I first heard abut the 100 Happy Days Challenge through my roommate, Liz, who sent me the link towards the end of last semester after one of our almost daily “sessions.” We had fallen into a comfortable routine of collapsing on the couch, completely exhausted by the end of every day, and venting about an abundance of struggles (more often than not simultaneously binge-eating pizza). After alternately quietly listening and ranting for an appropriate amount of time, we would look at each other and ask “So, what good things happened today?” The first time this question came up, I just sat there, stunned at my inability to think of one reasonable response. I was so relentlessly focused on following the well-worn rut of my complaints that I couldn’t think of a single thing that made me happy. EVEN WHEN THERE WAS A GLORIOUS HEAP OF WARM CHEESE, SAUCE, AND BREAD MERE INCHES FROM MY FACE. Clearly, I needed to rethink my life. Or at least my attitude towards life. Something needed to make me see the light (ahem, pizza) once again.
After that first night, we developed a strategy: systematically reviewing the day from start to finish in search of one thing, literally anything, that could shatter the sleep-deprived spectrum of grey with a little unexpected, initially overlooked color. On the days that I managed to wake up before noon, I couldn’t make it past breakfast without detecting a glimmer of bacon (I’m using the words “bacon” and “happiness” interchangeably here). Reviving these brief moments of joy at the end of each day gave me the will to leave my bed and face the next. As melodramatic as that sounds, it actually worked. So, when Liz discovered this challenge over winter break, we decided to participate in what appeared to be a mere online extension of what we’d been striving to do already. One simply collapsed into Instagram, captured a moment of happiness, and enhanced it by viewing the world through a different filter.
Sounds both easy and innocuous, right? And during the first few weeks, a radiant honeymoon period of self-satisfaction and purely unexamined intentions, it truly was. Then, I paused one moment to reflect and thoroughly read through the website’s peculiar rhetorical packaging of happiness: “These people simply do not have time to be happy! Do you?!” “Become more optimistic!” and “Start receiving more compliments from other people!” I felt like a televangelist had just tried to sell me redemption by telling me that when life hands you lemons, you can magically transform them into pineapples or some other more palatable and exotic fruit by using the right filter. Or like the Evil Queen from Snow White was holding out a technologically enhanced apple, chanting “Just one hashtag and all your dreams will come true!” Trying to decipher between the lines of these punchy slogans was like reading the fine print on a bottle of anti-depressant prescriptions: where there once existed a reassuring solution, suddenly a long, daunting string of potential side effects appears. Was I exchanging one thought rut for another, well-worn path of social media performance? Humble bragging? Uploading happiness on the screen in order to mask completely unaltered depression?
After all, my impending existential crisis whispered in my ear, “What is happiness? Can I really claim to experience it if I can’t even define it?! I KNOW WORDS ARE POWER BUT WHY DO WE HAVE TO LABEL EVERYTHING, ANYWAYS?” Luckily, before I could spiral completely out of control, Pharrell had already donned his signature hat and unraveled the mysteries of the universe with his hit, “Happy.” Happiness is “a hot air balloon that could go to space,” “a room without a roof,” “A TRUTH!” Problem solved. In order to avoid this potential social media masquerade, I just had to snap a photograph every time I felt like defying gravity! As long as the feeling pre-existed the photograph, I’d be fine! After all, the goal was not to manufacture a feeling out of thin air or to discover some sort of alchemic formula into which I could plug in any given amount of shit and chemically convert it into gold. I simply needed to broaden my focus, to zoom out from the problems, zoom in on the enjoyable , and come away with a more complete, balanced image of each day. Not to ignore the lemons, to saturate them with sugar, or to dilute them, but to realize that there’s an entirely edible fruit cocktail chilling a few feet away on the counter. Possibly even to stop using fruit metaphors so often, but one change at a time.
And so 100 days passed in no particular order, filled with snow and sun, brunch and booze, coffee, reading and writing, honors and activism…
Day 15: “The snow is sticking! THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Prepare thyself for SnowPocalypse 2014 #snowday #100happydays
Day 36: Dining with Salman Rushdie and enjoying three hours of conversation about hobbits, Yankees, education, and everything in between (and then forgetting to take a picture because how can anyone think about Instagram at a time like this) #thanksEmory #100happydays
Day 77: Wait, I get to leave my apartment AND pleasure read?! It’s a whole new world, baby#postthesislyfe #100happydays
Day 89: I solemnly swear I will make a dent in this research paper by the end of the night #maraudersmap #100happydays
Day 83: Preparing for my thesis defense with a motivational mocha #EspressoYourself #100happydays
Day 21: Productive writing sessions #stackspiration #100happydays
Day 67: Whiskey cupcakes- multitasking in the best way #100happydays
Day 95: Artichoke, asparagus, and goat cheese quiche with basil pesto and quinoa crust #easterdinner #100happydays
Day 97: Tuesday Farmer’s Market spoils- coconut cake and maple bacon donuts #treatyoself #100happydays
Day 76: 8 months and 80 pages later #thesis #submitted #bonvoyage #100happydays
Day 84: When life gives you crutches, use minion masking tape #bedobedobedo #100happydays
Day 98: Happy to be part of a community that stands behind survivors. No one ever asks to be sexually assaulted. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. Sexual assault is NOT a turn on #emorydenimday2014
…yet, these 100 days were filled with many, many other things, people, and events. Looking back and even looking closely at these photographs, it’s easy to remember the many all-nighters pulled in the name of an honor’s degree, the three straight days spent in the library living off coffee and Doritos during finals, getting my ligament partially torn by stampeding drunkies, and the many, many survivors who make this supportive community so essential. Strangely, these embedded narratives reassure me that I have succeeded, not in burying or refusing to acknowledge the negative, but in bringing the positive to the forefront. Through these photographs, the continuous blur of exhaustion which blankets my memories of this semester remains clearly partitioned into moments which carry the weight of others. All’s well that ends well, and between graduating with highest honors and an upcoming summer of advocacy through an internship with the Emory Respect Program, I can honestly reflect on my second semester of senior year with pride. But I can also remember it with a gratitude and a clarity that can only be perceived in the preservation of the mundane and the monotonous. And most importantly and improbably, I know that I’ve succeeded in consciously choosing to rewrite my life on my own terms, past and present.