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GRE essay: Sadness and happiness

soarer 1 / 5  
Jul 22, 2009   #1
Hi all, I have just taken a sample test at Princeton Review and this is my attempt for the 45-minute analytical writing task.

Prompt: "Only once one has known real sadness can one feel true happiness"

My attempt:
What can make us happy? Being rich? Having a good family? Or a decent job with good pay? These are all possible answers, and the common thing is that these are all our wants. We are happy because we feel satisfied when these wants are being fulfilled. Nonetheless, human beings are always hungry for more; we simply cannot fulfill every single wish. The key to true happiness is to be satisfied with what one already has.

There is one old saying that only once one has known real sadness can one feel true happiness. In my opinion, this is only partially correct. It is true that after feeling real sadness, one can feel true happiness. This is merely because after experiencing something real sad, one would usually grow mentally, however slow that process might be. Mental growth helps one know happiness and sadness better, thus allows one to feel true happiness after one understands it.

Being a person who was born to have no arms and legs, Nick had been very sad during his youth, especially when everyone around him has a whole and complete body. However, in the midst of this truly depressing time, he found God and finally found his peace and happiness. Now he is travelling around the globe, spreading the message of God feeling truly happy in spite of his own condition. Pain and sadness can definitely force one to introspect oneself. This thinking process may allow one to reach true happiness.

Yet do we need to go through some painful process to be truly happy? I believe not. As I mentioned above, the key to feel true happiness is actually to understand that not all wants can be fulfilled, and to be contented with the current situation. Being sad is not the only way to get the key. An old friend of mine has this key, though she has never been really sad. Back in high school she chose to study Arts instead of Science, and very quickly she failed her History quizzes and exams - she simply wasn't made for Arts - and eventually she did poorly in the public exam for the 11th graders. For some reasons, she failed her application to British universities and had to face SAT and A-levels at the same time. This was really tough. As a result she was not able to do both of them well and she was turned down by some of the schools she applied for. However, she has been truly happy even though she had been facing these adverse situations. For she truly understands that not every wish can be granted, so she felt contented with her situation and simply strived for her best. Eventually she managed to get into Berkeley, which finally rewarded her efforts. Although she never felt really sad in the process, she had been truly happy, for she was already a proud owner of the key to happiness.

All in all, experiencing true sadness may let us know true happiness, but it is not absolutely necessary. The fore mentioned key is the most important element in feeling true happiness instead.

Any comment is welcome. Thank you very much!
EF_Simone 2 / 1,986  
Jul 22, 2009   #2
Hmmm... Your grammar is fine, for the most part, but I'm not sure the level of analytical thinking is up to the level required for graduate school. Also the organization is weak.

Did you scratch out an outline before writing? Always take the time to do that. The few minutes you spend first brainstorming and then organizing your ideas into a coherent pattern can make all the difference.

Here, the story about "Nick" -- Is this even a true story? If you just made it up, it doesn't demonstrate anything! -- comes out of nowhere and is not linked coherently to the rest of the essay. The story about your friend is pretty weak.

What's your thesis, exactly? That accepting your limitations is the key to happiness? And, thus, whether or not you experience sadness doesn't matter? What about what you said about sadness and growth? How does that fit in?

You see what I mean? The essay just isn't coherent. It wanders all over the place, only briefly touching on the central question of the relationship of happiness to sadness. Remember that, for the GRE, you are not only demonstrating that you can write but also that you can think and organize your ideas coherently.
OP soarer 1 / 5  
Jul 22, 2009   #3
Thanks very much!
I tried to make a quick scratch, but I didn't spend too much time on it for I was afraid that I may not finish the writing on time.

It's true that I didn't really have good/strong points.. my brain was pretty much empty when I saw the prompt. I guess that's probably why my essay was quite unorganized.

My base point is like you said, accepting limitations is the key to happiness and the experience of sadness may help, but is not necessary. I tried to explain that how sadness led to the feeling of true happiness by sadness -> mental growth -> knowing better about accepting limitations -> happier.

Thanks very much again! I guess I have to work really hard on my writing as I have not written anything like this for a long time.

BTW, the Nick story is real, and in case you are interested lifewithoutlimbs.org
EF_Simone 2 / 1,986  
Jul 22, 2009   #4
I tried to explain that how sadness led to the feeling of true happiness by sadness -> mental growth -> knowing better about accepting limitations -> happier.

What the GRE readers will be looking for will be your ability to lay out such an argument coherently over the course of an essay.

BTW, the Nick story is real, and in case you are interested lifewithoutlimbs.org

Even if you couldn't remember the website while writing, it would be important to note, when telling a story like that, where you heard or read about it.
OP soarer 1 / 5  
Jul 22, 2009   #5
A question about the structure of my essay. When I wrote it, my intention was to

- be positive about sadness => happiness by explaining and giving an example
- question if it is necessary to feel sad before getting truly happy, and explain that it is not
- give another example to support this viewpoint

Judging from the comments received it seems that this structure failed miserably. Should I actually change it to a more "typical" one that emphasizes my stance right away?
EF_Simone 2 / 1,986  
Jul 23, 2009   #6
That's not the structure I saw. What I saw was:

para 1: random statements about happiness
para 2: cursory effort to answer question in prompt
para 3: sudden, possibly fictional, story about a paraplegic who found God and felt happier (*)
para 4: story about a friend who is happy because she accepts her limitations
para 5: two-sentence conclusion referring to a "fore-mentioned key" that, if it was the key to the essay, ought to have been highlighted much more clearly

(*) I say "possibly fictional" because, as written, the essay gave no indication that this was a true story you read on the internet
Libra 3 / 4  
Jul 23, 2009   #7
Well, As for me, I really don't think I can comment a GRE level essay. I merely think the happiness you said about your friend is not the 'true happiness'. I do deem that 'Only once one has known real sadness can one feel true happiness.' Or how can you compare your 'true happiness'and the 'normal happiness'?
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Jul 29, 2009   #8
This sort of essay perhaps calls out for a discussion of the principle underlying the prompt. The prompt is essentially suggesting that to know a thing, we must also know its opposite. We cannot have a conception of "self", for instance, without a conception of "other," or a conception of "hot" without a conception of "cold," or a conception of "good" without a conception of "evil." Is the same true also of happiness and sadness? And if it is, do we need to know "real" sadness to appreciate happiness, or only minor sadness? Perhaps we could appreciate happiness by knowing degrees of it, rather than knowing the complete absence of it, understanding sadness as a theoretical concept without ever actually experiencing it directly. For that matter, could we learn about sadness by observing it in others, and so come to appreciate happiness without ever "knowing" sadness personally? And so on.

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