Acceptance into your dream school is a cause of celebration. After all, you’ve been “accepted,” a fundamental human experience that fosters feelings of inclusion, safety, and joy. But college institutions are only the first wave of acceptance for incoming students, and once the first term begins, it’s up to you to find that next elusive pathway to inclusion and joy, safety and happiness.

Happiness is not just a psychological pursuit. If you’re American, it’s one of our fundamental beliefs. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. But what is happiness exactly and how important is it to our lives? How important is happiness to the college experience?

In a 2014 study, researchers defined happiness as, “A multidimensional component of unconscious, cognitive, and motivational processes that are unique to how life is interpreted and received by individuals.” In other words, it’s an individual benchmark—interpreted and received uniquely by each person. Despite this explanation, however, many of us struggle to maintain happiness because we often confuse social prescriptions and pressures—wealth, fame, an impressive job, pleasing our parents, winning a partner—with the components that make us, as individuals, happy. None of these desires are inherently bad, of course, it’s just that while they might drive our happiness they can’t fulfill it. For college students, this information has a particular relevancy because the college years seem to suggest you’ll find closure on everything from the right major to the right career.

Despite these social forces, researchers in a Harvard study found that happiness itself depends on somewhat simple wisdom: choosing to be happy in whatever we do, strengthening our closest relationships, and taking care of ourselves physically, financially, and emotionally. George Brandt in an article from Forbes Magazine writes, “The correlation between happiness and occupation, income or wealth is far less than the correlation between happiness and how people feel about their occupation, income or wealth.” Likewise, Brandt reports that 77% of those who identified as being “extremely happy” said the state of their most important relationships was “great” or “very good” compared to 48% of everyone else. The “extremely happy” also reported exercising at least three times a week.

When it comes to the college experience, your degree of happiness will be just as important as your plans for your life. While it’s tempting to delay taking care of your body in favor of less sleep and more parties or less sleep and more homework, happy people tend to have their priorities balanced. As you select a major or plan a career, keep the wisdom of happiness in the forefront:

  • Happiness means investing in one’s closest relationships.
  • Happiness comes from taking care of one’s physical, emotional, and financial health.
  • Happiness is choosing work one loves, as opposed to choosing a future salary.
  • Happiness is determined by the individual, not by society (or parents).

I hope you’ll keep asking yourself more questions about what truly provides you with contentment. I hope your answers will be part of the goals you set for yourself in the future.