“The U.S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.” -Benjamin Franklin
I can almost hear this photograph. The shrieks of laughter. Overlapping voices vying for the photographer’s attention.
It’s not the kind of photo I often see hanging on living room walls, and yet it’s the kind of picture I’d like to find my face in. A photo that would capture all 26 (yes, 26) of my teeth in a single frame or the way my eyes light up when surrounded by friends.
I’ve thought a lot about happiness lately. Something about these past four weeks has left me oozing with it. No, not something, but everything.
Even in the midst of suffocating theological discourses and unsure small talk, I’ve felt more alert to the blessings of everyday life than I have in a very long time. I’ve begun giving thanks for all that I do not know, sticking new discoveries to a post-it collage next to my desk.
And yet this is not an environment free from the threat of despair. Around every corner are people who have had dinner with Nobel Prize winners and retired astronauts. At the next table, even, is someone who will write the next great exploration of early church thinkers.
It becomes easy to begin to see myself as a kind of comic relief. Because for many, the next year hinges on the right connections, the right grades, the right essays and doors opening to a world very different from the one I imagine myself headed towards.
I don’t say this to emphasize isolation, because this month has truly been one of belonging. Instead I bring up this notion of diverging paths to explain how easy it would be to feel second-rate next to students whose stories seem so much more fantastic than my own. And whose stories may go on to include grander adventures and more impressive resumes.
Considering this, it’s easy to imagine becoming the ‘troubled baby’ of the yearbook photo. But let me assure you that I have no such intentions.
I’m on the pursuit of happiness, baby. And like Kid Cudi before me, I’m doing my thing.
And my ‘thing’ is light-heartedness. It’s connections drawn between a tweet I just saw and the arguments of Justin Martyr. Post-it notes crammed with definitions of four-syllable words.
Yes, my thing is preserving the nature and grace and beauty of who I am in the midst of this demanding, exasperating, truly inspiring environment.
And who I am in this moment is an exhausted graduate student who needs to read 20 more pages of Luther’s Works before bed. But what I am is happy.