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Mental Health

Why You Should Unlearn the Negative Association You Have with College

This semester I read the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor for my Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology class. This book focuses on his personal studies in positive psychology as well as how the everyday person can apply these findings to their own life. Throughout The Happiness Advantage the author explores the many ways positive thinking and positive habits can create long term benefits, most notably Achor discusses how happiness leads to success and not vice versa. This book was very inspiring and really pushed me to view my homework and stress through a different lense in a way that improved my overall attitude towards classes. As someone who has always struggled with mental health and managing college stresses, this book gave me so many useful mental exercises that are quick and slowly change the way your brain perceives a lot of things as negative. 

Much of American college students’ mentality towards school is negative, there is a general consensus that college is stressful, time consuming, and increases the likelihood of depression. A lot of this can be attributed to not only privilege but media. Many of us aren’t raised viewing learning and school as a privilege and if anything we treat it as a chore or a hassle. Media often perpetuates this through movies and shows where college students are miserable/failing classes and or always partying and never doing homework which sets an unrealistic expectation for what college life is supposed to be. No one is individually at fault for finding college to be a hassle or not appreciating the fact that we even have access to higher education because it is a learned behaviour and mentality for most of us. It doesn’t mean we are bad people, college students just need to learn to view the college experience from a perspective outside of the Western idea that you’re supposed to hate school. 

As a child I loved to learn, I would cry when we would go on breaks and I was always excited when school started back. It wasn’t until late high school that I really internalized the idea that school was a hassle and even though I still enjoyed learning and taking tests I found myself becoming stressed at the idea of tests. This idea of homework and tests being a bad thing is so heavily pushed on us through the media that it can cloud how we really feel, and it took a while for me to unlearn test taking anxiety that was taught to me. All my peers talked about dreading class, movies and shows and complained about school, and eventually I was complaining too even though I’ve always loved school. This learned behaviour of associating school with something negative had begun affecting my overall attitude towards classes and made my depression worse. I had learned to dread something I did almost every day, something I used to look forward to. 

In college this mentality is significantly worse which to me is without a doubt contributing to the high levels of depression amongst college students. I believe if we all chose to actively view college and learning through a more positive lens it would begin to slowly affect our overall mood considering being a college student takes up a lot of our time. This is something we all have to do a majority of the week and if we could learn to enjoy it and maybe even look forward to it I feel like we would all be a lot happier. And just like Achor discusses in his book The Happiness Advantage, that positive mentality would lead to better overall moods which would in turn lead to greater success in life. I highly recommend this book to any college student currently struggling with stress and anxiety related to classes as it helped me a lot and could help you.

Hayley Caldwell

Agnes Scott '23

Agnes Scott College '23 Business Management major Psychology minor
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