Widgets Magazine


The elusive happiness

As I was packing some belongings to take back with me to my dorm, I stumbled upon a small wooden box tucked away on a shelf in the storage room. When I opened it, finger-sized folded slips of paper tumbled onto out onto my lap. I unfolded one that had landed on the floor.

It read: “Watching ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ for the fourth time.” I remembered that day, five or so years ago, when my brother and I sat through four consecutive screenings of the movie in our living room. We were captivated, enthralled. But more important to us, we each knew the lines by heart and could prove it.

Another one, more recent, said: “Reading ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini and knowing that it would be with me forever.”

It was a “happy box.” A box full of events that had, at one point, made me happy enough to them write down on a piece of paper and stick them inside. The concept seems odd, and perhaps it is. Even so, reading the slips of paper was nostalgia at its best. Reading them was a colorful, vivid immersion into the stories of the past. In one word, it was happiness.

I read all of them. Some included people or things I did not remember. One read: “When Luke couldn’t outrun the cat” — who Luke was and why he was racing a cat, I could not recall. Some were extraordinarily simple: “Folding warm laundry.” It made me wonder: If we become well versed in the specific things that make us happy, is happiness a choice?

By now, most of us have an idea of what make us happy. But I’m not talking about the general or the common — let’s put “helping others” and “getting good grades” on the back burner for now. As valid as they are, what about our happiness when our grades aren’t so good, or when we’re the ones who need help instead? When you’re facing trouble, what makes you happy? However idiosyncratic and small, these things can give you a deep sense of fulfillment, belonging or peace, or simply warrant a fleeting smile.

Is it walking around campus at night with a hot chocolate? Finger painting? Racing a friend down Palm Drive? Making something out of clay? Having a 2 a.m. conversation with your roommate? Reconnecting with an old friend?

To some extent, I agree that happiness is, in fact, a choice. I agree in the sense that we can’t be passive creatures, ambling from situation to situation waiting for good to materialize.

I also think it’s more complex than that. Because happiness so often does depend on circumstance, we might not always have the power to smile and have it be genuine. And when that’s the case, what’s the alternative? Plastering a smile on your face as artificial as plaster itself? What about those suffering from depression? No, I think that happiness — the deep-down, feel-it-in-your-gut happiness — is equal parts a rarity and an awareness of the fact. Happiness is an immersive, ever-changing, living thing. It isn’t a sticker — you can’t just wear it.

My high school math teacher once said, “The wrath of life is not a polynomial” —  that the sadder parts of life are rarely long and continuous functions. But when you’re stuck, it can certainly feel like that. So embrace the odd hobbies — fold that laundry, watch that movie for the fifth time. The small things can add up.

Contact Amanda Rizkalla at amariz ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Amanda Rizkalla

Amanda Rizkalla is a sophomore from East Los Angeles studying English and Chemistry. In addition to writing for the Daily, she is involved with the Stanford Medical Youth Science Program and is a Diversity Outreach Associate in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. She loves to cook, bake, read, write and bike around campus.