Recently, half of my class traveled to the Dominican Republic for our senior service trip to teach English in schools with Outreach360. We noticed that the kids there were happier than those back home. Honestly at first I found this counterintuitive, as I had always assumed that wealth directly correlated with happiness. Society teaches us that the harder we work, the more money we have to buy more, and the happier we’ll be. However, according to BBC news the happiest country in the world is Nigeria, while the United States of America doesn’t even make the top ten. So what are we doing wrong? Perhaps rappers Biggie Smalls and P. Diddy were getting at something when they suggested, I quote, “mo’ money, mo’ problems.” I think the answer lies in our perception of happiness: our misguided belief that material wealth will lead to a fulfilling life. If we instead consider happiness as satisfaction with oneself and how well adjusted an individual feels, the criteria changes. I’m not suggesting that we should not pursue practical jobs in order to live comfortably, but there are ways we can increase net happiness simply by changing our definition.
In his New York Times Article The Moral Bucket List, David Brooks proposes that “there are two sets of virtues, the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues.” Resume virtues are the skills that you’d put on a college application or job resume, like being good at soccer or debate, while eulogy virtues are what teachers write about in your recommendation letters, or what people will remember about you when you’re gone, like being considerate and kind. American society’s obsession with success and wealth rewards resume virtues rather than eulogy virtues, leading us to believe that resume virtues are more important. People receive accolades to the point where they measure self-worth by them. While awards are opportunities to celebrate individuals for their merit and hard work, they are still just more material acquisitions. Fostering relationships with family and friends, or spending the money you make on an experience from traveling, as Mr. Novak says, is a far more gratifying use of your time.
Now don’t get me wrong. Resume virtues have their place, and the class of 2015 has no shortage of accomplishments:
-We have all-star athletes who have been scouted to play collegiate level sports, and others who are skilled enough to walk-on if they choose to
-We have college acceptances to Vassar, Middlebury, Smith, Columbia and U Penn, Harvey Mudd, and Duke, some of the most prestigious universities in the nation.
-We have Central Park interns, non-profit organization starters….
But I’m proud of my class because despite our formidable collective resume, our eulogy virtues are even more impressive. Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox said that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. On a grander scale, you are a reflection of the communities of which you are a part. You adopt the values of your peers, specifically those you look up to. As leaders of the upper school, my classmates are role models, and their qualities define the values of the Staten Island Academy community.
Sade Dinkins has taught us that someone can excel in both resume and eulogy virtues. In fact, her resume virtues earn her leadership positions in which she exercises eulogy virtues to earn the respect of her peers. In terms of resume, Sade is a superb, 3-season athlete and also wickedly smart—do you know what the Latin literary device Tmesis is? Yeah me neither, ask Sade. I’ve played on multiple sports teams with her, and she is the nicest captain I know. She proves to us that people can lead efficiently and still be kind. When your team is losing, it’s easy to get frustrated and yell, but she always chooses to focus on solutions instead and remain calm, even though it’s harder. Her consistent effort to respect her peers is not just leadership: it’s nobility, and the respect is mutual.
Nick Borghese has taught us (besides Physics, Computer Science, and most of Calc) to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. On the way back from the Dominican Republic, he stayed at the baggage claim until every single person got his luggage even though he didn’t even check his own bag. People are naturally inclined to give Nick responsibilities because he is honorable. He can do you a huge favor without you even realizing it because he never seeks recognition for doing the right thing. Recognizing you now Nick.
Teenagers specifically are known for being selfish, but somehow Erica Ashurova has figured out how to eclipse native human egocentrism and ALWAYS puts others before herself. Erica cares for her friends like a mom does, and she inspires us to do the same. She’s compassionate, generous, and self-sacrificing. Erica has taught us altruism.
Julia Xia’s capacity for appreciating beauty in literature, nature, and in people is unparalleled. All communities need more people like Julia, because when someone expects the best from you, you’re most likely to deliver.
Mr. Weissman, the theater community at SIA is the most welcoming I know, and that is a reflection of you. Your shows have taught us that what’s gratifying about being in a play, or a community, isn’t any individual role but the process of collaborating to create something great. Outreach360’s third principle is “it’s not about you.” When you have responsibilities to others and feel needed, you forget that you bombed that related rates test and that your SAT is next weekend. You forget self-centered worries because you realize you’re now a part of something larger than yourself, which matters to you because it matters to the people you care about. And this is happiness: finding a home, or a community in which you belong. The theme of our spring musical In the Heights was this concept of home. When I think about home, I think about SIA. I think about Claire and myself hiding out in Dr. McGrath’s office in the dark days of junior year, back when we were averaging 4 hours of sleep a night. I think about Mr. Crane surprising Veronica with tea when she was sick and Mr. Ahern routinely saying hi to me in the mornings, when I most needed constancy in the midst of the brutal college application season.
Class of 2015, you’ve got the resume virtues to be conventionally successful; you’re bright and you work hard. But also use your eulogy virtues to find your happiness. In his book Brave New World, Aldous Huxley asserts that “Happiness is never grand.” Realize that ultimately, your relationships with other people in the larger framework of communities are going to be fulfilling, not material extravagance. It’s these relationships that’ll make you forget about your own worries and these communities that’ll make the world seem a little smaller. So good luck on your pursuit of happiness, and remember that *“everything that shines ain’t always gonna be gold.” Thank you. I love you guys.
*taken from Kid Cudi song “Pursuit of Happiness”