The Secrets of the Happiest College Students

Happy and smiling male college student walking outside on campus

College is, first and foremost, a time to pursue your academic interests and prepare for a professional career. But who’s to say that you can’t enjoy the journey? College can also be a time of great personal growth and fulfillment — and the happiest college students focus not only on their grades but also on their mental and emotional health

In This Article:

What’s Preventing Some From Being the Happiest College Students?

Before you can focus on how to enjoy college, it may be helpful to figure out what’s currently preventing you from joining the ranks of the happiest college students. Although college can be a fun and exciting journey, it can also involve plenty of stressors for modern students.

Some of the most common sources of stress and discontent for adults in America include the following:1

  • Financial challenges
  • Mental health
  • Personal relationships
  • Physical health

The college experience can have its own specific stressors as well, because this is a time of adjustment and developing independence for many students. Although some sources of stress may be modifiable, others may not be. Do your best to reflect upon your stressors and then figure out how you can make positive changes to those you can modify yourself.

How To Be Happy in College: Six Tips To Try

Although you can’t eliminate every possible source of stress in your life, you can make a conscious decision to change the way you let stress affect your life. Happy college students might use some of the following tips. 

1. Happy College Students Embrace Positive Self-Talk

Optimism and positive self-talk are common character traits among the happiest college students. However, it is important to note that positive self-talk and optimism are often misunderstood. These attributes may be misconstrued as attempts to ignore unpleasant situations in life and pretend they don’t exist.

In actuality, people who engage in positive self-talk don’t try to ignore or avoid unpleasantness; rather, they choose to handle it productively. For example, instead of telling yourself, “I’m terrible with chemistry and I just know I’m going to flunk that exam,” consider telling yourself something more positive, like “Chemistry may be difficult for me, but I’ve worked really hard to prepare for that exam and I’m confident I’ll do well.”

Negative self-talk comes in many forms, and it can be challenging to break out of that habit. With practice, however, you may find that it gets easier to treat yourself with the same kindness and respect that you probably try to show to other people.

2. Enjoying Social Connectivity

Not everyone finds it easy to make friends — especially in new environments, like a college campus. Yet, social connectivity is one of the most important aspects of how to be happy in college and beyond.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that having a strong social network can improve health, well-being and even longevity. How? Well, people who are socially connected are more likely to make healthier lifestyle choices, and they are better able to withstand common stressors such as challenging life circumstances.2

If you’re living on campus away from your childhood home, it can be helpful to stay connected to your loved ones and friends back home. Make time for phone calls and video chats, and try to fit in lots of social visits when you return home on breaks or vacations.

Of course, you’ll also benefit from making new friends on campus. If you tend to be shy and have trouble making friends, you might consider being honest about that with the people you meet. Just say something like, “Hi, there. I’m kind of an introverted person, but I’m trying to make new friends here on campus. Would you like to form a study group with me or meet up for coffee sometime?”

3. Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone and Trying New Things

College can be a great time to explore new interests and fuel personal growth. Don’t be afraid to try new things; not only will you have opportunities to make new friends, but you just might find a new passion as well.

If you typically prefer athletic activities, consider trying something different by joining an academic club or an informal book club. Or, if you have always thought of yourself as more of a bookworm, try joining an intramural sports team. Go through the full list of on-campus activities and clubs offered at your school, and choose one or two new things to try.

4. Structure Your Day Consistently

One common challenge for college students is the sudden transition into independent young adulthood. If you’ve spent your whole life up until now having most of your choices determined by your parents or guardians, then it can be challenging to adapt to the abrupt freedom of choice.

You may find it helpful to follow a set structure each day. Try to wake up and go to bed at about the same times each day, and follow consistent meal times and exercise periods. Studies show that following a consistent daily routine can:3

  • Lower stress levels
  • Improve focus
  • Enhance productivity
  • Give you a greater feeling of self-control

5. Eat Well and Exercise

Embracing healthy habits as a college student can be just as important as following a consistent routine, if not more so. Your mental health is influenced by your physical health, and vice versa.4 The happiest college students are likely those who make healthy choices despite the absence of a parent to remind them to eat their broccoli and get some fresh air.

Did you know, for instance, that eating a lot of highly processed foods can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety? In turn, feeling stressed out, depressed or anxious can prompt people to turn to junk food for a quick pick-me-up. It’s an unhealthy cycle for all aspects of your health.3

Instead, fuel your inner happiness and good health with a nutritious, balanced diet. Drink plenty of water instead of sugary beverages. In addition, remember to exercise on most days of the week; studies show that physical activity is linked to more happiness and fewer depressive or anxious feelings.3

6. Practice Mindfulness Meditation

Another way to be happier in college and make the most of your time there is to get into the habit of practicing mindfulness meditation. In one study, college students who took a mindfulness meditation course reported increased happiness, better mindfulness attention and decreased anxiety.5

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), mindfulness meditation is a path toward “training your attention to achieve a mental state of calm concentration and positive emotions.”6 The practice requires attention and acceptance.

In other words, you will focus only on what’s happening in the present — setting aside looming deadlines and worries about what may have happened in the past. When any thoughts —troublesome or not — do occur to you, you’ll accept them by observing them as if you were a neutral mediator, and then you’ll let them go.6

To boost your happiness as a college student, consider looking for mindfulness meditation classes and groups on campus or in the local community at libraries, community centers, hospitals and yoga practices. You could also tap into online mindfulness meditation resources.

Pursue Happiness in College at GCU

Grand Canyon University strives to nurture the health and happiness of our students by creating an oasis in the beautiful Arizona desert and by providing extensive student support resources. Our campus offers modern housing options, well-equipped recreational facilities and lots of campus activities and events to enrich student life. At our private Christian university, you’ll also find community outreach activities and health and wellness services. Fill out the form on this page to learn more about joining our student learning community in the heart of Phoenix. 

1Haeffele, Paige. (2023, April 19). Top 7 causes of stress in the US. Retrieved March 4, 2024.

2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, March 30). How does social connectedness affect health? Retrieved Feb. 23, 2024. 

3Mental Health First Aid. (2022, Aug. 15). Seven self-care tips for college students. National Council for Mental Well-Being. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2024.

4Mental Health Foundation. (2022, Feb. 18). Physical health and mental health. Retrieved March 4, 2024. 

5Crowley, C., Kapitula, L. R. and Munk, D. (2022, Feb.-March). Mindfulness, happiness, and anxiety in a sample of college students before and after taking a meditation course. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2024. 

6American Psychological Association. (2019, Oct. 30). Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress. Retrieved Feb. 23, 2024.

Approved by the assistant vice president of GCU marketing on March 8, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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