Happiness, it seems, is the topic of our generation. It’s been impossible not to notice the constant stream of articles analyzing happiness, or the lack thereof over the last few years. We know money won’t buy it, and that Gen Y wants it now. We know that it is elusive, like a tiny Fairy lurking in the mist (ok, maybe I made that one up…but sometimes happiness does seem like a mythical creature that only small children believe in).
I’ve been thinking a lot about the media’s “discourse of Happiness”. The overarching theme of this discourse can be summarized pretty concisely; we should give up on the search. No wait; we should take some pills. Oh, hold on; we should never give up. We’re told to forget happiness; to follow these tips, NO, to follow these tips; eschew social media; take up knitting; accept that life is just hard. The average twenty something internet dweller could put a neurologist to shame with their understanding of the brain chemistry underpinning happiness. Surreal begins where your chemistry hating friends gather to discuss over brunch whether they need more dopamine or serotonin.
Articles loudly proclaim that this generation suffers intensely from Want-It-Now syndrome, and the media is constantly marveling at Gen Y’s ability to stand up straight under the weight of their (our) own entitlement.
Turning our gaze to the New Age realm of thought, these concerns and solutions are reiterated in a slightly different package. One should not strive for happiness; one must learn to be content. Abandon the material for the spiritual. Let go to reach Nirvana. Learn how on a 6 day retreat, for only $1200. Isn’t your soul worth it?
One should not strive for happiness; one must learn to be content.
This one bothers me. I don’t believe that anyone who complains of being unhappy is actually complaining that they’re not in a near-euphoric state 24 hours per day. This feels like a semantic argument, with legions of advice columnists stumbling over the true meaning of happiness vs. contentedness. Us humans can, on average, be pretty terrible at lots of things – but if there’s one thing we can do, it’s identify basic emotions. Grar hungry! Grok mad!
We can call this whatever we like – mid-20’s ennui, quarter life crisis, mid life crisis, PMS, entitlement – but it doesn’t change anything. We are restless. Why are we arguing over a definition instead of acknowledging that so many people are essentially discontented with their lives?
And even more importantly – where do we need to go from here?