When satisfaction pays a well-deserved visit
It was 5 p.m. In an hour, senior Cynthia Gong would have to be at her lifeguard shift. That particular day, however, was lifeguard in-service training day — an especially intensive and tiring procedure which included learning CPR and using an AED and Gong was not looking forward to it. It was also the day that both UC Los Angeles and UC San Diego decisions were being released. When Gong attempted to open the UCLA portal, it crashed on the dot, as it often does after anxious students flood it. Gong kept refreshing the portal in hopes of good news.
“I was like, ‘Alright this better be good news, otherwise I’ll just cry the whole time [at work],’” Gong said.
She ended up opening UCSD first and found out she had been accepted. However, UCLA’s portal was still down, so she took some time to have dinner and opened the letter that could either make her hard work worth it or seem feeble — it was the former. For many MVHS students, college season peaked with the feeling of satisfaction.
“[Satisfaction] is when you feel fulfilled and you’ve accomplished something and you see all your work finally in front of you,” Gong said.
For senior Danielle Heo, she has experienced satisfaction as a fleeting emotion every time her designs are showcased in the annual fashion show. Having been an active member of fashion club for three years, her passion has only grown since then.
“Any time I finish a garment, I definitely feel satisfaction,” Heo said. “[Satisfaction] is joy and a feeling of resolution — happiness at seeing the results.”
Fashion club will always be important to Heo because it fulfills her beyond getting good grades, which is often talk that is circulated around campus.
“A lot of people want the satisfaction that other people give them,” Heo said. “But Fashion Club is something I originally did because I wanted to do it.”
Cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman has studied the field of life satisfaction extensively for over three decades. The fleeting emotion of satisfaction that Heo feels, Kahneman explained, may be connected to the brain’s innate reaction to use her experiences as a determinant for future decisions.
“Our memory collects certain parts of what happened to us and processes them into a story,” Kahneman said. “We make most of our decisions based on the story told by our memory.”
When Heo hosts her portion of the fashion show, she struggles to process much of it in the moment because of the hectic environment. However, after she rewatches the show, she feels a wave of satisfaction.
“I have this high of, ‘I want to do more stuff now,’” Heo said. “You briefly have this moment of satisfaction [...] But also I’m really proud of what it amounted to.”
Through the highs and lows of high school, Heo and Gong both had a hobby or a goal to keep their minds at ease. Although it takes time and dedication to feel genuinely proud and fulfilled, both believe the work is worth it. Even when the people doubt you, Gong believes it’s essential to have faith in your own abilities.
“Throughout my experience at MVHS I encountered many adults [that] would not support you,” Gong said. “There’s always going to be adults who underestimate you, but don’t let that meddle with your faith [in yourself.]”
The dull thud of raindrops hitting the windshield drowned out all the other sounds as biology teacher Pooya Hajjarian thought about work. When he glanced out the window of the car on his drive home, he saw a man running in the rain. Despite having a limp and being slightly overweight, he still had the motivation to run — in the rain. His grit and perseverance inspired Hajjarian by showing him that there were no excuses to disregard physical fitness.
“[I am inspired] when I see someone who’s got many challenges, and many reasons not to do something and yet they’re still finding a way to do it,” Hajjarian said. “It really is more about grit, or having that resilience to push through.”
Sophomore Daanyal Raja views inspiration as one person empowering another. This idea manifests in his own life through his sister, specifically in terms of what she achieved during her time in high school. Having graduated in 2017, Raja claims that his sister set the bar for who he needed to be, both academically and morally. By earning high grades and getting into the top college of her choice, Dartmouth College, she inspired Raja and encouraged him to reach his potential.
“We kind of act similarly — we do a lot of things the same way,” Raja said. “And the fact that she was able to get that far tells me that if I work hard, put my head down and focus, I can also get something done of a similar magnitude.”
Similarly, sophomore Kavya Patel is inspired by her mom due to the similarities they share. In agreement with Raja, Patel associates inspiration with motivation. According to Patel, her mom’s constant motivation is what makes her an effective role model.
Patel draws from her mom’s experiences to help inspire her in her daily life. For example, her father lived in Saudi Arabia while her parents were engaged. Because of the lack of women’s rights at the time, Patel’s mom gave her fiance an ultimatum — she would only marry him if he moved out of Saudi Arabia.
“[My mom] said, ‘I’m not living in Saudi Arabia, so if we’re going to get married we have to move,’” Patel said. “So that showed me it’s OK to ask for things for yourself, it’s OK for you to go after what you want and ask for something that benefits you, even if it’s not for the other person.”
This idea has helped Patel in group projects — instead of taking on the majority of the work, she now recognizes the importance of putting her own needs first instead of trying to please others.
“Everyone has a different set of experiences, so they have a different perspective and a different view,” Patel said. “They can show you things beyond what you can see for yourself, which is how people progress and create something better for themselves.”
For Hajjarian, the importance of inspiration is based on self-improvement — his biggest fear in life is remaining stagnant, and as a result, he looks to others for inspiration in order to achieve personal growth. According to Hajjarian, because students are easily influenced, having a positive role model is important in establishing a positive lifestyle.
“I think oftentimes when you see something or someone that inspires you, it pushes you to improve something that you want to improve,” Hajjarian said. “I think that a lot of where improvement comes from is pulled out of inspiration by what you see.”
For Raja, inspiration also plays an important role at MVHS. He believes having a role model allows you to level your goals with theirs, which allows for greater personal accomplishments.
“[Having] a role model for you sets you on a path in your life that in many ways can be positive depending on who your role model is,” Raja said. “It just helps you look at your goals in life and acknowledge what you need to do and what you should do to become a better person.”
Biology teacher Pamela Chow envisions calm water, senior Antara Palkar imagines herself on a fluffy, floating cloud and P.E. and dance teacher Dasha Plaza looks directly out her window at the hills beyond. Despite their different interpretations, all three define the feeling of serenity as a type of peace or calm.
“[Serenity is] not like you’re not feeling anything,” Palkar said. “It’s like you’re just okay with what’s going on.”
According to Palkar, as long as one is at peace, they can feel serenity no matter the environment. For example, reading by herself and laughing with her circle of friends both create a serene atmosphere for Palkar. Chow, too, considers peace an essential component of serenity and recommends that one removes themself from their day-to-day worries and business of life in order to reach a peaceful state of mind.
“It’s the ability to remove yourself temporarily from those stressful situations or feelings and being able to not be worried about things that are happening,” Chow said.
From Chow’s personal experience, it isn’t essential for one to travel somewhere far away to remove themselves from a stressful situation. Serenity can be found in the home as well. For example, Chow will read picture books with her youngest daughter every night before bedtime. However, she does agree that everyone has different ways of destressing — there isn’t necessarily a universal prescription for serenity. Similarly, Palkar has commonly heard of meditation or yoga as ways to instill serenity, but neither of the methods have proven to be effective for her.
“My mind just is racing when I’m [try to meditate] and stuff,” Palkar said. “So just [do] something that you enjoy doing [and] just put all of you into [doing it].”
Unlike Palkar, Plaza does find meditation helpful because she is able to acknowledge and listen her own breath. Every inhale and exhale, she says, has a unique rise and fall. Even so, Plaza adds that peace and quiet isn’t necessarily the only way to feel serene, especially when it comes to dance.
“[It] doesn’t matter [what] the tempo of the music [is] or the movement that you do, because I think [that] serenity for dancers is to dance for full-out and feel,” Plaza said. “You get sweaty, you get so challenged within your body and your mind when you have to pick up the choreography and do something that doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable in your instrument.”
Whether it’s hip hop, contemporary or a lyrical routine, any type of dance or an active, physical workout can often bring Plaza serenity. However, for students specifically, she advises them to first focus on shifting their mindset away from academics and materialistic things. This can be challenging, especially because it is often the natural tendency to concentrate on the negative.
“You need to train your psychology and your nervous system to be able to pull yourself away and actually feel that state of whatever you want to call it,” Plaza said. “Mind, soul and body, I mean, I think it all goes together.”
By recognizing when and how one’s serenity occurs, Chow suggests it might be easier for someone to actively immerse themselves in a peaceful environment when they are feeling stressed. And although Palkar doesn’t consider serenity a common emotion for people to acknowledge, as they are more ascribed to acknowledging feelings like happiness or calmness, she too believes there’s value in acknowledging subtle emotions.
“[There’s the] feeling [of being] scrambled all the time versus feeling calm,” Palkar said. “I feel like [a] balance of those is what we need to like actually live a life.”
As she hikes up a mountain at Little Yosemite, sophomore Anjali Singh takes in a breath of fresh air. She looks down and sees the limitless world, stretching to the horizon all around her. Everything looks so small from this high up. The height is exhilarating, and the pain in her legs as she pushes forward feels invigorating. It is a moment of complete relief.
“I’ve never hiked super high up — I’ve never done exercise that intense,” Singh said. “You’re only focusing on your next step because the trails are very narrow so you have to focus on the moment. When I go places, I’m always thinking about schoolwork or something I should be doing. But when I was there, it was the first time I felt like it was me trying to survive instead of thinking about other things that hold me down.”
On this hiking trip over spring break, Singh explains that she achieved a level of relief that she had never experienced before, as her daily struggles felt distant and irrelevant in the moment. She describes relief as finding a respite from trauma or even just mentally distancing herself from a source of stress or pressure.
“I just feel like you have to find that balance with worrying,” Singh said. “For my personality, I can’t stop worrying. I feel like relief is a break from what you’re experiencing so that you can be sane or live in the moment.”
Sophomore Janya Budaraju agrees that relief should be about finding a state of serenity and peace in spite of tumult. She believes that this brand of relief is extremely important at MVHS, where she has noticed people are too focused on reaching the end of their stress rather than finding relief to escape it.
“With the amount of stress we deal with at MVHS, it’s pretty important to sit down and find that peace for ourselves,” Budaraju said. “I have a dog. I really enjoy playing with my dog. I drink a lot of tea. I have the small things I do to cope. I’m still bad at finding relief, but I’m working on it — it’s a work in progress.”
Similarly, English teacher Meghan Choate believes that relief to her is alleviating stress. As someone who tends to worry about even the smallest things, she explains that her stress will never truly dissipate, which is why she actively tries to find a state of mental calm amid the chaos of her life. She achieves this by journaling, spending time with friends and having meaningful conversations about life, all of which she describes as “cathartic activities.”
Choate explains that being a student teacher at MVHS late spring of last year was a very stressful period for her. She had been attending grad school while also worrying about finding employment for the next year. The prospect of not having a solidified plan for the upcoming school year was a major source of stress for her. When the principal at the time, April Scott, called her in to notify her that she would have a teaching position at MVHS the following year, she experienced an overwhelming sense of relief.
Like Choate, Singh has seen her own self-doubt manifest itself as stress in her life that needs to be relieved. Singh was nominated by her JV basketball team to be the captain, despite her own shaky confidence in her basketball skills. At first, Singh was extremely doubtful about her ability to lead a team and the idea of her teammates looking to her for direction and inspiration.
“I felt really scared because I felt like it wasn’t something I could do because I’d never led in a basketball environment — I was always just on the bench, kind of doing nothing,” Singh said. “To have to lead people who look up to you, it was a lot. It was very stressful, but now, I’m relieved that I have this experience and it really helped me learn how to talk to people and how I think I want to be perceived as a player and as a captain.”
Choate explains that while students and adults experience different levels and types of stress, finding relief isn’t less challenging for any one group. However, she does acknowledge that the current school system inflicts a lot of pressure on students, which makes the already difficult quest for relief even harder.
“I think it’s important to know that the high school experience is changing just as our world is changing,” Choate said. “It’s important that the adults that are there supporting them are aware of these changes and are looking at some ways that we can help provide relief for students.”
Choate has found that practicing mindfulness is an effective way of finding immediate relief during periods of intense stress. To her, relief has never come naturally but has rather been something she must consciously seek and practice.
“For me, it is definitely a conscious thing,” Choate said. “I think that ties into the idea of mindfulness. It’s a constant process. It’s very easy to get caught up in the moment in a negative sense, especially in the Bay Area, where it’s such a go-go area, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in that and lose sight of how to take care of yourself.”
Hope allows us to crawl out of uncomfortable spaces. It helps us wipe cynicism from our lives. Hope is an internal source of motivation when everything around us is dull and lifeless. But hope can serve a counter-purpose as well. Too much hope can hide realism and send someone falling back into those uncomfortable spaces and into a worse position than they were before.
Hope in the classroom
Senior Ankita Vinod recognizes that being too hopeful can be dangerous and send people down a self-destructive path. However, she also recognizes hope’s ability to help one accomplish a goal, whether it be career or spiritual-related. Vinod aims to use hope as a tool to help her become a kinder, more selfless person.
This personal goal closely relates to her career goal of becoming a doctor. After volunteering in a hospital, working alongside a medical team, shadowing doctors and learning about their lifestyles, Vinod has experienced firsthand the hope that doctors give to their patients and aims to pass on such mentality.
Academically, Vinod has learned to not take a tough situation too harshly. Although Vinod struggled with physics in school, her ability to remain hopeful allowed her to handle disappointment in a nurturing way after taking a test.
“I was definitely sad about [the test] and I [was] definitely discouraged for some time,” Vinod said. “But I realized it wasn’t really going to do me any good.”
This mentality has helped Vinod make improvements in her study habits. She acknowledges the common habit of disregarding content from a failed exam out of pessimism but strives to instead reinforce those concepts in order to be more confident and well-prepared for future exams.
A positive attitude
For freshman Madeline Choi, thinking negatively takes more effort than thinking optimistically. In all areas of her life, whether it be choir or debate, Choi tries to feel hopeful, even when the chances of a good outcome are low.
Early on in high school, Choi made an effort to be extroverted and social. She believes that the changes in her personality helped her to have a more positive outlook on life.
“I started orienting myself [in a more positive manner], and then I realized I took so much effort thinking [about] everything in a negative direction, and I probably shouldn’t do that anymore,” Choi said.
When entering high school, Choi noticed the common preconceived view of a stressful environment at MVHS. However, she believes that one’s experience depends on their view of their environment. She admits that she has yet to experience the “epitome of high school”, but even after performing what she believed was poorly on a Spanish test, she strives to have a solid outlook with concrete steps for improvement.
Choi also tries to put the most effort in whatever she pursues in order to be more confident and hopeful for success. In Speech and Debate tournaments, she’s hopeful when waiting for results. Before choir performances, she feels hopeful having rehearsed well with her group. For her, perfecting whatever she does helps her be more optimistic about the result.
Even though it’s easier to revert to path of pessimism, Choi believes that such a mentality can drain a person, but that it’s necessary to maintain a balance between optimism and reality. And in the end, being hopeful for even the littlest things will help a person to have a positive mindset in whatever they do.
“I feel like hope is sort of synonymous with happiness,” Choi said. “I just feel like when I’m happy or in a good state of mind, then I’ll be hopeful for whatever’s coming up in the future.”
For senior Diego Villasenor, living quickly became difficult when he realized he would have to permanently stay in the U.S. after what he thought was only a year of studying abroad. Villasenor had previously lived in Mexico.
In just four months, he familiarized himself with the American system of applying to college, including learning the process for taking the SAT and filling out college applications. Through unfamiliar situations and environments, hope allowed him to persevere and make the transition to life and school in America easier.
Listen below to learn how Villasenor incorporates hope into his daily life.