This is a personal memoir that reflects on stress in life.
| Sometimes I feel sad.|
Well, actually, I don't quite understand what "sad" is. When I was younger everything used to be so simple. I want something. My parents say no. I feel sad. But now, most of the time, I don't actually know what I want.
Living in a boarding school, I have always tried my best in academics. In my mind, my mother spent so much money for me to go to school here, and I want to succeed and make her proud. But what does it really mean to succeed?
There are always these things in life that society tells you are great. Work hard and get into a good college. Find a beautiful girlfriend. Make a lot of money. Then you'll be successful and feel happy. But when I really stop and think about it, why should I want these things? What is happiness?
Looking at my life now, the things I am working so hard for don't actually make me happy. I am by no means a pessimist. I am grateful for what I have. I am grateful for my friends, my family, and the opportunity to go to a prestigious school. But I have always felt like I was reaching for someone else's dream.
Every day before I go to sleep, I choose an emotion to represent my day and record it in an app. Although I don't feel a profound sense of sadness, when I reflect on the day, I rarely choose the happy icon or the sad icon. Often, I would choose the "OK" icon, a face that is neither laughing nor crying. It's just "Ok."
I feel a sort of numbness in life, where I don't actually care as much about things the way I used to. Some of this not caring is good, I think. For example, most of the time, I don't care what people think of me. I don't really care whether I am popular or not. In some ways, I like this feeling. I feel like I am living freely, doing what I want. I feel very stable in my emotions. On the other hand, sometimes, I feel like this numbness is swallowing the vivid colors of my life.
As I reflect on my seventeen years of life, for the first time I feel kind of lost. I am not sure what I am working or living for. I often ponder existential questions like: As such a small part of society, does my hard work make a difference? What is the purpose of waking up for school each day? Will getting into a good college, and getting a luxurious job actually make me happy? What will I do once I get into my dream college? And even worse, what if I don't make it?
To help me with these questions, I talked with my mother. As an international boarding student living in the United States, the only time I saw my mother was after study hours and before my bed on a video call. My mother was eating breakfast when I threw out the question: "Mom what do you think is true happiness?"
To my surprise, my mother didn't seem to be shocked by the question.
"What's wrong Leo? Is everything going well at school?" She asked as she adjusted the angle of her phone.
"It's just that I can't really find what I'm working for anymore. I feel so much pressure to get into a good college, but I don't know if that'll make me happy." I replied
She smiled in a way that made me feel like I was still young, an elementary child that still relied on my mother to wake up in the morning.
"Leo, you know we'll love you no matter what college you get into."
"Yea, but it's just that with you spending so much money for me to go to school here, I don't want to let you down."
My mother chuckled. "No Leo. That is far from the reason we wanted you to go to a boarding school. We, as a family, decided that spending your high school years in America would bring you a healthier and fuller experience. You would meet more people of different cultures, learn to be independent, and truly see the world as it is, which you are doing great on."
"Yea but ma...."
My mother put down her chopsticks. "Leo, I used to be like you. Chasing big dreams and working so hard to achieve them. While having ambition in life is important, it does not grant you happiness. Rather, your achievements and successes in life grant you the freedom and protection to be able to enjoy the joys of life."
"But mom, what are the joys of life?"
"Leo, do you miss us?"
"Yes! Definitely! Everyday!"
"But Leo, when you could see us every day in middle school, you still spent most of your free time in your room playing video games." My mother chuckled again. "Real happiness is not about getting what you desperately want. It's the things that you take for granted, the things you experience every day. Something that is not regretted until you lose it. Real richness is not owning luxury cars and houses. This seeming wealth would not fill the hole in your heart. This is the nature of humans. While happiness is around each and every person, they do not realize it."
"So what should I do to become happy?" I asked.
"My advice to you would be to learn to cherish. Treasure each of the little bits and pieces of happiness that are happening to you now. You never get younger, and you never get to experience what you are experiencing right now, at this moment, ever again. Acknowledge each friend with respect, as you never realize their importance until they are no longer part of your life."
Tears welled up in my eyes. I looked at the soft wrinkles on my mother's face. I miss her so much.
"It's Ok Leo," my mother said, reading my mind. "There is an old saying in China, "??????." It translates to the meaning that "The best is the present." I feel like every person should live with this mentality, to cherish and live in the present, not the future or the past."
"ITS BEDTIME." A dorm council member shouted outside my door.
"Ma, I have to go. See you tomorrow."
Picking up her chopsticks again, my mother waved me goodbye.
Turning off the lights and snuggling in my bed with my phone, I was recording everything that happened today. Reflecting on my day, my friends, and my family, I chose the yellow happy face icon, the one representing happiness. While I by no means understand fully what happiness means, I found a reason to wake up in the morning. To spend time with my friends. To learn the knowledge, I crave. To enjoy the present. And for the future, I'm sure everything will turn up fine.