The ancient Greek philosophers said it, Oprah had it on her show, and Dr. Phil pushes it by the ounce. “Know Thyself.” Why is this such a big deal?
Psychological researchers Erik Erikson and James Marcia agree that one of the definitive tasks one must complete before adulthood is the formation of an identity. It is defined as the exploration of, and then commitment to, “the open choices provided in available roles, occupational possibilities, values offered, mentors met, friendships made, and first sexual encounters.” The first years in college are a perfect time to explore new social situations, try new experiences, and indeed, choose different paths of study. It is not unusual to find that previous areas of interest are no longer so appealing at the University level. It takes a special person to meet biology or chemistry head on without flinching just out of high school. And all this indecision must have some sort of benefit, right?
Researchers have found that those who have made a strong commitment to an identity tend to be happier and healthier than those who have not. Those who never explore themselves tend to feel out of place in the world and don’t pursue a sense of identity. In a time when most of us are able to delay such decisions and explore more options through higher education, a whole new concept of psychological development, called emerging adulthood, has been tossed around. Basically, this means we have a few extra years to determine who and what we want to be.
This can be a very important benefit to us, as college students. Research into happiness has shown that those who can identify the areas of life that they excel in, and then participate in those areas, have a higher quality of life than those who do not. People generally do not find life satisfaction from a higher income level or material possessions. While money is a great side benefit, if you are looking to find a higher level of satisfaction in your life, it is a good idea to discover who you are in the first place.
This can be done in a few simple steps. First, ask yourself what you are good at. Most of us tend to excel in things we enjoy doing. If you don’t know what you are good at, or are unhappy with your current choice of major, then take the time to find and visit your campus advisement center. There any student can meet with an advisor who can help you find the best and easiest transitions to majors that meet your skills and desires.
Second; find some sort of organization to be involved in. Whether you are taking part in a fraternity or sorority, participating in a non-academic club, or volunteering at a local non-profit; you are sure to find friends and activities that interest you. Who knows? Maybe involvement can show you a place you belong in society. You must be open to new ideas and activities. Don’t hesitate to take on the tasks you are given, just because you have never done them before, it might be the thing you love the most.
Third; talk to yourself. In the quiet times, reflection on the things you have done, or want to do, can be a revealing thing. Most people never really take the time to “soul search”. We can spend much time complaining to ourselves or reinforcing why we are sad or miserable, but we rarely spend enough time just asking ourselves what was good and positive in the recent past. We never truly identify what it was that gave us a moment of enjoyment; that speech we didn’t screw up or the answer the Professor acknowledged. If we don’t learn what makes us happy… can we ever be happy?
So take the time to explore yourself. The rewards you gain, both material and immaterial, may lead you to place of satisfaction in your life that all began with a simple question: “Who am I?”