The Opinion of the Smoke Signal Editorial Board
The following editorial contains personal anecdotes from Yusuf Rasheed and Sabrina Wu, the co-Editors-in-Chief of the Smoke Signal, but reads as a single narrative for easier comprehension.
How many late nights have you spent stressed out, fighting droopy eyelids and telling yourself, “It’ll all be worth it after it’s over”? How much time have you lost agonizing over whether to hang out with friends or spend extra hours studying?
As graduating seniors, we’ve felt these emotions hundreds of times. Upon reflection, many of us regret how little time we’ve spent investing in our happiness. For the past four years of high school, the fantasy of complete relaxation during Second Semester as a senior dangled like a carrot above our heads, motivating us to grind through our work then and save the fun for later, as it does now for many of you. But with COVID-19, we’ve lost our chance at prom, the Senior Lounge, and all the dances and events we procrastinated on attending —- all quintessential high school senior traditions that were supposed to make our struggle worth it. This year proved the single most important lesson we’ve been taught about living: don’t procrastinate on doing things that make you happy.
When we prioritized our academic performances over our happiness and mental health, we forced ourselves into a perpetual state of stress where we constantly focused on getting to the next checkpoint, no matter the cost. We neglected our closest friends to study for that extra AP class we took and sacrificed our sleep to catch up on overloaded schedules. Each day became a bargaining chip for a false hope that in the future, we’d finally have the time to cherish the moments that bring us joy. However, in holding this mentality of “working hard without playing hard,” we’d keep pushing this “finish line” back until we were stuck in a never-ending state of waiting for happiness. It is this exact procrastination that we must avoid.
We rationalized giving up summers for SAT prep and pre-collegiate programs with the promise of a free break next year. Come next summer though, we were back to work, spending all our time applying for research and internship opportunities and saving our relaxation for the next summer before college.
We found ourselves falling into a cycle of living for the future rather than living in the present. Year after year, we fantasized about the summer after senior year when we’d finally be able to go out as much as we wished. Road trips, beach parties, and summer concerts — but now, three years later, the pandemic’s unforeseen circumstances have placed these plans in limbo. And in college, we worry we’ll repeat the same cycle of saving our sunny days for the last summer. Putting off our fun for the past three years made us realize how much time we wasted just waiting for an ideal time for happiness. Taking a chance and holding out faith for this prophesied time only trapped us in a tornado of stress and anxiety.
Thus, it’s crucial now that we focus on our joy and fulfillment in the present — high school isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Pacing ourselves and taking breaks in between is the key to success. Happiness is an investment, and that means that sometimes, it’s worth it to sacrifice your work, to a reasonable extent. For example, choosing to spend time with family or going out on a walk over studying a few extra hours for a test could recharge you enough to be productive for the rest of the day.
(Yusuf) I remember numerous times in freshman year when I wondered whether cross country was worth the extra two hours I lost from my afternoon. But every single day, I was so thankful I spent that time with my team instead of being locked up in my room, analyzing photosynthesis for AP Biology or corroborating a primary source for my US History class. Running gave me a clear mind and allowed me to recharge before starting my homework — it extinguished all my worries from the day during my run with my friends. This comforting feeling was accentuated in junior year, when my workload was at its peak. In fact, on the days I didn’t go to practice, I was less productive with my schoolwork, even though I had more time.
(Sabrina) For me, while registering for classes in my junior year, I had to choose between taking an extra AP class, or taking Marketing 1 and joining MSJ DECA. Seeing my peers bolster their GPAs with twice as many weighted classes as me made me wonder if giving up an AP class for this so-called “easy class,” was worth it. But each day, I would walk into Marketing, feeling lucky that I had a class where I could relax and freely explore my curiosity in a new subject that genuinely piqued my interest in business and made me see it as a viable career opportunity. Choosing a class I truly loved over one that added to my GPA not only gave me a space to re-energize and improve my academic performance in other classes, but also helped solidify my passion for business, which I’ll be studying this fall in college.
Running and Marketing were our escapes from monotony, but they don’t have to be yours. Your safe haven can be anything that makes you happy. Investing in your own well-being will always take less time than trying to rebound from poor mental health due to overworking yourself. Spend time doing something you love every day as your way of recharging. Actively seeking happiness doesn’t mean that you’ll fall behind on academics — instead, it could actually help you improve as a student.
Making happiness a priority doesn’t always have to mean sacrificing a lot of time either. Take little chunks throughout the day to do things that bring you joy, whether it’s taking a short break to make your favorite cup of tea or talking to your friends on the phone for half an hour. Work on projects with others so you can be productive while having bonding time. Practice appreciating the small things that brighten your day, whether it’s taking the scenic route home or sitting outside for a few minutes to enjoy the sunset. Log your days in a journal so your time in high school doesn’t just pass you by in a blur of work and pressure. The key is to balance out your stress with bits of joy that can motivate you to keep going.
Looking back on high school, those moments in cross country and MSJ DECA are what we hold dear to our hearts because they defined our time at MSJ — not our grades, SAT scores, or awards. We wish that we had more of these moments to cherish, and we want you to have them too. As we head into college, here’s our final piece of parting advice: don’t wait for an “ideal moment” to prioritize happiness. That time is now.
Cover image by Opinion Editor Aria Lakhmani