What it means and why it’s important.
Life is messy.
Especially as a university student. It’s a constant balancing act between the peachy and the terrible. Maybe you get an awesome grade on your last midterm, get a new summer job lined up or have an exciting night out. On that same night, an earthquake kills thousands of people, you got dumped, failed a paper or someone close to you passed away. Should you feel guilty being happy during these moments?
It’s hard to give an objectively “right” answer to a question like this. Thoughts and feelings are the most personal things we have, and they’re different for everyone. Especially at this time of the year, we already feel burnt out from midterms, stressed about the future and even “cuffing” season could be a worry. Also notable is the realization that we still have a long year ahead of us.
Once immersed in university – sometimes far from the familiar – support can be slim, and it can become difficult to find a way to cope with all the emotions.
Being able to pinpoint how to feel is difficult, but I think the best way is by practicing emotional flexibility. It is described in the dictionary as the capacity to produce context-dependent emotionally flexible responses to changing circumstances. Basically, it means holding everything at once – happiness or disappointment – and being able to feel each differently at various points throughout the week, day or even hour.
Emotional flexibility is essential to surviving university. This snow globe of a campus can make small emotions larger than life and can make large events feel so far away. It can be far easier in difficult times to just say “everything sucks” and only focus on the negatives, or to put on rose-coloured glasses and look only on the positives. However these endpoints are not the place to dwell. University is full of endpoints.
Embracing the messy and being capable to cultivate the emotional flexibility required to do so can yield large benefits. Resilience to endpoints comes from feeling happiness, even during awful times.
Emotional flexibility can be very freeing. It means you can enjoy posting a selfie on Instagram the same day something terrible happens in the world. It can also mean that you can feel sad and down, even when it should be one of the best days ever.
As for how to become more emotionally flexible, the first step would be letting yourself feel whatever emotion you are experiencing at the time, and not beat yourself with guilt if it might not be an acceptable time for that sentiment. The second step is to always be present in everything that you do. If what you are doing or thinking about is making you sad, be sad. If what you are doing or thinking about is making you happy, be happy. In a time where we are always sharing our lives, this should be an individual experience.
University is a place where we are feeling many of these highly stimulating emotions all at once, sometimes for the first time. Remembering that you don't always have to be happy can give you the chance to attend to yourself in that moment, and not bottle it up for later. Especially when later could be in the middle of a midterm or on the pub dance floor. Not a particularly good look… Investing in the moment and embracing university, can turn into an emotionally fulfilling experience – or rather, X-perience.