myths

Why Young Lives Lives Are Losing Meaning and Purpose III: The Happiness-Unhappiness Seesaw

By M.K. Styllinski

Photo: Nathan Dumlao | unsplash.com

[“Happiness is ] the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”

– Sonjia Lyubomirsky, positive psychology researcher


Reading time: (10-15 mins)

Are you happy?

The answer to this question will depend on your life experiences to date, your culture and your age. But there may be a universal set of principles which we might adopt in order to achieve some level of contentment with our lot.  It won’t surprise you that meaning, purpose and social support are integral to that state of being.  Although there is much to be happy and certainly unhappy about in our world, perhaps there is a way to transcend the weary swing from either pole?

Happiness generally exists as an emotional seesaw between the future and the past, with the present squeezed out of existence. We are constantly told that we will only be happy when we get the girl/guy, marriage, the car, the house, the income, the career. For the young, if ambition still exists, it is tied to relentless consumption and the economic uncertainty that comes with it. Happiness can only arrive it seems, when we are safe and secure or lost in the adrenalin of the moment. Many Millennials and Generation Z have been molded that way so that any kind of contentment is dependent on material gain, identity/image and peer group status. It’s normalised to the point that we don’t pay it too much attention anymore. Sure, it’s been that way for a long time, but the difference is that young people generally do not have the desire, will or capacity to wait longer than the click of a mouse to discover that true happiness might just be gained from something other than social media, porn, computer games and SMART society consumption in general. Why should they? What is there to be happy about when to make sense of reality you are offered a daily diet of lies and misinformation and a 24hr streaming of corporate CEOs, TV/movie stars and gold-toothed rappers as role models?

The message to our youth today is to strive for the gold at the end of the rainbow even if most conventional wisdom keeps telling us it’s a pot-holed road to nowhere. Yet, the technosphere is powerful. Superficial stimulants to engage for the short-term fix are endemic for the young and keep them tied to a variety of cultural addictions, which includes being driven into the opoid arms of Big Pharma and its disgusting exploitation of generations of spiritually disppossessed. Yet, the very state of happiness must be conditional and transitory since it is rooted in the ebb and flow of the personality subject to the above; that is either growing, thus in a state of flux, or undergoing stasis and prone to disintegration. So, we seek that unassailable “happy” state as a means to stave off discomfort (and opportunities to grow thereby) rather than to surrender and embrace the unknown and reconfigure what happiness really means.

Unfortunately, young and old alike are more miserable than ever before. Why is it for instance, there’s been hardly any change at all in the levels of happiness experienced by Americans since 1972? [1] Indeed, loneliness and isolation play a huge part as a product of our woefully value-less economic nightmare we call “progress”. In the U.S., nearly half of all meals are eaten alone; the average American has fewer friends than twenty years ago and by 2008, less than one third of people had socialised with their neighbours compared nearly half that number about twenty-five years previously.  It’s no better in the UK, with folks less likely to know their neighbours or have strong friendships than any other country in Europe. [2]

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