Life, Leslie Knope and the pursuit of happiness

My seventh grade year, I was going through a very difficult time in my life; my best friend had suddenly become very cold with me and my new friend group just sat around and judged people. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere, I didn’t have anyone at all to depend on and I was feeling very isolated and sad. I have always been a really positive person — it’s something I pride myself in — and this was the only time in my life so far when I had really struggled with my happiness. I think as we grow up, especially in our teen years, we lose that built-in childlike positivity and we really have to start to work for our happiness. When it came to figuring out who I was  and who I wanted to be, I turned to none other than Leslie Knope.

How did Leslie Knope come into this equation? Well, I had always watched the occasional episode of Parks and Recreation, but I just never really got that into it. Then, during this time in my life I began binge-watching every episode of Parks and Recreation on Netflix. I realized how much I could relate with Leslie Knope’s enthusiasm, love of waffles, feminism, and passion for helping people. Needless to say, I was inspired. That was when I decided to switch things around. I decided to live with the undying optimism and selflessness of Leslie Knope.

This new way of life was a lot harder than I thought it would be, especially in middle school. On the plus side I ate more waffles than usual, but I was worried that if I gave a “popular” kid a compliment I could end up being viewed at as a wannabe. If I was too happy all the time, I could be considered preppy and shallow. I had to push these fears aside and really to try change. It’s silly, but being kind takes a lot of courage! I began to notice that, as cliché as it sounds, making other people happy made me feel happy. I was slowly being lifted out of the pit (Parks and Rec pun intended). I learned all humans just want to be valued and feel important, doing this for others causes an amazing chain reaction of kindness and fulfillment.

Being a kinder, more enthusiastic and goal-oriented person brought out the best in me. I became extremely invested in student council, and even ran for and won the position of student council president. I put Leslie’s campaign episodes on repeat and took notes on how to run my campaign. I fell in love with public service and helping others, I had found my passion by stepping out of my comfort zone and taking charge! Even this year as I ran for another student council position, I made sure to always remember Leslie’s drive and undying love for public service, win, lose or draw.

The whole stepping out of your comfort zone thing can be quite difficult — especially if you’re someone like me who is not a fan of change. It can feel really scary, being unsure about what your next move is, but I didn’t want to feel the way I did any longer. The great thing about Parks and Recreation is its message: Be persistent and don’t give up. I was feeling quite motived and decided the pros of changing things up outweighed the cons dramatically. I was right.

When I was in a bad place, Leslie Knope gave me the extra nudge I needed. I found potential in myself, and others all around me. I learned that I could make a difference and gain a whole new outlook on life with a little positivity and eagerness. I learned so much about myself though helping others, which was kind of Leslie’s last message in the beautiful Parks and Recreation finale. In the last moths of my seventh grade year I “found my team” and found myself, I stopped hiding behind my fears and peer pressure and began living up to the potential I knew I had in me, I broke my own glass ceiling. I think if everyone could embody just a few of the core values of Leslie Knope (maybe even just an obsession with waffles), the world would be a much better, more caring place.

(Image via NBC Universal.)

Anna Captain is a comedy, dog, and waffle enthusiast. She is also a proud feminist with a young heart and an old soul. She spends her time in Seattle, attempting to choreograph dances to cheesy 80s songs when no one is home. You can check out her Instagram @anna.captain.