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What do Aristotle and The Smile Project Have in Common?

This is a guest post written by Ariana Scott. Ariana is a sophomore at Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania studying Sociology and Political Science. She has journaled over 800 days of Happiness.


As a student at a small liberal arts university, I have had the chance to take some very interesting and applicable classes. I have learned the correct pronunciation of Spanish words, how to write an A plus worthy literature review, what makes a good conclusion paragraph, and how to create the perfect stratified random sample for a great unbiased research project. One thing I have been studying that I already knew about is the idea of happiness.

At Seton Hill, every student is required to take a philosophy class. This semester I took Introduction to Ethics; we studied four different ethicists/philosophers and examined how their theory compares to another. My favorite was Aristotle’s and his theory that we are all striving for the human good, or happiness; he wrote, “happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” He goes on to say that we achieve happiness through our virtues and that we must practice them and turn them into a habit -- a lifestyle -- in order to be good, happy people. When I read this I had a deja vu moment that took me straight back to my time at the RYLA camp.

Two years ago I attended the RYLA camp that is occasionally featured on this blog. I think every person that attends RYLA the summer between our junior and senior years can attest that RYLA teaches us that in order to lead others we must lead ourselves by figuring out who we are and how we wish to live our lives. Aristotle might put it as “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

One way that they helped us find ourselves was through the lovely and amazing Liz Buechele’s happiness journey. She taught us that happiness is not just a feeling -- it is a lifestyle. Liz gave the entire camp a beautiful presentation on her journey, however, I was blessed enough to have her as my counselor. She taught me that every day might not be good, but there is good in every day and in order to live a happy life you have to find the happiness and sometimes make it yourself.

On the last day of camp, she gave everyone in “Group L” a small notebook just like the one she uses to write her happiness in. Every night for the past two and a half years I reflect on my day by focusing on the good things that happened before I go to sleep. I write down those positive thoughts before I shut my eyes so I always go to sleep happy. Although the pleasant start to my sleep cycle is spectacular, the more important aspect is finding the good in every day and training yourself to be an optimist through habit.

I am not going to lie and say that I was the saddest person on Earth before I started documenting my happiness, I would say that I was actually pretty content with my life, but there is something about giving yourself two minutes to think about the happiest part of your day that makes your thought process more positive and kind. It is also important to keep in mind that we can never plan for when life gets messy and the happiness is harder to find, so making a habit when you are content helps you plan for the dark times.

My happiness journal made the biggest impact when I transitioned to college last year. In the beginning, I was lonely, scared, sad, and overwhelmed. Even though I felt all those emotions every day for about two and a half months I knew there was happiness in every day even if I didn’t initially see it. There was “a four-person writing class,” “doing well in Political Science,” “self-care Sundays,” and “cheering at my first college football games.” Without making a habit of noticing my happiness I would have dwelled on having to wake up early for cheer practice, family issues, and being scared to talk in big classes with a lot of upperclassmen.

At one point in my journey, I have written in my journal “I got lazy and moved to my new bedroom without my book. The entries probably would have been about British movies and laying in your pj’s all day.” I made the mistake of taking a break from my journal, during that time period I fell into the trap of dwelling on the negative, I was tired, I was sad, I was lazy, and there was nothing that could change that. After a month I decided to start back up on day 517 and write in my journal again. It is insane how much my mood improved and how much better I treated others and myself.

Although I did not write in my journal, “Happiness is . . . Introduction to Ethics and Aristotle’s similar views on human good to Liz’s concept of a happiness journal,” it has definitely been the greatest lesson I have learned in the past two years and probably in my entire life. Take it from someone who is on day 800 of their happiness journey, the hardest part is making happiness a habit, it is easy to see the negative but it is life-changing when you can see the positive without searching for it.

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