Last night I met a friend for dinner and drinks to celebrate her first med school acceptance. As she delivered her good news over a dish of egg rolls, it was a moment of excitement, relief, and yes, happiness. I was able to share in her happiness, as throughout college as a fellow chemistry major I knew that she had worked hard, and after much waiting received this much-deserved acceptance. (Hopefully the first of many!)
Later that night, our conversation turned to the career paths we had chosen (or at least the ones we’re currently heading towards) – medicine and research science. Neither are known for producing happiness as they both demand long hours, present challenging problems, and guarantee failure occasionally if not often. Yet, in many ways I feel like this kind of unhappiness is a privilege. I brought up a recently published Thought Catalog article that cited studies that showed decreasing trends in women’s subjective reported well-being. Yet, the article’s author argued a pleasant and easy life isn’t always the preferable life.
“A paying job from which you can get fired is more stressful than making PB&J sandwiches for your kids. Likewise, marrying your first boyfriend at twenty is easier than navigating the world of dating and romance, of hazarding the risk that you might not find someone, at least not for a long time. Autonomy is more taxing than non-autonomy. But is the solution to forgo autonomy? No thank you, not for me.”
And I would agree. While the Thought Catalog article specifically addressed women’s happiness, I think the argument is universal. Sometimes it’s easy to quit or to lose perspective as you’re filling out that 50th job application, or running a variation of the same experiment the 10th time, or making yet another call to that friend who never picks up. Trying can be frustrating and unrewarding, but just often enough, someone lands their dream job, or makes a new discovery, or hears just the advice that they needed. In low moments when we just can’t seem to catch a break no matter how hard we try, the path of least resistance may look “good enough.” We hear things like, “Oh, you’re still young and attractive. Just marry rich and do what you want,” or “You have an Ivy League degree. Why don’t you work as a [unfulfilling, but high-paying position] at [large corporate office]?”
Even as a 22-year old, I’ve had my share of unhappiness, frustration, and exhaustion – both as a result of the decisions I’ve made and from factors completely beyond my control – but even if I could, I wouldn’t choose to take back any of it. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve genuinely appreciate the love of a friend when I didn’t think I deserved it, or proved myself (both to myself and others) by being stubborn enough not to give up on a project even in the face of uncertainty until the very end. I would like to think that my future successes will be the result of my past blood, sweat, and tears. Successes that I’ve truly earned.
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”– Theodore Roosevelt.