What makes us happy? It’s in the little things – succulents from farmers markets, a new stash of snacks from Trader Joe’s, pictures from home, the fresh smell of earth after the rain. When I asked around about what brought people happiness, they’d mention these small things – food, hot chocolate, music – but invariably would bring up people who were important to them. Our connections with others are undeniable sources of light in our lives, and Stanford is definitely a place with an abundance of interesting and inspiring people. As I settle into life at Stanford, one of the things I find most difficult is balancing meeting new people while holding on to the people and memories from my life back home.
So how does one successfully see-saw between past and present lives? One of my friends from high school taught me that one way is through intentionality in relationships: being purposeful in the way we interact with others. This might seem like a fairly straightforward idea, but it’s been really powerful in helping me both shape connections with new people and maintain strong ties with loved ones back home. The premise is fairly simple: Pay attention to the people around you, to the relationships you’re forming, to the words and thoughts of the people around you and consciously prioritize the moment you’re experiencing.
Something I’ve found useful in the past couple of weeks has been giving myself focused time to reflect on moments in the day that reminded me of people or places from home, from the pho that brought back memories of my best friend to the song played on the piano in my dorm lounge that reminded me of childhood piano lessons with my beloved teacher. Journaling about these experiences at the end of the day has been a useful way of allowing myself the time to revisit and acknowledge them, and helps me focus on being more present when actually experiencing these moments.
After lunch at Ricker this past Sunday, I biked back to my dorm in the pounding rain. I found myself beaming into the onslaught of water, feeling overwhelmingly free and alive as the cool liquid dampened my hair and clothes. I have always loved the rain, and being a new college student biking through my campus with the streets glistening around me was both an exciting first at college and a sentimental reminder of childhood days splashing in puddles. Here again, I felt myself divided between two worlds, past and current. But hearing my roommate laugh uproariously into the rain behind me jolted me back into the moment and reminded me of all I have to be grateful for here at Stanford.
My water bottle has a small sticker on the side that displays the words “look up” on top of a backdrop of blue sky and white clouds. This, to me, is a reminder not only to focus on the beautiful things in my day that bring me joy (sunny skies, fairy lights, food) but to physically “look up,” to consciously notice my surroundings and engage with them. Being reminded of other parts of my life is natural and in fact, adds to my happiness by bringing back to me pieces of things and people I love. I don’t have this balance figured out yet, but I’m getting there each day.
So next time you’re feeling particularly nostalgic, take a moment to accept it – you’re in the midst of a big change, and being happy and engaged every minute of every day isn’t a reasonable expectation. But then, look up – at whatever your version of fairy lights or beautiful skies might be, and appreciate the people around you right now. There’s so much light and possibility in the world around us when we look for it.
Contact Julie Plummer at jplummer’at’stanford.edu.