Columns, Opinions

Ren ’23: On feeling cold

By
Staff Columnist
Thursday, November 21, 2019

I am your California stereotype: a warm-weather weakling who cannot handle any temperature under 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I shiver at the slightest breeze. A beanie is perpetually glued to my head. The winter jacket I bought before coming to Brown has already become a staple in my wardrobe. Or rather, it has become my entire wardrobe.

I often get mocked for my habits. My friends in my dorm, particularly those coming from the Midwest or the East Coast, enjoy roasting me for dressing like a down-stuffed, multi-layered marshmallow.

“It’s not even that cold. You are going to die when winter comes,” they say to me. I don’t disagree with them. In fact, I wholeheartedly endorse their hyperbolic forecasting — I am going to freeze if it gets any colder.

And yet, the effects of chilly weather have not been entirely painful or fruitless. As I spend more time huddled by the heater in my room, I have also gained more opportunities for reflection. Among other things, I have realized that there is value to feeling cold. More broadly, there is value in recognizing all the feelings we may find unpleasant.

Before coming to Brown, I was presented with a carefully constructed image of what life here was supposed to be like. Enthusiastic alums and smiling faces on brochures projected an image of perfection, paradise in Providence, the home where I would spend the best four years of my life.

The other day, I saw an intriguing headline in The Herald about happiness. I read the piece and came upon a striking statistic: around 90 percent of Brown students considered themselves happy. I felt a small sense of celebration then, knowing that the overwhelming majority of my peers were enjoying their time here. I also felt reassured, reassured that Brown was the place I had imagined it to be.

But right after reading that statistic, I also asked myself the question from the poll — was I happy? And I remember the moment well, because in that instant, I could not answer.

Statistically speaking, what were the odds that I would fall into the not-so-happy minority? It seemed unlikely that I would be part of the ten percent, unlikely that I would consider myself anything but happy. After all, I love Brown. My experiences these past few months have exceeded my expectations in many ways. I am constantly stunned by the beauty of fall. I have made new friends whom I cherish greatly. I have learned many things, not just in the realm of academics, but about myself as a person.

The issue was not my capacity to achieve happiness, rather, it lay in my expectation of it. As I read that innocuous piece of data in the paper, I felt myself straining to be joyful, trying to imagine all the times I was happy, all the ways I was supposed to fit into the ethos of the Brown community. In all honesty, if I looked solely at how I felt in that exact moment, I was not happy. I was dealing with feelings of homesickness. I was overwhelmed by my studies. I was finally realizing the frightening gravity of my newfound independence. Still, I was unsure of how I would respond. Would saying that I was happy in a poll somehow make it true? Would saying the opposite make the opposite true?

Being told the weather was warm never made it any warmer. I have realized that the same is true for my happiness. In reality, I deserve the right to feel cold, to feel sadness. If anything, it would have been more honest for me to answer the question from the poll based off how I felt in the moment. Then, at least, I could begin to acknowledge and remedy my own anxieties.

Many theories in the world seek to describe the relationships between language, belief and reality. There exists the idea, for example, that our words can be performative, that what we say can be willed into reality simply through being said. Some believe in the law of attraction, the theory that positive thoughts give rise to positive outcomes, that negative thoughts give rise to negative outcomes.

I had subscribed to these philosophies for the longest time growing up. I had thought that envisioning myself as a strong or competent individual would make it true. Saying that I was doing okay meant that I was doing okay. I felt committed to a narrative, one of lofty goals and aspirations, and I assumed implicitly that any deviation from that predefined path would somehow undermine the final objective. Looking back, it would have been much better for me to simply acknowledge the cracks in the facade, moments of insecurity, fear or failure. The admission of our weakness is equally important as the pursuit of our ideals.

When December arrives, I will have no shame in my all my extraneous winter attire. There is value to feeling cold, because when you feel cold you know to put on an extra layer. Spring will arrive again, whatever that means on the East Coast. In the meantime, I will happily endure all the taunts from my more weather-resistant friends.

Johnny Ren ’23 can be reached at jiawei_ren@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com

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