Struggling with a Life that You Didn’t Think You’d Have

I am somewhat disappointed in this article Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy.  It’s not that I didn’t chuckle at the truth contained therein.  It’s not that I think the article was wrong in any particular way.  But it’s myopic.  It’s not the whole story.

The gist of the article if you haven’t read it or if it becomes unavailable is that:

1)   Happiness = Reality (minus) Expectations.  If reality exceeds expectations, you’re happy; if vice versa, you’re unhappy.

2)   Generation Yers are Delusional [in their expectations and, due to facebook image crafting, believe everyone is doing much better than they]

3)   Therefore they are unhappy.

Setting aside for the moment the obvious problems with oversimplification, I was more focused on the myopia that lead the author to think this was unique to Generation Yers – or even to Generation Yers’ career happiness.

First, whether or not this is uniquely American, I do not know (but at least in *********, the country of my ancestry, this is not the case), but there is an assumption in the U.S. that a career (and perhaps by extension the consumption it permits) is the sole or main measure of human worth or a life’s success.

A few years ago, while my life was consumed by a “prestigious” and “sophisticated” job that generated a tremendous amount of cognitive dissonance, I slowly realized that I was fat and unhappy, bordering on depressed (or fully seven layers in, according to my wife).  I began to look at everything I was doing as completely pointless.  Nothing mattered.  I suppose it was a problem of perspective – given a large enough time or geographic scale, one could fairly claim that nothing anyone does matters.

But then, the epiphany!  If nothing matters objectively, then anything can matter subjectively!  If God or the Universe or History cares not what I do, then I can do whatever I want.  But what is it I want?  The Happiness Blog pointed me in the right direction with a valuable lesson – You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.  Happiness was no longer an ephemeral concept without my grasp.  Because nothing matters, anything can matter, and we decide what matters.  It’s nothing more than a choice.  And choices have consequences or trade-offs.

Now, a few years removed from a consuming job, and at the expense of my career, I have chosen to have a life rich in experiences.  Most of these experiences involve love – my family, my closest friends, my other friends, my hobbies.  I chase what matters to me even though none of these things Matter in the sense that there’s a “Big Book of Matter” written by God or the Universe that determines what things matter and what things don’t.  Nothing is but what we make of it.

Second, struggling with a life that you didn’t think you’d have is not a problem singular to Generation Yers.  It’s so obviously one of general human application that it is…befuddling that commentators focus so much on the “spoiled” Generation Y.  Guess what?  Life will teach them hard lessons in due time.  The fact that some commentators await Gen Yers’ introduction to the potholes of life with glee says much more about the commentator than the subject of comment.

Finally, this article, although not explicit, appears to contain what many of these types of articles contain – implicit inter-generational blame.  The absurdity of inter-generational blame is apparent, regardless of the direction, but it’s most absurd when a child is mocked and blamed for absorbing lessons taught and beliefs instilled.  In the case of this article, Gen Yers are implicitly mocked for “believing they are special” because their parents told them “that they could be whatever they wanted to be, instilling the special protagonist identity deep within their psyches.”

In short, we’re all just animals on a rock floating in space making meaning in our brief span of consciousness.  Generations before us have done it; generations after us will do it.  What makes this generation of young adults worthy of singling out for praise, mockery or any other comment?

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