Outside the classroom, with the reduction of organized outdoor activity, many students blessed with some free time are looking to fill the void with new hobbies. For those Cornellians loading up on credits, spending an abundance of time hunched over a computer in our dorms, many are looking for a low-anxiety, low-commitment, screen-free way to unwind. Or maybe you’re just looking for a mental health boost — understandable amidst such an in-flux, crazy year. With all the time we spend indoors, and for all of the reasons above, I’d like to recommend a cheap, surprisingly rewarding, soothing way to destress that has become one of my personal favorite activities and can add to your day in a number of scientifically-proven ways. All you need are a few seeds, an LED light, some soil in a pot and pH neutral water to get started.
The first time my boyfriend and I talked about the definition of love, we were in a New York City apartment. The summer was humid and scented with moss, and in a crowded kitchen, we talked about what love means — argued about it, really. We quickly realized this word required a definition neither of us could grasp — a concept simultaneously as expansive as the city awake around us, yet as narrow as the mortar between brick walls. We haven’t talked about that definition in a while, but I hear it discussed all the time around me, in cafés, in classrooms, in libraries. And as Valentine’s Day comes around, there emerges a widening rift between those who are lonely and those who are not, those who are cuffed and those who are eating ice cream alone in their bed, those who are happy and those who are heartbroken.
As intelligent, young Ivy League students, we seem to know it all. We know how to tackle complicated economic models, apply thermodynamic analysis and develop successful medical practices. And where our classes lack, our countless pre-professional organizations fill in the gaps to teach us how to capitalize on our assets, develop our career goals, and move up in this world. But when it comes to filling our lives with meaning, finding fulfillment and happiness in the real world, we don’t have a clue. We view happiness as a byproduct of success, rather than the means through which we get there.
Over spring break, I dropped my phone in the ocean. It broke, and for two days I felt estranged – no sense of time, no notifications, no detested yet familiar sound of my alarm in the morning or the reassuring faculty of documenting every instant. In San Juan, Puerto Rico, life is much slower – the bright color of the small houses shine in the hot afternoons, the tide of the sea oscillates calmly and steadily; roosters’ onomatopoeias resound somewhere in the distance, sangria is served with lunch and the sun sets late in the evening; coquis sing on your way home. After long days at the beach, we could never get rid of the sand – it was in between our toes, in the cotton white sheets where we slept, trapped between a cylinder of red lipstick and its lid. Sand was everywhere and it drove me crazy; I wish I could write that the slow rhythm of the colors and the waves and the separation from omnipresent and overbearing technology taught me to let go of the small things and accept things as they are, but that is not who I am.
Life can be frustrating. Things don’t always go according to plan. People let you down, the future seems uncertain, demands pile up and stress invades your life. You start to beat yourself up over mistakes. Life loses its shine.
Since 2012, the United Nations has commissioned three publications of The World Happiness Report, a comprehensive annual report published by Columbia University’s Earth Institute, directed by economist Jeffrey Sachs. With the advent of internationally comparable data measuring subjective well-being and happiness, the reports propose an approach to public policy that focuses not only on increasing individual wealth, but also on improving other factors that contribute to life satisfaction, such as political freedom, social networks and a lack of corruption. People report the highest levels of happiness in Northern European countries like Denmark and Finland, while the countries with the lowest levels of happiness are all in Sub-Saharan Africa. These reports fall under the domain of happiness economics, a growing field of study that takes a theoretical as well as a quantitative approach to measure happiness, quality of life and well-being by combining economic concepts with related fields such as psychology and sociology. In the neoliberal era, roughly characterized as a period of relaxed economic regulations in the wake of the 1980s and onward, humans have become actors in the market economy and every action is commoditized.