“Hey, how are you?”

“Fine, thanks. Just battling with routine bouts of depression, feelings of alienation, and general anxiety about eating my meals with 400 other people in a Norse victory hall. How are you? Still bummed out about your parents’ Civil War reenactment of a divorce?” 

As everybody knows, that’s not how the script works at Bowdoin. Every “how are you?” deserves a response of “good, thanks,” or the socially tactful non-answer of “hey, what’s up?” 

We’re not supposed to talk about unhappiness at Bowdoin unless it pertains to our workloads or our dissatisfaction with the hookup/dating/celibacy scene. 

To admit other sources of unhappiness is to admit weakness, to shatter the myth of the perfectly well-rounded, well-adjusted Bowdoin student.
And that just doesn’t sound appealing. Because depending on who you ask, our college years are supposed to be some idealized love child of Animal House, Mona Lisa Smile, and Van Wilder: a montage of cuddly polar bears and Instagrammed pictures of the quad­—“the best four years of your life.” 

While your time at Bowdoin could very well be the best four years of your life, the odds that you navigate it free of emotional distress, heartache, or run-of-the-mill unhappiness are zooming towards the lower bound of zero.

The fact of the matter is that it’s easy to be unhappy at our age and it’s even easier to be unhappy at Bowdoin. 

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 26 percent of people over the age of 18 suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in a given year. 

Meanwhile, around 45 percent of Bowdoin students will use the counseling center at least once in their four years, according to a 2009 Orient article. 

This is because you are set up to fail.

It is practically guaranteed that your brain is in turmoil right now. Your frontal cortex does not finish growing until somewhere around age 25. 

Which means that the part of your brain in charge of decision making, consciousness, and most importantly, your emotions, has an “under construction” sign on it leading to unpredictability and messiness. 

Adding to that difficulty, your late teens and early twenties are the sweet spot for the emergence of a host of mental illnesses, including anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, panic disorders, and schizophrenia.

And if biology doesn’t get you, the environment just might. Not only can seasonal affective disorder bring you down, but the stresses of Bowdoin life can wreak havoc on your life as well. 

As much as anyone may wish otherwise, Bowdoin is a highly competitive place, filled with students used to achieving at the highest levels. 

Students are used to constantly benchmarking themselves against their peers and pushing themselves to do better. Be a better student. Be a better athlete. Have more friends. Have a better body. Have a love interest. 

Oh, and I forgot to mention all the tragedies and dramas of our  family and friends outside of Bowdoin.

“So what’s your point?” you ask. “My brain hates me, I’m destined to be unhappy, and Bowdoin is only making it worse?”

So much of what makes us unhappy as Bowdoin students is out of our hands. 

Rather than embracing the fact that we are all facing a chaotic juncture in our lives, we have created a culture that demands we smile our way through it all, sticking to safe conversations. 
Instead of practicing empathy, the best we usually muster is halfhearted gestures of sympathy. 
Like the famous Alcoholics Anonymous slogan, we expect each other to “fake it until you make it,” hiding unhappiness to avoid letting it affect others. 

Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. Hiding unhappiness doesn’t prevent it from affecting other people negatively. Waiting it out rarely works. 

Happiness doesn’t just descend from the heavens—the solutions require work. 

You have to deal with “your shit.” Get help. Find ways to see silver linings. Feel the love. Learn to live with uncertainty. Keep your fingers crossed.

Being unhappy at Bowdoin doesn’t have to equal being unhappy with Bowdoin. 

In reality, we can improve our experience by acknowledging that no matter where we are, we’ll never be happy all the time. 

Even the best four years of your life can suck sometimes.