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Updated: Jan 30, 2023

The morning of my eighteenth birthday in July, I received a gift from my sister—a compilation of videos of my closest family members and friends sharing stories and advice as I became an adult.

“Do what makes you happy.”

This was the advice I received from nearly every close family member and friend.

It made me begin to question, what really makes me happy?

On my birthday, my boyfriend, Paul, and I were going to spend the day at Ogunquit Beach, Maine, shop around town, get mac’n cheese (my favorite food) for dinner, and eat ice cream cones from Big Daddy’s while the sun went down. If everything went as planned, the day would be perfect, and I would be happy.

Although we left early in the morning, we hit traffic, and didn’t arrive at Ogunquit until noon. By the time we reached the beach parking lot, there was a sign that said, “lot full.” I felt moisture begin to well in my eyes, as my heart sank. Paul suggested we walk through town for a little bit first. We browsed all the touristy shops and goofed around trying on obnoxious beach hats and sunglasses. We ended our walk at the Sea Glass Jewelry store, where he got me a necklace to remind me of that day.

Desperate to finally cool off in the ocean, we were disappointed to see the parking lot was still full when we walked back to the car. I felt moisture beginning to well in my eyes again. I wasn’t ready to give up. On impulse, I plugged Drakes Island beach into the GPS. Drakes Island was cold, windy, and desolate; the opposite of a “perfect” beach day. In oversized hoodies, Paul and I flipped over rocks, searching for hermit crabs and walked the length of the beach searching for orange shells, since that was my favorite color.

On our way home, we grabbed mac’n cheese for dinner and stopped at Big Daddy’s for ice cream hours past sunset.

As we licked our ice cream cones together on the dark beach, I thought back to the advice I was given earlier that day, “Do what makes you happy”. Even though my birthday was not the “perfect” day I envisioned, the experiences I had with Paul made me happy.

A few weeks later when I was selecting my freshman seminar course for the first semester, I was drawn to a class called “What makes us happy?”. In the course, I learned that many people believe achieving a certain goal or material things are connected to life satisfaction, but true happiness comes from meaningful relationships and experiences.

I began college with so many expectations for my first semester. But similar to my birthday beach trip, the semester was far from the “perfect” experience I envisioned. Instead of being disappointed by my broken expectations, I tried to focus on experiences throughout the semester to make me happy. I hiked at the Sleeping Giant State Park and was surprised by a beautiful sunset. I discovered my friends were also Taylor Swift fans, and we sang and danced to all of her songs in my room. I examined tissue cells and blood cells under a microscope one day in my bio lab, which sparked interest again in the field of medicine.

I once saw the quote, “Stop waiting for things to be perfect to be happy.” None of these experiences were what I expected, but it was their ease and spontaneity that made them “perfect” in their own way. I cannot expect that any one thing will ultimately make me happy, that expectation is unreasonable. I know I will find things that make me happy wherever I go.

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