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The humanities as a source of happiness

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Happiness is a choice. This is a quote that is often spread in hopes of inspiring others, but how was I supposed to choose to be happy when I had three problem sets to do while battling a constant cough and fever from the flu virus?

Winter quarter was a devastating quarter for me. The day before it started, I was diagnosed with the flu, and I could barely function. I hardly had enough energy to get out of bed. When I attempted biking to classes, I stumbled and fell. I could not sleep for nights because I wouldn’t stop coughing. My stamina and strength had completely diminished, and my days consisted of incessant coughing and chills. After I had completed the full dose of Tamiflu and failed to recover, Vaden prescribed me with Codeine opioids as cough suppressant, which allowed me to sleep at night.

Finally, after four brutal weeks, my body beat the flu. However, even after being restored to a healthy state, I found it very difficult to be happy. The cold, rainy weather made it difficult for me to find the motivation to attend office hours. I also felt behind in all of my classes since I had not been able to perform optimally when I had the flu, and this negatively impacted my performance on initial midterms. I fought hard to bounce back. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to find happiness. I felt like everything I was doing was out of necessity, and I had lost interest in my endeavors.

Spring break gave me time to reflect on winter quarter and why it was filled with so much misery, even after physical causes of pain had dissipated. I soon came to the realization that I had a miserable winter quarter because of my lack of engagement in the humanities. I had not played a single note on my flute or the piano. I had not read a single book. I had not written a single reflective essay. Prior to the start of winter quarter, I had wrongfully assumed that continuing my extracurricular engagements in the humanities and pursuing my other passions would waste the time and energy I needed to succeed in my classes. After reflecting, I realized that spending time doing things I loved would not only have made me happier overall, but also would have enhanced my mood and helped me better focus in my other classes.

Finding happiness may be different for everyone. For me, finding happiness involves cultivating my intellect by solving physics problems and writing lab reports in addition to, rather than in place of, reading books and writing philosophy papers. The humanities and liberal arts are forms of education that are necessary in order to give us new perspectives, challenge our mindsets and expand our thinking in a unique way. While science education can also accomplish these objectives, the liberal arts do so in a different way that is equally necessary. This quarter, I have pledged to make time for playing music, reading books and writing articles. I am hopeful that devoting more time to the things that nourish my intellect and contribute to my overall growth as a person will make for a happier, sunnier spring quarter.

Contact Vilina Mehta at vmehta19 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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