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Circumstantial happiness makes people appreciate good days

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Walking around last week, I discovered the solution to the university's stress culture: relocating campus 1,000 miles south.

After all, this is the tale of two campuses — the icy Carnegie Mellon where students stay inside the lonely library and a mild Carnegie Mellon where young students gather outside for no other reason than that it feels good. Judging from the way students relaxed on the Cut not worrying about their assignments or mid-terms last week, maybe good weather is the best therapy.

All kidding aside, it’s somewhat discomforting how happiness and its counterpart can be so circumstantial. Some people are only happy in a relationship. A difficult test can ruin a weekend. The weather can make or break one’s day.

In some cases, circumstantial happiness can be extreme, like for those who have seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a disorder recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and characterized by depression symptoms that occur during seasonal changes.

Realizing how much happiness depends on external circumstances, I have thought about how unfortunate it is and what I can do to change it — how I can maintain a consistent emotional state unaffected by the worst Pittsburgh weather and the highest levels of workload. People diagnosed with SAD can undergo light therapy, but I need something else.

Theoretically, I know this kind of emotional state is possible. After all, there are people who claim happiness is the simple byproduct of living a fulfilling life. They are drunk on life, if you will. These people never have to search for happiness because it’s in everything they do, and their emotions don’t depend on the people around them, external events, or the weather. I wish I could be the same.

However, striving for this internal peace only makes me more anxious. It’s hard not to have a bad day when you step in a puddle with the shoe that has a hole. Realizing that a better person would keep walking while I curse my soaked shoe only makes me feel inferior and magnifies the problem of a wet shoe.

On the other hand, maybe it’s okay for our emotions to be circumstantial. It’s okay to have bad days.

Part of what made the weather last week so beautiful was just how dreadful winter was. The worst friends make you appreciate the good ones. And the busiest weekdays make you appreciate the weekends.

I still don’t think circumstantial happiness is ideal, especially at a school with such volatile weather and high academic standards, but I’ve stopped beating myself up over trying to maintain a level emotional state no matter what.

I don’t like having bad days but they make me appreciate the occasion when everything goes right. Give me any two days, and I’ll immediately pick the one with less clouds and the more mild temperatures. Circumstantial happiness may not be ideal, but there are times when it's just fine.