Congratulations to graduates in the Class of 2015. Graduating high-school students often ask me how college will differ from high school. And what I say usually seems to come as a surprise: In college, you should start thinking much more seriously about happiness.
"What does college have to do with happiness?" you may be thinking.
And who can blame you? You have likely been groomed to want a respectable job that pays well and been told that a college education is a necessary step toward that goal. You have learned that the better a college's reputation, the more useful its degree will be in the quest for worldly success.
But I would like you to think bigger, to want more from your education--much more.
Education goes far beyond worldly success, and very far beyond success measured in monetary terms. Your education, if well conducted, will give your life meaning and significance.
For this one, four-year period in life, you have an opportunity to learn what it means to be human, to apply your mind to some of the best thinking, art, and science produced by mankind, to exercise your imagination in new and unexplored worlds, to develop strength and purpose of will, and to grow passionate toward objects that are truly worthy of love. This is the kind of learning that can lead to happiness.
So what should you be looking to do as you embark on the adventure of a college education? Here are five things that will help you to develop the freedom to live your own life on your own terms.
- Become responsible rather than merely accountable. This means no longer relying on others, especially teachers, to set your goals and assess your progress. You need to learn how to do this for yourself. Instead of simply being accountable for fulfilling the tasks set by others, you need to become responsible for choosing your own goals, for committing to the means needed to attain those goals, and for maintaining your own assessment of how well you are progressing. The best professors would rather see you become self-determining than have you parrot back whatever you think they want to hear. This is the most important thing you can do in college. The remaining items on this list are corollaries to this.
To sum it up, allow yourselves the luxury of doubting what you think you've learned from others, of questioning the things you've heard but not thought about much. By opening yourself up to the possibility that you may be wrong about what you have taken to be true, you will take the first step in your self-education. This is the step toward humility--the recognition that you don't know everything and that you ought to be your own fiercest critic before attempting to judge another.
If you learn how to use self-doubt confidently, it will also open you up to receiving amazing gifts of experience, wonders that come from who knows where, discoveries that you would never make without this openness, without the educated freedom to find your own personal path to happiness.