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Why are Generation Y so miserable? What makes us happy? Why do we always strive for happiness, is there something else?

Generation Y

From the time they were born Generation Y have been told that they are ‘special’. They have been told that they can be whoever they want to be, they can do whatever they are passionate about doing. They have been told the world is their oyster and nothing can stop them. Common sense tells us that this is completely unrealistic, because we all have our own natural limitations. Not everyone who wishes to be a supermodel will end up being the next Miranda Kerr. Not everyone who desires to be in the military can be, due to stringent physical testing. Not everyone who wishes to be funny, can be funny. This is basic and simplistic but in reality if we are set up to believe that we are going to have the most extraordinary life and then land in an ‘average’ life, we are bound to be disappointed. High expectations that aren’t fulfilled bring disappointment and sadness.

To compound all of this even further, is the social media. Generation Y have two identities, one is one that they have carefully and strategically created for themselves online. You often hear the Gen Y discussing whether a photo is DP (display picture) worthy, or whether they should ‘check in’ to the latest haunt to establish their standing in the peer group. Then there is their ‘real life’ identity, this is the one that scours the internet to see if they are ‘up to scratch’ with their peers. The difficulty lies in the disconnect between what they see on social media as the created persona and what is the reality. Gen Y’s are comparing and becoming ever more disappointed that their lives did not meet the high expectations set up for them and are also not up to the standard of the social media identities of their peers. This is all a recipe for misery as the mis-match between one’s own expectations and one’s own reality grows.

What makes us happy?

Everyone seems to say the same thing: I just want to be happy. Clinical Psychologist, Andrew Fuller states that there are eleven simple ways to be happy:
1. Don’t wait to see if you’re having a good time (have fun regardless of circumstances)
2. Go outside and play (wherever and however to bring some fun into your life)
3. Develop deep friendships (value them and see them regularly)
4. Increase the closeness of extended family
5. Play to your strengths (do more of what you’re good at)
6. Seek out groups that value what you have to offer
7. Actively avoid social groups where your strengths aren’t valued
8. Live your dreams, follow your passions
9. Laugh more!
10. Believe in something bigger than yourself (what can you contribute to this planet?)
11. Love, love, and love some more!

Andrew Fuller goes on to examine how to make yourself miserable and the scary thing is that many of us do these all the time without thinking about it.
1. Wait for the situation to be ‘just right’ before deciding to have a good time
2. Compare yourself to others (my facebook friends have much more excitement than me)
3. Give others the power to control your life (don’t make your own decisions, let others do it for you)
4. Try to make other people happy (make decisions based on trying to please others)
5. Feel it is better to avoid rejection than to love (play it safe, don’t be vulnerable)
6. Talk yourself out of stuff you really would like to do (tell yourself you can’t do things, so don’t try)
7. Believe you don’t deserve to be happy
8. Say yes when you mean no (being helpful and agreeable to others can leave you resentful & bitter)

Why do we always strive for happiness? Is there something else?

This brings me to my next line of thinking … why are we all so obsessed with feeling happy? Happiness is a feeling, so surely happiness comes and goes, don’t you think? Can we all be eternally happy? Dr Russ Harris writes an incredible book entitled “The Happiness Trap”, and he speaks about how the striving to ‘be happy’ is really a trap that leaves us feeling miserable because constant happiness is not a real possibility. Dr Harris argues that instead of striving for happiness, we ought to be striving to live rich, purposeful and meaningful lives. To live this type of a life we need to live according to our core values. He says if we follow our deepest desires that are in line with our core values (thus, our core identities) then we will achieve the life that is full, rich, purposeful and meaningful. This life may not always be filled with the transient feelings of happiness but overall it will be filled with meaning, purpose and will be authentic to who we are. Let me give a simple example that may help to clarify. Lets say I value health, that is, I value having a healthy body and taking care of that body so that it is strong, fit and will serve me well for many decades to come. If this is my value, then it follows that I will be conscious to eat nutritious foods filled with vitamins and minerals. It also follows that I would exercise regularly, increase my cardiovascular health through high intensity exercise like running, and I would do some light muscle work to increase strength. Now imagine that it is Monday morning and the alarm has just gone off at 5:30am for me to attend my gym class. Its raining outside, I’m exhausted and what would make me truly happy in that moment would be to stay in bed and snuggle up to my pillow. If I follow happiness, I would stay in bed. If I follow my values, I’d push myself out of bed and head to the gym class. Now comes the 3pm energy slump and I walk past the local café. I can smell the muffins just come out of the oven and what would make me truly happy is to devour the choc-chip muffin. The value of health however, is competing. In ‘The Happiness Trap’, it is highlighted that there are short term and long term consequences. The short term consequence of staying in bed and eating the muffin is joy and pleasure. The long term consequence of ongoing lack of exercise and regular consumption of high sugar foods is an unfit and unhealthy, body. This is a very simple example of one of the principles of ‘The Happiness Trap’. Long term, when we follow what is important to us and we commit ourselves to the actions required to follow our passions, our values and our authentic selves, then we will live, rich, meaningful and purposeful lives.

When I go back now and read Andrew Fuller’s list of how to be happy, I can see quite clearly that it is in line with ‘The Happiness Trap’. We can see that deepening our relationships, being true to ourselves, using our strengths, following our passions and having some fun and laughter along the way is the key to long-term satisfaction. Stop comparing, stop beating yourself up, and start living the way you were made to live.

Fuller, Andrew. (2012) Generation Next: How to be happy. (online access)
Harris, Russ (2008) The Happiness Trap. Trumpeter Books
Blog: http://www.waitbutwhy.com/2013/09/why-generation-y-yuppies-are-unhappy.html

Christina O'Connell
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