The Staircase of Happiness

Happiness is a staircase. Happiness is the ultimate goal of the human race. It is sought after and worked for, but spending all of one’s time and effort in doing so completely misses the key to happiness. Happiness is not something that is just a future possibility, but a present reality. While greater and more long lasting happiness should be worked for, it is imperative to enjoy the happiness of today. Otherwise, the benefits and fruits of all our hard work will never be appreciated. What’s the point in working on something if you will never enjoy its benefits or journey along the way? Why perpetually cook a meal that will never be enjoyed? Over the 17 year course of my life, I have come to realize these truths. While I continue to strive for greater goals, I try to be content and happy in the moment.

When I was younger, I always wanted more and I always wanted better. I continuously begged my dad to teach me how to ride a bike at four years old, and after weeks of practice I accomplished that goal. Smiling back at my dad after he let go of the bike, I achieved that happiness for a small moment in time. But just days later, riding a bike no longer filled me with that same happiness. I saw my neighbor riding his bike with no hands, and I decided that was what I wanted to do next. That would bring me happiness. While this feat took much longer to accomplish, it yielded the same result as before: momentary happiness that faded off, in search of a new goal. I was accomplishing my goals, but I was running up the staircase. Each step is a piece of happiness, and as they ascend, they become pieces of larger happiness. Running up the staircase meant my foot would only contact the step for a split second before lifting in search of bigger steps. And while speeding up the staircase, I was unable to enjoy the ascension. In fact, it made me tired.

Today, I ascend the staircase much differently. Instead of bolting up the staircase without enjoying the process, I now firmly plant one foot into my current state of happiness, and lift the other foot in search of a higher and larger step. In the present moment, I am happy. I have accomplished many of my early goals, but more importantly I enjoy the ascension up the steps. Because I am not bolting up the steps, I am able to gaze out upon the steps below me: my accomplishments. That A on the history test was an accomplishment itself that made me happy in that moment, but it was also part of the journey toward larger steps of happiness. My formal education exists to provide me with endless opportunities so that I can be even happier later in life. But viewing the past and education only as working toward happiness will never result in happiness. While doing math homework is definitely not a source of my happiness, I must appreciate the happiness that it will bring me later, but also acknowledge the positives in the moment; I am succeeding and maybe listening to a favorite song. In that moment, most of the happiness depends on my view of it. I can try to eradicate the small source of frustration and allow my future happiness to diminish in size, or I can enjoy the little pieces of happiness in that moment and work toward a better and brighter future.

On the staircase, I can also see the happiness that lies ahead, something I must work for. And while simultaneously observing my past achievements and future goals, I can pause and enjoy my current state of happiness. I have accumulated good grades, spent time with friends, and explored my interests so far in life. In those moments, I lived in the moment. Enjoying those little moments and being able to forget about the rest of the world and the future is key to achieving happiness. While continuously living in the moment can be dangerous, it must be done at certain times. Always living in the moment can lead to less work toward future happiness, meaning it is pausing on one step for too long and letting the higher and larger steps disappear. Never living in the moment is rushing up the steps like I did as a child, which never allows a full enjoyment of happiness. What I have learned is to find a certain balance on the amount of time I stay on one step depending on what that step may be. I will stay on the step of being accepted into college longer than getting an A on a Spanish quiz.

What lies ahead is a journey to expand my horizons, and enjoy even greater happiness in the future. But what makes happiness a staircase and not a hamster wheel is that I will enjoy every step of happiness along the way, and as I ascend higher into the skies of happiness, I will never forget how I got there: slow, appreciative, content, and determined. One step at a time, I will continue to rise. I will be happier one day, but I am happy now.

A Week on the Border: Simple Gestures

Here is the first installment in the “A Week on the Border” series. This happens to be a reflection I wrote for theology class.

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Over February break I traveled to San Diego and Tecate, Mexico as part of the Global Encounter program. As the week progressed, I gained knowledge and perspectives on some of the most important issues of today. When I first stepped off the plane into the beautiful and majestic San Diego airport, I didn’t know what to expect. I chose the trip for a few reasons: to learn about immigration firsthand, to help those in need, to take a break from the frigid New England weather, and to enjoy a week with my fellow classmates. Not only were these hopes and expectations met, they were completely surpassed.

Over the course of the trip, I began to put the puzzle pieces together regarding the issue of immigration and its effects, both tangible and intangible. Even on both sides of the border there were multiple different perspectives and views of the issues. Every group was upset with certain injustices on the justice triangle. While the distinction regarding what is just for the topic of immigration can vary based on the lens someone views it, it became evident to me that the border has breaks and shortcomings on the justice triangle from the human perspective. Whether American or Mexican, legal or illegal, the issues on the border are a human problem. We cannot point fingers across the border or blame the government, because that only contributes to the problem. Many of these shortcomings are widespread but individually focused, meaning that a change of heart, one person at a time, can go a long way.

For the most part, cooperative justice is no shortcoming south of the border. Upon my arrival in Mexico, the bus driver, Jorge, greeted the group with a brilliantly joyful personality, upbeat attitude, and friendly smile. While this simple gesture is often overlooked, it was a clear example of cooperative justice. Jorge made me feel welcome, optimistic, and excited for my time in Mexico. I returned the justice by speaking to him a little bit (in Spanish) during our bus ride from the border town of Tecate through the mountains to the ranch where the group would stay.

Once I got to the ranch and unloaded my bags into the living space that we would later dub “the Frat House”, I walked up to a house on the hill for dinner. I exchanged a few greetings with the women of the house in Spanish, and proceeded to the dinner table with my classmates. A few minutes later, the women brought out a full course meal of tamales wrapped in cornhusks, a meal that requires hours of preparation. Again, this small gesture (in the large scheme of things) meant much more than my personal enjoyment of the meal; it made me feel welcome, just like Jorge did. In a foreign country with the cartel’s presence lingering in the air, I admit I felt a bit unsafe and uneasy at first. But the simple welcoming gestures from Jorge and the women hosting us just hours after crossing the border eased my stomach (satisfied it too with those tamales) and gave me a hopeful attitude for the rest of the week.

During the rest of the week, I tried my best to embody the cooperative justice that was shown to me in the first few hours of my arrival. A few days later, we visited a high school to meet the students there in order to talk to them and learn about what it’s like to be a high school student in Mexico. After the small talk exchanges talking about working, studying, homework, and sports, the translator dove straight into the topic that was on all of our minds: immigration. The first Mexican student to comment spoke at length about patriotism in Mexico. He basically said that Mexicans want the best for their country just as Americans want the best for theirs.

As the discussion progressed into the realities of the border, and being asked our position on the President’s policies, we began to realize that we have more similarities than differences. I spoke at length to the class as a whole about what we could do as young students to ease some of the social problems attributed with immigration. I said that we need to realize that the strongest thing that binds us together is that we are all humans. No matter what race we are, what culture we live in, what nationality we are, and what language we speak, we are all God’s children. While I didn’t realize it at the time, my impromptu speech in a small classroom in the middle of a Mexican mountain range was a small example of contributive justice. I wasn’t doing any physical service in that moment, I wasn’t writing policy to solve a problem, I wasn’t addressing an entire country on an issue, but I was doing my best to spread a message of love and solidarity to some people who needed to hear it most.

After watching the media and receiving mixed views of how Americans viewed them, I personally believe that standing up in front of them and asserting to these students that we don’t hate them or their country was crucial for the class and larger society as a whole. They can take their experience meeting Americans and spread the message we brought. One classmate said it best when he stated, “this may be the only time they have a personal encounter and discussion with Americans, and I think we left the right impression on them.” As they spread their message of what the Americans said to them, my classmates and I (as I’m doing right now) can spread the feelings of love, hospitality, and comfort we received in Mexico. And thanks to the distributive justice that Xaverian gave me for being able to be a participant on such a life changing and eye opening trip, I can now say that I know more by knowing that I know less. The trip revealed all of the unique issues and perspectives of the border region, and that it will take a multilateral effort to quell some of the issues and tensions.

Above all, my week on the border demonstrated that even when the justice triangle is broken on a large scale, just a simple smile can go a long way.