in our own hands. It is up to us to decide how we are going to feel about the world we live in and about our life in general. In my opinion we have a beautiful world and mankind is remarkable. In good ways and bad, but remarkable it is. We have built entire countries from nothing. My favorite example of this is the work done by Haussmann in Paris. You have to realize that the way Paris looks today is the result of one man’s imagination. Someone who decided that large boulevards and those beautiful Parisian buildings that cover the entire city center were the way to go. That is not to say that we only do nice things which have positive impacts; far from it. But it is up to every single one of us to decide which is more important in our everyday life: the good or the bad. It’s the well-known “glass half-empty vs. glass half-full” dichotomy. I do not believe my family was particularly unhappy when we were dirt poor for example, except maybe for the fact that today we have less to worry about.

I have a place to live. I have a family who loves me and whom I love. I have friends. I go to an excellent university where I truly enjoy studying. Today I ate bacon-wrapped aspargus which was utterly delicious. There is a serving of ice cream awaiting me in the freezer in case of need. The other day I went to see The Great Gatsby and it was amazing. I have both a laptop and an Internet access, which allow me to write this blog. Not to mention the fact that I am literate. I have a decent amount of awareness of the world which surrounds me. If my clothes get dirty I can just throw them in the machine and they’ll be clean an hour later without me having to virtually do anything. I could go on and on. The point is that there are plenty of things to rejoice about in life. Not everything will ever be perfect, and that is exactly the point. Where would the fun in that be? Our happiness is mostly dependent upon ourselves, and one of the most imporant elements in this is gratitude. Because once you become appreciative of everything (material and not) you have, you will realize that seeing the glass half-full makes life more exciting, and furthermore, you’ll learn to reach for the tap if needed.

As per usual, I shall conclude with a quote from the Sisterhood (yes, I devoured those books). “Maybe happiness didn’t have to be about the big, sweeping circumstances, about having everything in your life in place. Maybe it was about stringing together a bunch of small pleasures. Wearing slippers and watching the Miss Universe contest. Eating a brownie with vanilla ice cream. Getting to level seven in Dragon Master and knowing there were twenty more levels to go. Maybe happiness was just a matter of the little upticks- the traffic signal that said “Walk” the second you go there- and downticks- the itch tag at the back of your collar- that happened to every person in the course of the day.”

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Life is all about perspective.

I stumbled upon this video last week. At first I hadn’t recognized it was a commencement speech, which makes it even more inspiring because it is food for thought designed to be fed to young adults who have their entire lives ahead of them.

The first part about how mundane adult life can get reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides. Ironically and sadly, David Foster Wallace comitted suicide three years after this speech, after fighting a lifelong battle with depression. It makes one wonder if those most aware of the mundanity of life are not also those who suffer most deeply from it. The point of Wallace’s argument is that as college students, we are not yet aware of how boring life can get if you let it. The example he uses is grocery shopping. As individuals, we tend to make everything about us. We go to the supermarket hoping to get out of there as fast as possible, then get annoyed at those 5 minutes we have to wait at the check-out line, thinking how slow the cashier is and how weird/gross/stupid other people are.

But here comes the beautiful point of the speech: “it just depends what you want to consider.” We can go through life believing the world is unfair to us because we need everything to be exactly as we would want it to be. But as college-educated young adults, we should realize the world is not against us at all. In fact, if the world is unfairly rigged (which it is), it’s probably in our advantage. That time at the check-out lane? Well, we can either use it to fuss about how we really think everyone is inferior to us, or we can use it to set some perspective. To realize that each person has their own story and that the world does not revolve around us. Everybody else is not “just in my way.” Setting perspective allows us to let go of the “default setting,” of the state of mind in which we believe all this. It allows us to think, to really think and not just judge. The SUV example is a striking one: we drive on the freeway with all those heavy SUVs around us, which let’s face it is annoying because they’re huge and polluting and represent everything that’s wrong with consumerism. But maybe the people who drive them have a good reason to. Maybe they need to because it is the only way they’ll feel safe. And sure, this is unlikely but it got me to think, how often to we judge situations which we know absolutely nothing about?

Finally, Wallace links all of this to the commencement speech, and thus to the world of higher education. The perspective he talks about, that is what education is for. Education gives us awareness about the world that surrounds us. It allows us to critically analyze and make choices when it comes to what to think and how to think. Education opens the possibility of not being stuck in a pre-destined path. It helps consider the fact that we may not know everything, that we may not be right in determining what matters and what doesn’t. It makes you free. Because at the end of the day, what we learn at school is not material – well, it is in part, but that is not what matters. What we learn is how to think, and that it is possible to change the lens through which we see the world. We are so sure of our surroundings that we may need a little reminder of them, in order not to take them for granted.  Education teaches us to be well-adjusted and to recognize the things around us. It allows us to feel the meaning in the popular phrase “Have a nice day,” instead of just uttering empty words. “This is water.”

When my mother spent a semester at art school in Los Angeles, coming from the Netherlands she had always been taught to paint in a traditional way because tradition is always better, right? Well, her professor asked if Vermeer wouldn’t just simply have used a camera instead of a paintbrush, had he been alive in 1986. To this day it remains one of the most important questions anyone has ever asked her, because it made her look at things differently. Maybe it’s time for us to look at things differently as well. I will conclude with what in my opinion is the most powerful part of his speech, and which I have paraphrased above. “This is the freedom of real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning, and what doesn’t. That is real freedom. That is being educated and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting.”

I’m a first-year student at a small French political science school. What’s nice about this is that I have three years (well, only 2 left now) of exploring before I have to make up my mind with what I want to do with my life and choose a Master’s degree – which I have absolutely no idea of. I know I want to get married and have a “normal” life. I know I want to live in New York City for a few years after I graduate, but not forever. I know I might want to live in the US but that France is home and therefore I’ve just hit my first uncertainty. In recent years I knew exactly what I wanted to be. I wanted to be an actress. Then, upon the realization that a) I’m not a great actress, b) it’s impossible to succeed and c) I want to use my brains, I decided I might want to become a film director or producer. I was, and still am, fascinated by the world of film. Only that’s not where my skills are, and I don’t have any connexions to it. So then, last year, I thought maybe I’d like to work for the World Bank or something. But now that I’m actually a student, I’m starting to realize that I can’t stand people who take themselves too seriously, as my school is full of them, and major international organizations are too. Besides, I don’t have the courage to do a PhD right away, which would be a requirement. So here I am, back at stage zero. Everyone is starting to figure out what they want out of life and I have no idea when it comes to my career, which is a huge part of life. But I do know this: I want to be happy with what I do. I want to have a family. I want to leave my mark in the world. I want to make a difference and change someone’s life for the better. I may not know what job I want, but at least that’s a start.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.”

So recently, I started a new show called 2 Broke Girls.

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You know how it works: finals week comes creeping around so instead of focusing on school you decide to procrastinate by starting a new TV show – which, of course, you will have to watch in its entirety. At first the show seemed somewhat dull, with Max (Kat Dennings) making jokes litterally every time she spoke. Overkill much? But I ended up falling in love! It’s really nice to, for once, see a show where characters talk about sex like normal people do instead of pretending it’s this big fat taboo (yes, American teen dramas, I’m talking to you. And yes, this is my first point. Don’t judge.) Also, seeing life on the otherside of the Brooklyn bridge is refreshing after having watched Gossip Girl and How I Met Your Mother for years. The plot? Two girls, one poor and one former billionaire whose dad lost all their money, work and live together, and try to save $250k to open their own cupcake business. A lot of random stuff happens but let’s be serious here, Kat Dennings is amazing. Despite her character’s dark humor and constant jokes, she is quite relatable. And it doesn’t hurt to, for a change, see a strong woman on tv who really is self-sufficiant. Oh and did I mention Jennifer Coolidge is on the show, as a Polish cougar business woman? Yup, you read that right.