By the end of winter term my freshman year, I was ready to be home.
Though the last 10 weeks at Dartmouth had been some of the best of my life, I was more than ready to catch up with my family and friends back in Connecticut. All signs pointed to leaving as soon as possible: campus was emptying out, I hadn’t seen my parents or brother in ages, I was going to be away over spring break break, and maybe most importantly of all, I’d already set my mind: I was going to get home that day. I packed early and made arrangements to leave right after my last exam—wheels up at 12:30, home for a late lunch with the family by 3:00, out with friends that night, and so on. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas. Winter Storm Stella pounded New England, dumping so much snow that states were forced to close their roads. The exhilaration and relief of finishing my last exam was crushed by the emerging reality that I would be stuck on an empty, snowy, campus for another day.
There are two possible reactions to receiving unhappy news that conflicts with the reality we want to have. I went through both of these that day. The first is extreme disappointment and unhappiness. That’s where I started. After realizing that I wouldn’t make it home, that I’d miss out on all the great things I’d planned for on my first day back, I returned to my almost empty dorm room, dejected. For a while, I sat there, angrily lamenting all the time waste and hassle this stupid storm had caused.
It took me a couple of minutes to remember that there was another, better, way to deal with the situation. Given the reality that I was going to spend another day and night on campus, I realized that I could either continue to wallow in the fact that life wasn’t matching my plan to be at home, or I could change the picture in my head and find a way to have fun on campus.
Once I changed my picture, finding ways to enjoy myself was easy.
I found three friends who I didn’t know were still around and went “cross country skiing” for the first time, sliding down hills and waddling up them—laughing the whole time. Realizing that many others were stranded by the storm, we got a big group together to hang out that evening, which ended up being a great way to end the term. Staying that extra day on campus also allowed me to celebrate a friend’s birthday with him in person and drain my meal plan down to a mere 75 cents without going over (quite an accomplishment).
I was only able to step back and change my picture after I could calm down and think about how I wanted to handle my disappointment. In doing so, I was implementing Franklin’s virtue of tranquility. This virtue reminds us “not [to be] disturbed at trifles or at accidents common or unavoidable.” In the words of my friend and mentor, Dr. Barnes Boffey, we need to separate between “problems we can solve” and “conditions we live with.”
While sometimes, we have the ability to change our own actions to make our situation better, oftentimes the cause of our frustration is outside of our control—it is a condition we have to find a way to live with.
These types of “trifles” and “uncontrollable” “accidents” have little to do with our actions, they’re just speedbumps; we have to slow down and roll right over them. Embracing the virtue of tranquility and finding a way to change your picture in a way that makes the most of the situation is a worthwhile approach. By doing so, we all live happier, more fulfilled lives.