I Choose to be Happy

By: Caroline McClelland

I just returned from a year spent abroad in Lausanne, Switzerland. I studied, worked, and traveled. Reflecting back on my year this past week, though I earnestly loved various aspects of my year spent abroad, I began feeling as though I had left empty-handed. Simply, I started comparing my experiences from this year to last year. Freshman year was a magical year - full of friendships that made me question where had these individuals been all my life; full of joyful memories strolling on the Santa Monica Pier; full of backflips in the warm sand, wolfing down healthy but heavenly acia bowls from Sunlife Organics; full of laughs that left my stomach feeling queasy and sick. Freshman year was a truly happy and carefree in my life.

As I reflect back on this year, life abroad did not follow this same pattern. Though Facebook and Instagram posts may reflect otherwise, life was not always rainbows and sunshine in my little Switzerland bubble. In fact, it hardly ever was.

Simply put, life was difficult this past year. I cried more than I ever have in my entire life over the course of these nine months. Several factors made this year quite difficult. I was constantly sleep deprived from all of the traveling and studying demanded and required by my program. I was downtrodden and discouraged by some of my classes in Lausanne; many of them were infinitely harder than the general education classes that I had taken on main campus in Malibu my freshman year. Moreover, I continuously desired to develop more deep and sincere friendships that would last a lifetime—but, at times, felt as though I was not being encouraged or uplifted by those around me.

Additionally, I entered this year wanting to grow profoundly in my faith, but constantly felt as though other factors in my life were consuming my time. I carried the weight of my emotions and other people’s emotions on my shoulders, as many individuals were going through major life changes or dealing with various familial issues. I dealt with hurt and heartache after receiving sad news about a family member back at home. I was often sick this past year—as the stress through which I was putting my body caught up to me. I severely tore my foot and could hardly walk for the last month in Switzerland. I could name other instances that did not seem to go “quite right,” but this is besides the point. 

However, amidst the negativity that I encountered this year, happiness was always there. It was not hiding from me. It was always there in plain sight. However, I just chose not to be happy when times were difficult because I had been accustomed to a life that was light and airy—a life where I did have a care or worry in the world. This past year, I could have easily focused on the plethora of blessings in my life: good and true friends, Switzerland’s nature, a professor who I admire for his knowledge and disposition, my faith, etc. Instead, though, I chose to dwell on the aspects of my life that were not aligning with the perfect image that we—myself included—often feel the need to project. Simply, I felt very entitled to the “perfect” abroad experience and became saddened over the fact that the experience was not fitting into this expectation. 

Though we will encounter times in our lives that are full of pure happiness and joy, we cannot expect this will always be the case. However, what this year has taught me is that even amidst the times in our lives that are not rose-tinted, we can choose to be happy. We can wake up and choose to have a positive outlook on life. Though adopting this mentality is easier said than done, life is not supposed to be easy. In fact, this year abroad has engrained this life lesson permanently into my brain. However, this fact should not hinder us from continuing and progressing as individuals. I think that these moments and instances of discomfort can propel us to be individuals of greater integrity and depth if we only accept and embrace them—and even are happy and grateful for them. 

Though I did not gain this year what I had hoped I would at the beginning of it—I initially hoped that this year was going to be a continuation of my freshman year—instead, I know that I have changed greatly as an individual. Even when my expectations were completely out of line, I did not leave empty handed. I left with a new perspective that has enabled me to appreciate the glorious times in life, but also embrace the times in life that are not as favorable. Thus, will you choose to be happy or sad? After this year, I know which one I will happily embrace.