How I Learned Happiness

I could talk about everything East Campus has done for me – the community here has taught me how to feed myself deliciously and cost-effectively, squashed the squeamishness out of me, made me kinder and more compassionate, raised the standards I set for myself, and changed my outlook on life. But most of all, this place – my family – taught me happiness, and saved me when I needed it most.

Something that I loved right off the bat about MIT’s housing system was the freedom and flexibility for choosing where I would live. I wanted to live in East Campus because I saw it as a community of people who do things for the sake of doing them; a unique blend of concentrated creative expression and application of practical skills and technical knowledge. Upon moving in, I didn’t realize exactly what I was getting into – the amount of passion people have for what they do here. From what I’ve observed, people here don’t do everything – far from it; however, when they do something, they engage in it fully.

I came to MIT with the realization that I had been relying on my social life to be happy for years. I didn’t really know what to do with myself if I wasn’t around my friends, and I often chose to do things because my friends were doing them, or they seemed like they would be objectively useful to me and I didn’t dislike the thought of doing them. I didn’t really have a passion or drive to do things. I suppose my approach to life could be described succinctly as “apathetic,” and I was fully conscious and equally apathetic towards that thought.

EC changed me. People here are using the things they’ve learned, taking them beyond solving p-sets or acing tests, and using their knowledge to explain to me why there’s suddenly a black circle in the middle of my iPod screen that sometimes changes shape, or how different properties of knots make them useful for different things. More than that, no one ever wrote me off as being entirely froshy and incompetent; they found my skills useful and sometimes amazing – skills I considered more befitting to a housewife than a student at a technology institute. They gave me ideas for how to combine the two to create something beautiful and unique. They showed me a reason and a new level of creative freedom that allowed me to think of ideas I never would have before, and that excited me. I don’t necessarily know what my passion is, but now I think I’ll find it one day. I sincerely think this exponential growth of passion happens perhaps not exclusively on the East Side, but with much higher frequency here. I attribute this to a mix of living in a place where we have so much freedom and autonomy, and the high concentration of people who take advantage of said freedom to its full capacity make EC a place where I am more driven, and more actually, actively, passionately happy.

That being said, MIT is hard. Everyone knows this. It’s even harder when things outside of your control, outside of MIT, interfere with the constant barrage of information. This past spring, a friend of mine from high school passed away, and it destroyed me. Of course, my friends consoled me, made sure I was okay, and let me know that they were there for me. They were wonderful and supportive. But the experience made me recede into myself – I didn’t want to communicate with anyone, and if I did, it had to be my choice; it had to be face-to-face and one-on-one. Without needing to ask, everyone on hall gave me my space, which sounds unremarkable except that throughout my time thus far at MIT, I had often been referred to as “huggy frosh.” No one pressured me to interact with them. When I cracked one day in class and left before the end of lecture, leaving all my belongings in the classroom, they showed up outside my door without comment.

The level of empathy expressed by my hallmates is astounding, and it was developed not through being in the same classes, or eating in the same dining hall, but while listening to someone rant about a class as they aggressively cut up carrots, making late-night runs to 7-Eleven after punting for several hours, drinking tea together while watching the sunrise, or just by being in the lounge with everyone talking about how 2048 is ruining their lives while playing 2048. It’s something which runs deeper than a word like “friendship” can convey, and that’s why I call this my family; because these people are the ones who made it clear to me that they would be there always when I needed them, in the way that I needed them, all without having to say a word. They gave me the space to heal, and lent me an ear (and a shoulder) when I needed it the most, and I would do the same for them.

The support I get through East Campus is part of what got me through this, and continues to be what gets me through MIT every day with a genuine smile on my face. We know each other; we keep each other safe; sometimes people stare at us and our living space because it all looks a little funny, but at the end of the day, those people aren’t in our home – we are.