Increase your happiness

Gretchen Rubin, the author of the New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project, wrote an article for LinkedIn suggesting a connection between happiness and organization. She says that “outer order contributes to inner calm,” and I confess that when I find myself in a state of anxiety about all the things on my to-do list, clearing off my desk, rewriting the list, and prioritizing the items—all of which take time away from actually making progress on the list—make me feel better.

The Rubin article includes a quiz to determine if you’re organized or disorganized, and I passed with flying colors. The questions seemed so easy, just asking if you knew precisely where various items (such as your passport, a tape measure, and a Phillips screwdriver) could be found. I knew where to find everything (there were 25 items on the list). That reminded me of a research article that I often have my graduate students read that tells us that if we know something (such as the answers to questions on a quiz or Jeopardy!), we think it was easy—and, if we think it’s easy, then so should everyone else! If we don’t know the answers, we think it was hard and are amazed that anyone would know.

All of the above took my thinking about happiness in another direction. What if you live or work in a world where all the “questions” are hard? This would have to have a negative affect not only on your happiness, but also on your self confidence, and that would not be a good thing. Yet time after time, I see students blithely heading down a road leading to a world where they’ll be unprepared to answer the “questions” that are going to be asked of them. For example, many creative writing majors think that they want to work in publishing because they like to read and write, but the two questions they seldom consider are (1) What do I know about topics such as typography, layout, cover design, process color, printing inks, copy-fitting, line and letter spacing, and the many levels of edit that most books will go through? and (2) What am I willing to do to learn about those things?

If you graduate from college knowing all the answers from your coursework, that’s great. But if you haven’t had practical experience in the field you want to go into, you’re going to learn that a lot of the questions you need to answer were never asked in the classroom (especially if you spent much of your time in the wrong classrooms).

My solution, which those of you who know me will have guessed, is to do one or more internships in the professions you think you might like. Internships can help you see what you know and don’t know about a particular career or profession, and that knowledge will allow you to modify or solidify your plans.

It may seem that I’ve strayed a long way from the discussion of happiness and organization, but really, I haven’t. People who are organized about where they keep things are usually organized about their behavior, too: they make plans. People who make plans think things out, anticipate problems, and work to ensure a positive outcome. Doing internships, as a way to gather the knowledge needed to plan for a successful future,  is one way for college students to contribute to a positive outcome after they graduate and want to transition to a career in which they will thrive.