On the last day of my final high school English class, my teacher, Ms. Zongker, left my class with some powerful advice: don’t settle. She used the example of becoming an accountant. Just because it pays well, doesn’t make it fulfilling for you. While it sounds so simple and obvious, it resonated for me and forced me to realize how often I really do settle. It showed me the importance of focusing on making myself happy when making decisions, instead of trying to impress or satiate those around me.
As high school students, seniors especially, we feel like we have a lot to prove and that is reflected in the choices we make. We choose difficult course loads to prove to others that we’re intelligent or that we can manage our time well. We pick majors that lead to jobs with a lot of money and colleges that will impress our parents and friends. Too often we find ourselves choosing something because it benefits our appearance or bank account instead of focusing on the impact it will have on our happiness.
From living through a pandemic, we should all be taking away a large lesson, that life is limited. If you had known you had to spend so long in quarantine, would you have seized moments before it and done more things for your own enjoyment? The idea of living for your happiness should be applied to all aspects of life, from jobs to relationships. We must learn to refuse to settle for what looks good, but also for what is easy. How much time do we waste choosing an easier path instead of one that ultimately leads to joy? In choosing to prioritize our happiness, we must vow to avoid a path that is prettier or easier and focus wholeheartedly on the effect it will have on us long term.
Making decisions with our happiness at the forefront is difficult, because happiness can be temporary. While an opportunity may seem enjoyable and appealing at first, that feeling may fade. In refusing to settle, we learn to walk away from those situations. If you dedicate years of your life to getting a law degree, then decide you hate practicing law, you must realize that your happiness is more important than that time wasted. You cannot force yourself to suffer simply because of the reaction it will have on others or the regret and pain it will bring you. We cannot change our past actions, and while it may be hard to let go and feel painful to look back on all the money and time wasted, choosing to change directions for the benefit of our individual happiness will outweigh the pain and regret.
This philosophy for life can feel unrealistic. Yes, we cannot quit our job every time it upsets us. However, we can realize that after a while, being upset by the same thing repeatedly is wearing on our mind, and sometimes we have to make decisions that are difficult and take a leap of faith for the sake of betterment. You will never find a new, happier future if you do not allow yourself to let go of the painful present you feel stuck in.
As you continue to make decisions throughout your life, make your happiness a priority whenever you can. Find a job that brings you fulfillment, not necessarily money. Make friends that uplift you and relate to you, do not stay with people simply because you are afraid to be alone. At the end of your life, you will want to look back on the decisions you made with gratitude. So in the present, you must do that future version of yourself a favor and place your priorities in your own happiness, not anyone else’s.