“I thought college students were supposed to be happy and carefree,” said the middle-aged woman to her husband as they sit in the JC with their son after a morning tour. “They all look miserable.”

She looks around the atrium, looking at the faces that crowd through the lines at the register and heading down the stairs and I can’t blame her for making such a blunt comment.

From where I sit, I can spy at least seven furrowed brows, eight crossed arms and dozens of eyes cast to the floor. Happy or pleasant looking faces run in the minority and it is no wonder that visitors find the mid-day Mason lunch rush to be a miserable experience.

But this is not some call to arms to smile more at the people you walk by or say thank you to the person swiping your Mason ID for expensive sushi. This is an acknowledgment of the fact that college might not be the happiest time of your life.

“Happy” is defined as feeling or showing pleasure or contentment. That is quite possibly the last thing that college is.

College is a lot of things; institutionalized competition for the longest list of accomplishments, the systematic collection of tests that decide a grade point average and the separation from home in order to find necessary adulthood independence. But college is not an inherently happy experience.

Happiness is not something that justs present itself. It exists on the last page of the fifty-page reading you have to do by tomorrow morning, the paper you have been procrastinating all week, the six a.m. practice you are dreading and the event you volunteered to work on Saturday morning.

College is an environment that places happiness on the other side of the commitments and responsibilities that accompany our to do lists.

This is not to say that college is somehow devoid of happiness, it just means that we must work a little harder to derive happiness from the work that we do while finding sources of happiness that can stand alone.

“Give them a break, honey. It’s a Saturday morning,”

He’s right. Give us a break. But that starts by giving ourselves a break, because despite popular perception, stretching yourself to where your resume is as long as your research papers is not healthy.

In high school, I was cast in this one act play titled “The Last Day at Whoopee Kingdom.” I’ll save you the gritty and embarrassing details, but the slogan of the satirical play was this: Excellence plus imagination equals maximum fun for all.

Ultimately, we are not as busy as we think we are, which means that we are not as stressed as we think we should be. Find ways to maximize your happiness—make lists, prioritize, learn to say no and be responsible.

These are supposed to be the best years of our lives, but they are certainly not the most fun. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to change.