At university and throughout life a lot is expected of you. You’re expected to be punctual, focused, and pleasant, and from a young age phrases like ‘treat others how you’d like to be treated’ and ‘turn that frown upside down’ are thrown at you like pies at a clown’s face. This creates a lot of pressure, especially if you have high expectations for yourself and for life, because when you aren’t at 100% you feel as though you’re doing something wrong.
When you go to university you have to settle down in a new city, make new friends, and excel on your course – you’re faced with deadlines and personal dramas every single day, whether it be a spiteful message on the fridge or a friend’s relationship falling apart, and it can be extremely difficult to put on a brave face. Most people you know will be going out a lot, having a good time, and generally making what they perceive to be the most of the situation, so if you aren’t doing the same it’s likely that you’ll be treated differently. This isn’t always the case, but it’s inevitable that there will be some sort of disconnect between students who want to go out all the time and students who don’t; if you aren’t sharing the same experiences then it will be difficult to stay close, and both parties will feel like the other views their way of life negatively.
Sadly, I’m a pessimist; I think about every little thing that could possibly go wrong, and because those things are usually infinitely more pressing to me than the things that can go right I get stressed and become gloomy.
During my first year of university this got on a lot of people’s nerves, and I became known as the person who was never around – I went home a lot and I often stayed with my brother because he was at university in the same city. This would’ve been fine if the people that I lived with that year understood my personality in the way that my family and friends do, because they’d have known that there was nothing personal in my standoffishness – it’s just who I am. But because many people see the shared side of university as its main attraction, in that it offers you the chance to live with new people and widen your social circle, the people that I lived with took my absence as a slight on their character rather than as a reflection of mine, and they brought this up every time I decided to try to socialise. They thought that I must have a problem with them because I didn’t want to join in on nights out or sit and chat in the kitchen, when in fact I just wanted something else entirely from the experience.
Being pessimistic can be an extremely detrimental character trait for a young person to possess in the 21st Century, particularly if you’re a student. It seems like a relatively innocuous characteristic, but in reality it’s something fundamental about the way a person thinks that also informs the way they act, and it can alter how other people see you quite radically. If you aren’t on the ball 24/7 then you’re made to feel as though you should change, which in turn creates a feeling of inferiority and perpetuates any pre-existing pessimistic tendencies that you may have.
Ultimately, the way that you see the world is something that doesn’t change without help, and you shouldn’t have to feel like there’s something wrong with you if you aren’t a positive person. Happiness isn’t a choice – if it was then I’d happily (pun intended) flip the switch and change the way I am! From what I can tell, ‘happiness is a choice’ is something that happy people tell themselves so that they can feel superior to people who don’t have everything together like they do, not an accurate description of people’s mental predispositions. At university you will undoubtedly come into contact with people from all sorts of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, people who have the ability to enrich your life and change your outlook, so to dismiss them because of something that they have no control over does both parties a disservice.
If you have a problem for every solution that doesn’t make you undesirable, it just means that you aren’t able to ignore things that other people can, and that’s okay – just try not to force your perspective on everyone else. You shouldn’t have to change for them, even if you know that you aren’t perfect, and they shouldn’t have to change for you either; at the end of the day there’s no right or wrong way to live your life. We’re taught to embrace the differences between ourselves and other people when it comes to race, gender, and religion, yet the same so rarely seems to apply to personality. We’re told to champion certain traits over others when we look for friends and partners, as though people were as simple as a math problem, where one person’s being kind and generous will make another person happy; but life is never so easy. All we can do is find people who accept us for who we are, so that maybe the way we see the world will gradually become more optimistic. The best way to do that is to be inclusive, and to acknowledge that people are complex, individual, and multifaceted.
Ben Whittaker is an amateur philosopher, shower singer, and wannabe writer. You can probably find him in a cinema in Sheffield, or watching Game of Thrones on repeat in his bedroom.
Ben blogs here.