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Authentic Eagles: Nicaela Chinnaswamy on Happiness

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working towards being more authentic.

Nicaela Chinnaswamy,  A&S ’15

Boston College is a happy place. From the day I placed my deposit, everyone told me, “Oh, Boston College, you’ll be so happy there.” And I had no reason to believe otherwise; I had a pleasant, loving adolescence and was looking forward to good things in the future. As a freshman, I arrived at school doe-eyed and nervous, but easily comforted by the signs of happiness on campus. Students were well dressed, smiling, and fit; all the familiar signs of happy individuals.

However, it was not until the end of my sophomore year that I was confronted with the actuality of what happiness truly is. It’s often hard to recall the happiest moments in our lives. Mostly because we are lucky enough that there are many moments to choose from. However, ask me the most unhappy time in my life? Easy, April 13, 2013 from 2:50pm - 4:39pm. On that day I was stopped at mile 25.8 while running the 2013 Boston Marathon.

For months, I had spent countless hours training in anticipation of that day. But that eagerness instantaneously vanished when two bombs exploded 100 feet from my family, who was awaiting my arrival at the finish line. That day I waited in a friend's apartment off of Kenmore Square and counted the minutes until I learned that my family, although very emotionally scarred, was physically safe. I still give thanks everyday for their well-being, but I couldn’t help but blame myself. If I had not been so stubborn to run the marathon, they would have been miles away from that finish line, safely at home.

In the days that followed, I began to have terrible nightmares and incredible unhappiness. The feelings escalated until the night of Friday, April 19th, when the mods exploded with students celebrating the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Unlike my peers, I found no relief or sense of closure in the imprisonment of the terrorist. I cried harder that night than I ever have in my life.

In the weeks that followed I sought counseling, where I was encouraged to find happiness in my life to resolve my symptoms. However, this did not make sense; happiness was supposedly all around me everyday. Since freshman year, I had seen it walking to class, in the flowers blooming around Gasson, in the people on campus, everywhere. Yet, I was too unhappy to see it anymore. I buried myself in schoolwork and tried to hide my issues from my peers. Summer came quickly and my symptoms were easier to put aside. I convinced myself I was better.

When I returned to campus in the Fall my unhappiness seemed overpowering. More and more I was not myself, not happy. Disillusioned, I found I could hide my issues, fake a smile and no one would know the difference. This was true until December 2013, when my close friend lost her mother suddenly to cancer. Overwhelmed by sadness in the following week, and as I watched my friend literally bury her mother at the traditional funeral, it was difficult to avoid being confronted again by the questions in my head. My roommates were happy, my classmates were happy, my professors were happy. The feeling encompassed me.

I began to resent everyone and everything. How could they be so happy? What was wrong with me that I was struggling so much to find something that seemed to come naturally to everyone around me? As a result, I felt more alone and unhappy than ever. I cried in the stairwell next to my room all the time so none of my roommates would hear me. I didn’t want anyone to think there was something wrong with me, or worse, that I did not fit in because I was not currently capable of happiness. Coming home that winter break, my parents immediately realized how much I had changed, and they helped me seek treatment. At that time I was lucky enough to find a counselor who really understood what I could not. She said the words I will never forget, “Nicaela, why are you trying to find happiness around you? Is it not possible for happiness to come from inside you?” I was speechless.

Was happiness really something I was capable of? I had put my family in harms way on April 13th. Was happiness something I deserved? During winter break and in returning to school that January, my goal was to discover internal happiness. Yes, I began to eat more chocolate, took up spinning, and aimed to laugh every day. But more importantly, I remained in counseling and began to realize I could not control what happened on April 13th. I could not control the cancer that had taken my friend’s mother. But I could control my emotions.

Happiness was inside me and I could choose to be happy regardless of my surroundings, anyone or anything else. Finally, the nightmares that had plagued me for months slowly seceded. I began to feel physically and emotionally happier and it didn’t matter what emotions surrounded me because most importantly, I understood happiness. I am graduating this May and I do not have a job yet, I do not know which city I will live in, or who I will live with. But unlike the freshman that arrived on campus, I have learned a valuable, heart-wrenching lesson that cuts deep to my core. I will be happy in the future, because I control my happiness. Happiness comes from within and no matter who, what, where or when, going forward I will always choose happiness.