Committing to Happiness: Life Lessons from 2015

With a few hours left in my last full year as a college student, I thought of jotting down five of the key lessons I learned this past year. With the transition to the “real world” coming in a few months, I hope that I can look back at these lessons in the future. I also hope that you find it useful, even in some small way.

Lesson 5: When you’ve found something that makes you happy, commit to it. Immediately.

I was the last person to accept summer internship. Then, I became the first person to sign the return offer for my first full-time job.

When I was selecting which firm to work for over the summer, I remember spending hours upon hours on the phone talking to everyone who could possibly shed light on my decision. In hindsight, I’m not quite sure it helped because I ended up deciding on one firm not based on any objective criteria, but rather based on where my gut said I’d fit in better.

I think my gut was right.

I ended up having a terrific summer and was so thrilled with my experience that I decided to sign on the spot. While others may not have agreed with making a decision like this so quickly, I decided to do it because I knew I was happy. I didn’t want to spend the next few months trying to find something that could be better because I already found something that I was genuinely happy about.

I realized that you can spend most of life trying to find the greenest spot of grass around you even when the one you’re currently standing on is pretty darn green already. It’s not to say that you should ever settle for something you’re not happy with; rather, I decided to choose contentment. And that’s a decision I can live with.

Lesson 4: The best co-workers are the ones you’re proud to call your friends.

One of the things I am most thankful for is the opportunity to get to work with my friends. Aside from the fantastic friend group I found at work over the summer, I also found so many friendships that I hope will be lifelong at Springboard: The Harvard College Design Club, TEDxHarvardCollege, the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations, Harvard Student Agencies, and the Senior Class Committee.

I’ve had truly meaningful conversations with my friends at TEDxHarvardCollege, for example, not only about how we can improve the organization as a whole, but how we can improve individually. The best feedback isn’t the compiled summary of everyone’s reviews, but it’s the late night conversation with a close friend about what you’re doing well and where you can improve. When you know the feedback is from a friend, you feel a much stronger drive to act on it.

The reason is simple: when you genuinely like and appreciate the people you’re with, you’re not just working towards some vision or some common goal. You’re working for the betterment of each other. And what work could be more fulfilling than one that improves those whom you truly care about?

Lesson 3: Give.

One of the books that has most influenced my life is Give and Take by Adam Grant. In it, he argues that the most successful people in the world are those who are givers, or people who contribute to the wellbeing of others without expecting anything in return. I’ve tried to adopt this principle into my own life.

As many of my friends (and some of their friends) were applying for full-time jobs, I did my best to give by helping them edit their resumes, write their cover letters, and prepare for interviews. I think I must have given over 50 practice interviews over the past semester. I gave mock interviews both in the style of the firm I worked for, as well as some of their competitors. At the end of the day, all I wanted was for my friends to have the best chance of getting to work somewhere that suited their skills, interests, passions, and personalities.

And, oh man, nothing feels greater than a friend telling you that they got the offer. Knowing that your act of selflessness helped somebody achieve their dreams feels just as heartwarming and moving as achieving your own dreams. After “Thank you,” the words I love telling others the most are “Congratulations! You deserve it.”

Lesson 2: Don’t take anything (serious matters included) too seriously.

Anyone who knows me knows that I try to inject a bit of fun in everything I do. I challenged one of my roommates to a prank war recently and the resulting pranks have been nothing short of creative (he hid my mattress, I wrapped his in saran wrap) and have served to make us closer friends. More recently, I stuffed a teaspoonful of wasabi wrapped in seaweed into a friend’s mouth. Whenever I’m with friends, whether at a meeting or otherwise, I always try to crack a few jokes to lighten the mood.

It’s because I believe in the power of fun.

Too often, it becomes so easy to take college too seriously. We’re so concerned with grades, commitments, and opportunities that are slipping by that we forget that laughter and fun is the easiest way to become happy (even just for a while).

Sure, I’ve embarrassed myself a couple of times. I’ve looked stupid in front of my friends. I’m sure there’s no shortage of stories of my foolish moments. But I don’t care. They’ve been with friends, and they’ve served their purpose of allowing us to share some truly joyous moments.

Lesson 1: Invest in your relationships.

I was in a department store recently when one of the salesmen said hi to me. He knew me because he had seen me with my grandmother, who is a frequent shopper at this store. In fact, she goes to this department store so often that she invites the salespeople (that man included) to her birthday parties!

My grandmother is 88, and she goes to work thrice a week in Binondo, which is 2 hours away by car. I think that the secret to her longevity is the power of the relationships she’s built over the years. The department store example is but one of them. She’s also been going to the same hair stylist every week (!) for the past forty (or is it fifty?) years (!!). She invests in these relationships because she knows that they’re the only things that wither the test of time.

This lesson is becoming more and more apparent to me especially as I grow older and begin to fall apart from a lot of people. In a few months, most of my close friends will be moving to different cities. It will be up to me to decide which friendships to invest in. It’s easy to feel connected when you see Facebook updates, and just as easy to forget that you don’t actually connect just by seeing an update. So I’m taking it upon myself to be more conscious of which relationships and friendships I invest in.

Sometimes, I forget that I can’t just passively be in a relationship with my girlfriend. I have to be an active participant in it, or else there isn’t any point in being in a relationship to begin with.

And that’s true for every single relationship, whether romantic, platonic, or familial.

That’s it for 2015. Happy New Year!