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a happiness pep talk for generation y

September 11, 2015

Here’s an article I found that I thought was worth responding to.

Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy

Ah, the plight of the affluent 20-somethings.  The disillusionment that comes from being in their first or second job out of college, with plenty of disposable income, having no real responsibilities (e.g., commitments to anyone but themselves)… but also with no idea what they want to do with their lives.  Maybe they have a volunteer activity or a “cause” (ugh) they put time into, or a dog, or an interesting hobby they’re all about.  Maybe they like drinking and sports; maybe it’s board games; maybe they’re a television junkie or an outdoorsy type.  Odds are they regularly see the same half dozen-ish friends and know they should make some changes in their lives, but can’t work up the motivation since their lives, while being currently unsatisfactory, are rather comfortable.

This should all sound familiar.  It’s not a bad life, per se, but if you sat these people down and said, “Are you happy?” few could give a “yes” and be certain.

On its own, the article I referenced above isn’t terribly insightful because the author buys into the same trappings that landed our Gen Y heroes in the mess they’re in.  Specifically, that pursuing meaningless things can actually provide meaning in your own life.  This is a mistake (and we’ll come back to it later).  Not realizing this, the author supposes that the source of happiness comes from the following, made easy with his graphic:

I guess this is kind of a clever thought since I’ve been saying the same thing literally for years.  Except in my version “Happiness” is replaced with “Level of Rage During Traffic Jam.”  Think about it.

As we go on, though, I’ll point out that while I called this equation clever, it is “fun to discuss at parties” clever, not “describing the human condition” clever.  But the author takes it for the latter and is off to the races.  Let me summarize his argument: happiness = reality – expectations; reality is crappier now than it was for your parents so you can’t have the same things they did with the same effort; you’ve been raised on sunshine and rainbows and those goddamn participation trophies so your expectations are too high for your own life; everyone else thinks also they’re special and like to brag about that; you see them bragging and become more dismayed; all these things together means you are unhappy; QED.

His solutions?  I’ll actually quote him here.

1) Stay wildly ambitious.  The current world is bubbling with opportunity for an ambitious person to find flowery, fulfilling success.  The specific direction may be unclear, but it’ll work itself out—just dive in somewhere.
 2) Stop thinking that you’re special.  The fact is, right now, you’re not special.  You’re another completely inexperienced young person who doesn’t have all that much to offer yet.  You can become special by working really hard for a long time.
 3) Ignore everyone else. Other people’s grass seeming greener is no new concept, but in today’s image crafting world, other people’s grass looks like a glorious meadow. The truth is that everyone else is just as indecisive, self-doubting, and frustrated as you are, and if you just do your thing, you’ll never have any reason to envy others.

 

I don’t want to slam this article too much because these solutions are not bad things.  In fact, they’re things that every mature person should learn and the sooner he learns them, the better.  But the key to happiness they are not.

What is the key then?  I’ll answer that by exploring another question.  That is, what is our purpose in existing?  As a religious man, I could wax on and on about that using mystic phrases, but I’m going to be more concrete instead and think of it in terms of biology and evolution. *   Now I admit, I don’t know much about either one of those things, but I do have a few simple truths.  Namely, 1) humans are social creatures; 2) along with all other species, our most powerful instinct is survival; first, for ourselves and second, for our posterity; 3) the family is the most effective way to ensure future generations.  Therefore, according to biology, family is the only thing that should matter to you.  To the extent that Millennials continue to deny this biological purpose, they will continue to feel unfulfilled.  Their bodies and minds know deep down what they need to be doing.

Something that surprises many girls I’ve gone out with is that I don’t give two shits what they do for a living.  It sometimes (usually) is a turn-off for them because for many young women their job is very important to them and they are very proud of it.  I’m looking for something more from them because NONE OF THAT OTHER STUFF MATTERS!  “You are not your job.  You’re not how much money you have in the bank.  You’re not the car you drive.  You’re not the contents of your wallet.  You’re not your fucking khakis.

In short, happiness is found in fulfilling your purpose for existence.  In less abstract terms, happiness is in family and faith.  I explained family but now for some words on faith.  I don’t care what your faith or religion is, but it does matter.  While family defines your place in humanity faith defines your place in the universe.  It promotes peace of mind through a willingness to accept things you cannot understand or cannot change.  It can provide the contentment that comes from living in accordance with a philosophy promoted by a higher and wiser power.  Faith is very much a choice and for those of you who choose to not believe in anything I ask you, in the grand scheme of things what does believing hurt?  Would life really be so bad if you exercised a little faith in something?  By having no faith in anything are you really better off in your personal life?  Are you really making the world a better place?  Examine the lives of those who do believe and reevaluate your answers.

Now let’s circle back to my beginning complaints about how everyone is wasting their time on stupid stuff and get some closure: You can have hobbies.  You can have a dog and a job you like and TV shows you never miss.  But never lose track of your primary purpose.  “What matters most is what lasts longest.”  This can be hard for those of us who currently can’t find “the one” but the prize is worth the fight, however long it may last.  Take it from almost anyone living this lifestyle and from thousands of years of human history.  In our rush to usher in a new age of gender roles and family redefinitions, we made the fatal error of assuming that there was nothing worthwhile in tradition.

Despite its failings, the article we reviewed above is indicative of one important thing: that we’re finally starting to notice how unhappy we all are.  Perhaps we’ve known this for some time, but I think we’re starting to understand that our lack of happiness may be coming from the culture in which we were raised, as opposed to a condition that needs medication.

However, there is still a long way to go.  The big crux that everyone is missing is that you’re unhappy because your life is being spent in the pursuit of things that cannot ever make you happy.  Not only does the article miss this but most of modern society misses this.  In fact, it may well be the leading cause conflict in our first-world lives.  But that topic will have to be left for another day.  A day when I’m not trying to figure out which of my drinking buddies should take care of my dog next month while I backpack through Europe with my new camera trying to learn photography.

 

* There’s so much more about the evolution of the family that is far beyond the scope of this short post.  By way of a short (and rather ignorant) overview, men have an instinctive desire to spread their genes as much as possible — hence the male drive to have sex with as many women as possible.  (Best chance for posterity given fragile human infants = spread your seed as much as possible.)  Conversely, women have a instinctive desire to “nest” in a monogamous relationship.  This is mostly because 1) their procreative years are much shorter than men’s, 2) they are the physically weaker sex, and 3) human pregnancy is long and for the most part only involves one child at a time.  The most advanced human cultures settled long ago on the monogamous family relationship in which the woman gets her male protector/provider and the man, rather than being unable to care for many children by many women, instead properly cares for fewer children by one women (quality over quantity).  This explains why 1) the traditional household is still the best model, 2) it is more socially acceptable for men to sleep around than women (not than they should), and 3) differences in the sexes should be celebrated rather than stifled.

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