The Illusion of Happiness in Teenage Life
Darya Farah Foroohar
May 30th, 2018
A while ago one of my peers asked me if I was happy. I said yes without hesitation. He looked surprised, saying that I was the only person who had responded in such a way. Taking this into account, I frantically reevaluated my condition and told him that I wasn’t sure, really, if I was happy. I didn’t really know.
And I don’t really know what it means to be happy. Does it mean to live in a safe environment, to get to go to school, to have enough material goods to comfortably live on? If so, then yes, I am happy. But does it signify contentment with oneself, a minimally stressful school life, and freedom from needless worrying? If so, the answer is a hard no. But, as I have told myself, everyone is stressed, so I am just normal.
Indeed, everyone is stressed, but as I look around at my peers, I see them all doing greater things than I am, whether it’s performing at the Met or starting an activism website. At my school, we are constantly reminded that everything we do will go towards getting into a good college, so my heart sinks as I mentally compare my friends’ hypothetical applications to mine and see that I would be the one getting rejected. We are seduced into believing that our teenage years are the ones to have fun in, but the reality is we must stick to a predetermined course for high school success. And so I say yes to every extracurricular that is thrown my way, from Track to Model UN; I’m currently in 6, along with SAT prep. But I’ve found myself losing sleep as I struggle to keep my grades up and meet all the requirements for my different activities. As I am trying to keep up with all the tasks I have imposed on myself, I find myself losing free time and connections with friends who are not in any of these extracurriculars. And the conclusion is that I am not happy, not as these activities which I once loved have turned into things I dread doing.
But I tell myself I shouldn’t complain. I tell myself I am happy, for there are people far worse off than I am. My father used to tell me and my brother, “stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about. You have a great life.” And this sentiment is echoed in how I taunt myself when I’m on the verge of stress-induced tears: You’re crying? Aww, you poor little baby. Pull yourself together! And so I do. I don’t think my problems are worth complaining about, which is why I feel embarrassed typing this up. I have a great life, so why should I feel sad?
There is always more I could do: to help people, to study, to work on perfecting myself when I am really just conforming to society’s expectations of what a perfect girl should be like. I constantly feel as though I’m not doing enough, so I say yes, yes, yes to other people. I want to say no, to not do anything, but it’s so easy to slip from saying no to ignoring other people’s problems. Sometimes my greatest wish is to do absolutely nothing, but I can’t be oblivious, both to my peers and to the world around me. And so instead of looking at the long-term goals that will propel me towards a Great College and a Great Future, I live day by day. As long as I can get through today, I will be fine. As long as I can get through this week, it will be all right. After I get through this month, I will be allowed to sleep for a hundred years (but I will make myself get up the next morning).