Maintaining optimism in a demanding career–or, why happiness is not a waste of time in grad school

My mom is the happiest person I know, and I was always aware of it growing up. It made me proud, for a while. Then I became a teenager, and I started rolling my eyes. A lot. It was easy to make fun of my mom for being so cheery. Then I went off to college and I started to really appreciate her again. But then, I realized that not only was my mom super happy, she was also really smart about being happy–she made choices to make herself happy everyday. She sings in the grocery store. She laughs super loud while watching tv. She gets excited about everything from running into friends to hearing her favorite songs. And you know what? All of that takes work.

I really started to understand the work of being happy and that appreciation has only grown since I got to grad school, where it’s clear that I can either find a way to enjoy this life, or I can let my potentially demanding job choice swallow me whole. I definitely don’t make the more difficult choice every day, but I do try! So this week, I asked some wise grad school friends why happiness can seem so hard in academia. Here’s what we came up with…

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Gifts for grad students

Certain holidays are coming up. Here’s what I’m wishlisting, or what I might gift our grad office if I had any disposable income…

A book stand

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I asked for one for Christmas last year and let me tell you, it is so much easier to take notes when you don’t have to hold books open with cell phones/staplers/anything on hand while transcribing quotes. It also just looks so nice on my desk. $11 on Amazon. More gifts below.

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How do you keep your relationship strong in grad school?

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(Or any stressful work environment, really…). I’m still looking for good answers to this question but am super thankful for my amazing boyfriend, who puts up with my babbling about school and paper ideas, and the fact that I am exhausted pretty much all the time. Recently, I discovered the idea of novelty dates. Because I’m a grad student I was excited by the science that says that couples that go on dates frequently do not experience as much relationship satisfaction as couples who go on dates to new places frequently, because the feeling of novelty activates the same feelings that exist in new love.

With that in mind, I basically got to work making a list of new things for Trevor and I to do. So far, we’ve gone to a pottery class, hiked in a new location, gone to a fantastic plant sale, tried a new breakfast spot, and browsed a new record store. I don’t think I can comment on the brain science yet, but 1) it’s been really fun, and 2) making a list and actively making a plan to go on new dates has stopped us from just staying in and continuing to binge The Wire (which we still enjoy, of course).

I’m going to keep adding to our list. Do you have any fun novelty date ideas?