Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
Many times, it may seem as if society perceives us solely as an aggregate of our outward accomplishments. One doesn’t have to look far to discover the importance that many students, advisers, and employers put on a polished, well-written resume, emphasizing the amount that external achievements are praised.
The message is all around us: “do more.”
However, this constant emphasis on doing often drowns out a smaller, gentler desire that stems from deep inside of us —the need to be. However, because of its relative quietness and its counter-intuitiveness to many people’s definition of success, we often neglect its importance. We continue to do, do, do in search of the external rewards that we hope will bring us satisfaction and validation, but the truth is that even we do achieve our external desires, the joy is often fleeting because all we do is turn our attention to the next, higher outcome.
If we really want to find fulfillment in life, we need to stop focusing on doing and start focusing on being.
But what does it mean to be? Although there is no scientific definition on “being”, in this sense, it refers to a state of being fully present and engaged in this life we are living. This can look different for everyone, but all definitions and states have one thing in common: it brings out our true enjoyment of life. Often times we can experience what it means “to be” when we do something for pleasure without expecting any external reward. This can also be referred to as “intrinsic motivation.” Unfortunately, many of our societal systems run off of an emphasis on external reward, (such as grades, money, and public approval), rather than intrinsic ones (such as satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy).
Research has even shown that extrinsic rewards can reduce our natural intrinsic motivation. In a study observing college students, those who were given monetary compensation for solving a puzzle were less likely to work on the puzzle in their free time than those who were given no money. These effects can also be profound in areas of our life like school and work. If we emphasize the importance of doing something for a paycheck or a good final grade, the act becomes less intrinsically rewarding, and we feel less fulfilled. However, if we remain focused on our values and natural desire to do something — such as learning, producing, or helping someone — then we often leave with a greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
This is being. It is not about how much or what we do — it is why we do it. You might get an A in all your classes, but you will never feel the true essence of being unless you did it for something beyond the results. So, if you want to take a being approach rather than a doing approach towards your activities — forget the results. Find a “why” that comes from your heart. And then do it because you want to. Not for the A, not for the money, not for the approval, not for the resume — just do it for enjoyment, and let the external rewards take care of themselves.
Originally published in the USC Performance Science Club Newsletter.
Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.
More on Mental Health on Campus:
What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need
If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help
The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis