Towards Happiness

Sunday isn’t usually a day for relaxation. It’s a day for sorting out the string of chores that don’t get done during the frentic week: grocery shopping, tidying my room, drinking tea, catching up with coursework, marking & other important academic things that shouldn’t be put off. 

However, there was one vital task I absolutely had to complete by the end of Sunday. I took the shuttle bus into Downtown New Brunswick and went to Starbucks. I ordered a green tea frappuccino (I expected there to be tea available…in fact this was the closest thing on the menu). I sat facing the windows, pulled out a notebook and started writing. No laptop, no mobile phone – just a pen and paper.

In Basel, this was a necessary part of my weekly/monthly schedule: go to a Cafe somewhere in Kleinbasel, order an espresso and get writing. I would carefully write lists, charts, plans, flow diagrams. Their purpose was to get the chaotic, toxic crap out of my head (where everything is always jumbled up, fast-flowing and out of proportion) into a neat, logical order on paper. Those words on the paper couldn’t lie or be ignored. Their conversion from abstract emotions to coherent sentences was how I made sense of them. I would write ‘Problems’ in one column, ‘Solutions’ in another.

Over here in the USA, the activity serves the same purpose.

In general, grad school is going well and I’m happy with the choices I have made up to date.  However, I am worried about several things. When I am worried I think more. When I think more those bad emotions start to build-up inside me, turning toxic if I don’t properly deal with them.

There are some stupid issues that I’m currently fretting about. Am I revising enough for the mid-term tests? Public opinion indicates that I am…but since I’m an outsider to the American graduate education system it is hard for me to “know” one way or another. That concern didn’t even need to be written down – I just went ahead and worked through some assigned problem exercises before I headed to Starbucks this afternoon.

Then there are the more serious issues that I know I can’t ignore or downplay. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve spotted a couple of red flags – as I’ve seen those red flags I’ve become very worried. These issues are a lot more subtle – they are problems because I don’t know how to deal with them. You can imagine these worries shooting around the inside of my head, building up momentum and strength.

It took me about 40 minutes to get through my green tea frappe. I filled about 3 A5 pages with those charts, lists & diagrams. As I was draining the icy sludge from the bottom of the cup, I wrote my final lines down:

Happiness is your priority

I then left for home, knowing I’d written down all I needed to write.

What happiness looks like.

What happiness looks like.


3 thoughts on “Towards Happiness

  1. I find that making lists, charts, and diagrams helps a lot to quiet the madness. At least you are trying to face your problems and not just ignoring them. PS I don’t know what you’re studying but the work level of graduate students in the US, as observed by yours truly, sounds much lower than yours. For what that’s worth.

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