The Pursuit of Happiness

By: Hadassah Penn  |  August 8, 2019

By Hadassah Penn, Features Editor

I don’t like roller coasters. Never have. My friends stand hours in line just for a minute or three of pure exhilaration. They rhapsodize about the rush, the adrenaline, the feeling of freedom. It’s the stuff of poems, or song lyrics, or sentimental coming-of-age dramatic monologues. 

Me? I prefer the carousel. (Yes, I say “carousel” because it sounds more grown-up than “merry-go-round.” Yes, I am an adult. Barely.) I tell my friends that it’ll be an experience. “Let’s go relive our childhoods,” I say. “It’s traditional! It’ll be ironic!” But the truth is, I just wholeheartedly and unironically love the carousel. Give me an oddly-proportioned horse– or, better yet, a dragon, zebra, or rooster– and set me off in gentle, stationary circles. I’ll be dreamlike and content for a long while.

Content. Content is a tricky emotion for me. By nature, I come to it easily; I revel in it. A cup of tea? Content. Pastel highlighters? Content. 80’s pop playlist on Spotify? Content. Just like that. It’s a fantasy cliche, that the item the hero seeks was with them all along. But happiness, for me, is exactly like that: not the gold at the end of a far-distant rainbow, or the sacred truth at the edge of the world, but something tangible, visible, and ever-present, keeping me company as I wander into adulthood. 

It sounds charmed, aspirational. Who wouldn’t want to be satisfied all the time? And, yeah, sometimes it is. It’s a blessing to be self-contained, to be satisfied with my own portion, to derive pleasure from the simplest of offerings. I don’t take that for granted. 

But my greatest gift is a double-edged sword, as G-d-given gifts tend to be. After all, there’s a fine line between pleasure and passivity. What is stagnation but contentment gone sour? I am mild, calm, and clear-headed. Easy to please, easy to pacify. But my innate inertia is so intense that it feels physical at times. It strangles me, roots me in place. My comfort zone is a doomsday bunker: small, well-stocked, and prepped for long-term living. Ambition is only an abstract concept, something that I can recognize but never relate to. Same with competition.

In the past, I let myself drift along, chancing upon growth, progressing only when pushed to do so by outside forces. It’s easy for me, and comfortable, and the results look a lot like happiness. But I’m learning that happiness, when unearned, rings unquestionably false.

So I’ve decided that I’m done living in passive voice. This is my last year at YU, my last year of unapologetic self-exploration, and I intend to take full advantage of it. I will live, write, and work with intention. I will create and claim opportunities for learning. I will lead with kindness and passion. I’ll always love the carousel, but this year? This is the year of the roller coaster.

Photo: Hadassah Penn