On choosing happiness over money in post-grad life

Arguably now more than ever before, students are under pressure to lead successful lives. This success is often measured in quantities such as one’s grade point average, class rank, salary, job position and more. Many accept that we must often make personal sacrifices in order to become successful in these categories.

For example, a person might love painting, but chooses to become a lawyer instead because it is the more reliable and conventionally accepted occupation. I believe that in situations where students should have to choose between happiness and conventional definitions of success in today’s world, they should choose happiness and recalibrate the way that they view success for themselves.

As the end of the semester steadily approaches, many students find themselves in positions where they must make important decisions—and accordingly make sacrifices in order to become successful. Freshmen are choosing majors, seniors are looking at graduate programs and jobs and everyone is feeling final exams slowly approach. At this time of the semester, we are hard-pressed to make important decisions about our future and this often entails sacrificing the happiness of the moment. Of course, there are examples of situations where we don’t have to choose between the two, but these cases do not come as frequently as some would like.

I wish to ask readers why we hold the common notion of success in such high esteem; is there something intrinsic in having a high GPA or a high-paying salary that makes them so desirable? I think most people would realize that the answer to the formerly posed question is, “No.” The numbers that determine our success mean nothing when they are looked at as just numbers.

These measures are valuable merely because we attach values to them—they do not mean any more to us than any other set of numbers we can think of. What is actually desired is the feeling of accomplishment that comes with it. We might feel pride in the fact that we are graduating summa cum laude and can get into any research institution we wish, or we may feel great material pleasure in a six-figure salary.

But this sense of euphoria that we get from conventional feelings of success could be described as just another form of happiness: one that is socially constructed. Perhaps with a more individualized approach to happiness—one in which we define what it means to be successful—we might be able to claim both success and happiness for ourselves, instead of being dictated by it.

Too many people today reach middle age and have sudden career changes after realizing they should've followed their dreams in their younger years. Instead of spending decades on jobs that we hate, we should prioritize being successful at the things we love—even if they are not considered as conventionally pragmatic in today’s job market. After all, life may be nothing more than a limited pursuit of happiness, and as such, it is important that our years here be the best years that we can possible make them be.

As students pick their majors and some seniors leave college to begin their professional careers, I hope that some consider working in fields that ignite their passions and make them excited to wake up every morning. If this entails being unsuccessful in the conventional sense of the word, then they need to work to redefine what they consider to be successful.