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A real 5-cent word

By Maggie Boucher

My high school English teacher dubbed happy a “5-cent” word.

“Use something more descriptive, more enticing,” she would tell the class as she lectured us on the importance of having a wide- ranged vocabulary. “We need to use 50-cent words.”

And so I did. I consulted the thesaurus and found synonyms such as “thrilled,” “ecstatic” and “blissful.” In my many English essays on Shakespeare and Steinbeck, newspaper articles and blog posts, these were the words I used. Not “happy.” This varied vocabulary use lasted for quite some time, and soon all of my writing was full of 50, even 75 cent words.

I’m the type of person who tends to over-analyze things. It’s definitely not my best characteristic, but it’s something I’ve learned to accept about myself over the years. However, one day, while having a typical two-hour long conversa- tion with my mom, over- thinking every aspect of a decision I was about to make, she asked me a very simple question that sud- denly made all of the over- analyzing unnecessary: Does it make you happy?

Spending $150 on a statistics textbook, cleaning the dishes, doing homework— these are all things we don’t want to do, but must unlesswe want to fail our classes and smell the stench of rotten food.

However, I’ve come to realize that there are also a lot of things in our lives that we don’t have to do.

We don’t have to join clubs, participate in community service, workout at the gym or write columns for the Collegian, but we still choose to because they make us happy.

However, there also comes a point when these things don’t bring us joy anymore; yet, we continue to have them in our lives because we don’t know how to let them go.

We can over-analyze all we want, but it eventually comes down to one simple question: “Does it make you happy?”

Life is short. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that tomorrow I’ll be a 20-year-old college sophomore. Next thing we know, we will all be graduating, getting married and buying houses. And that’s whywhen we wake up in the morning we need to ask ourselves if what we are doing makes us happy. Because if the answer is “no,” we need to start making changes until the answer is “yes.”

“Happy” might be a 5-cent word, and I could easily replace it with “cheerful” or “delighted,” but I don’t want to. It is a simple word, yet it’s something that people spend their whole lives searching for.

We have to make difficult decisions and go through tough times to find it, but when the answer is finally “yes” to that question, it’s the greatest feeling in the world. Because life isn’t about being overjoyed, lively or thrilled. It’s just about being happy.

mboucher@willamette.edu

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