For those who attend my alma mater (and many other universities throughout the world), today is the first day of school! Growing up, I always loved this time of the year, as I stocked up on fresh school supplies, spruced up my wardrobe and hoped that a cute new boy would move to town and be in all of my classes. Now in my second year out of school, it still feels crazy for me not to experience that “first day” excitement, as my inner nerd aches to read through a new syllabus and crack open a new textbook.
Many of you are starting college today (or next week, or early next month) for the first time ever. I congratulate you! College can be overwhelming, exhausting and, at times, heartbreaking. Completing your undergraduate degree is no laughing matter. But when I look back on the past 23 (almost 24) years of my life, I remember that many of the happiest moments took place during my university years.
Over the years, several of my readers have asked, “How can I find happiness in college?” Today, as you embark on this new and exciting adventure that is your undergraduate career, I’d like to share 15 of my own tips for truly living your college experience in a positive way.
The Freshman 15: Finding Happiness in College
1. Get involved on campus.
You will get out of your college experience what you put into it. What you do in the classroom is one key to your success, but keep in mind that it isn’t the only key. By joining a club or committee that interests you, you will not only gain valuable experience that you can’t obtain from a textbook, but you will also meet new people and challenge yourself in new ways. For tips on how to get involved on campus, check out my handy guide here.
Did you know that the first Friday of October is World Smile Day? :) Sometimes even a simple smile can brighten your day and turn your mood around. People respond better to you when you look happier, but people are less likely to approach you with a scowl on your face. It’s simple: Smile more, and happy things will follow.
3. Eat a more nutritious diet, and cut out the chemicals.
Seriously. This was always something my dad preached in our house, and I never wanted to believe it, but it’s true. I find that when I eat a diet rich in whole foods (as opposed to raiding the vending machine at work and binging on fast food), I’m a lot more even-tempered and less likely to overreact to minor things. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. Not only will this make you happier in the long run, but it will make your waistline happier, too.
4. Talk to your friends…
We all need somebody to lean on. You’ll make friends as you adjust to your new environment, and as you grow closer, you will likely turn to each other for support. This is a good thing, because it will allow you to grow closer and form more meaningful relationships.
5. … But don’t lean on one person too much.
When you rely on one person too heavily, you may wind up putting too much pressure on him or her to solve your problems and be that shoulder to lean on. You don’t want to be that one negative friend that people dread talking to, so be sure to keep that in check when confiding in others.
6. Utilize the university counseling center if necessary.
If you’re having trouble adjusting to college life or are having some emotional difficulties, a good resource to take advantage of is the school’s counseling center. Chances are, your tuition and student activity fees actually pay for counseling services anyway, so it is a free resource that you might as well use. This can help you find new ways to cope with your problems and talk to someone who isn’t as close to the situation as your friends are.
7. Whenever you start to doubt yourself, listen to an emergency compliment.
I love this site, Emergency Compliment, because it’s exactly what it sounds like. The page generates a new “emergency compliment” every time you refresh, and the compliments will definitely make you smile. Similarly, you can write down all of the positive things people have said about you, and read them on the tougher days to remind yourself of how great you really are.
8. Get organized.
Make checklists and keep a calendar to stay on task with your school work, extracurriculars and social obligations. This will ensure that you don’t forget anything important and therefore cause yourself even more stress and anxiety than you were already facing from those two papers and three midterms. For tips on managing your time effectively in college, visit my guide here.
9. Take each day one at a time.
Don’t try to solve all of the world’s problems at once. When you try to do too much, you stop doing any of it very well. Be careful not to spread yourself too thin!
10. Go outside.
Enjoy the fresh air and beauty of nature, even if you are inundated with schoolwork and group projects. As a student, I often brought my books outside when the weather was nice, and I found that this had a major impact on my overall mood. If you can, try to study or meet for lunch with friends outside once in a while… the change in scenery will (quite literally) brighten your day.
11. Move around.
Does your university have a free gym for students? Use it! The endorphins will boost your mood and help relieve some of the stress you’re facing. Plus, it’s a very healthy way to get your mind off of some of the things that may be bothering you!
12. Find a major you really love, and stick to it.
If you enjoy what you’re doing and have an end goal in sight, it will make it that much easier for you to push past your challenges. You may hate that organic chemistry class you’re taking, but if you are passionate about your other pre-med classes and excited about the idea of becoming a doctor someday, you’ll have an easier time forcing yourself to study. Don’t pursue a major just to impress others or check it off your list — instead, find something you’re passionate about. For tips on how to choose the right major, click here.
Helping others, instead of focusing on the things that have gone wrong in your life, will cheer you up and allow you to give back to the community. Join a volunteer organization at your university, or look for a local non-profit whose mission speaks to you.
14. Develop some school spirit!
If you take pride in your school, you will be less homesick and have an easier time adjusting to the challenges you face on campus. Attend a few athletic events and wear your university’s colors proudly! This also helps you to connect with others on campus and you may even make friends at the games.
15. If you expect wonderful things to happen, they will.
My friend Nicole always says this, and I completely agree! Good things will come when you have a positive attitude and expect them to. When you’re going through a rough adjustment, keep your chin up and hope for the best. Positive thoughts can attract positive outcomes.
What are some of your tips for finding happiness in college? Freshmen, what topics would you like to see on The Freshman 15?