Alright, so I let this article on “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” sit out there for a week, but now it’s time to tear it apart piece by piece, and put it down. Ready?
1. Who says we are unhappy? This is one of those tricks, where if someone hides their premise at the beginning of a question, everyone will just take it as true and move on instead of stopping to say, wait a minute, is that premise even true? In fact, this particular trick has a name: the “complex question fallacy,” or “loaded question.” A famous example is the question “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Any way you answer that is admitting that at some point you beat your wife, even if it was never true. So any premise I put at the beginning of a question is tricking you into accepting it as true:
That’s an interesting question. Maybe there’s some medical or genetic reason. Let’s discuss it instead of questioning the premise, guys.
Yes, even when it’s a broad statement about other people’s emotions, we can do the same thing. Poor Harry Bambledorf. Why is he a miserable bastard?
And what about:
Okay, that last one might be true, actually. But let’s get back on topic.
Are we unhappy? It ain’t that simple. Sometimes we’re happy and sometimes we’re not, depending on if traffic was bad, if a bird pooped on our head, if we got laid last night, etc. The real opinion being presented here is that those of us in Generation Y are more unhappy than everybody else. That simply isn’t true.
Socioeconomically, everyone’s unhappy right now. The market is no bueno and everybody knows it. Everyone is affected by it, regardless of age. What’s more, it isn’t even our fault: we inherited a bubble right after it burst; you handed us a bad economy. People like Bernie Madoff and the jokers at ING and Goldman-Sachs all made bad decisions and screwed things up for everybody. It was literally the year I finished college that all that shit went down. What a graduation gift!
But we’re not even bitter and cynical about it: we’re aspirational and optimistic, we have high hopes, which the article points out as if it was a bad thing. We’re not unhappy. We’re just a little exhausted trying to get a leg up after the mess we just walked into.
2. There’s no clear “generation” to judge here in the first place! Generations are arbitrary separations of age groups. Generation Y / Millenials is usually used for people born around the end of the 70s to the mid-90s. Did a buzzer sound on New Year’s in 1995? A baby born at 12:01 was no longer allowed into the Millenial club? No. There’s no clear line.
I was born in 1986 so I am in that middle group of Generation Y. But are you telling me that someone born in 1978 (who is now turning 35) and someone born in 1995 (who is now turning 18) share the same traits? Population demographics analysis, you are drunk, go home.
“Generations” are just one perspective for looking at things, one out of billions of ways to group data. People are all different and lumping them all together in groups is reductive to the extreme. There is a spectrum of changing attitudes and cultural touchstones (We all grew up with some form or another of Power Rangers, for example) which can be useful in discourse, that’s true.
But it can’t be a pseudo-scientific excuse to do what old people always do: inaccurately accuse younger people of being lazy and immoral, just because younger culture is unfamiliar to them.
When you talk about a whole generation sharing fatal flaws in one fell swoop, be honest, you’re just looking for a new way to say “You kids these days.” If you want us to get off your lawn, tell us to get off your lawn. But remember we won’t be there to help you with your new iPhone iOS or the Facebook. We invented that stuff.
3. Having high expectations is not the same as being lazy and stupid. Yes, we think we are special. And we think we should “follow our passion.” And we think we should try to be something great and unique.
These are not negative traits. They’re aiming high on Maslow’s Hierarchy. They’re aiming high at life! And it doesn’t mean our generation is full of pie-in-the-sky and silver platters. It means we have ambition and expect a lot from ourselves. That’s kind of how human beings rose from primitive cave-dwelling gatherers into builders and architects and artists and poets and engineers and bloggers in the first place.
And we are willing to work. We sent just as many people as any generation to Harvard and Yale, to Peace Corps, to the Armed Forces, to Law School and Medical School, to everywhere. Our high expectations and desire for unique fulfillment have had some side effects though. For example:
4. Generation Y is nice. Joel Stein first put it this way in his article about us in Time Magazine a few months ago, and he’s right. Millennials are always complimenting each other, building each other up, praising each other. I mean, that’s why there are so many inane posts on Facebook. All you have to do is take a picture of your lunch and the response is like:
Yeah, it’s annoying, but you know what? I’d rather have that than:
Lennon dreamed of a day people were this nice.
5. We want to do good things.
And we do. This is another side effect of wanting to be fulfilled and follow something meaningful inside. As I make a list of my peers in my head, I can only think of one or two who didn’t go out of their way and change their life to do something positive in the world while they were young.
Whether it was join an Americorps program (I joined an Americorps program), become a teacher in a really tough high-needs area through an educational program (I did this one too), build houses for the needy in another part of the country, travel to Central America to help design a water purification system, volunteer to work on a political campaign, volunteer in a hurricane relief effort, serve in the military, volunteer at hospitals on Saturday mornings – the list goes on and on.
And I am personally friends with people who have done all of these things, all of them – they’re not just nice ideas, they’re my contemporaries.
Because I’m a Millennial, bitch.
6. We are tolerant. We think everybody should just “do them,” you know? Do you! We accept. It’s no coincidence that after centuries of narrow-minded stagnation, the tide is shifting in our wake when it comes to issues like gay rights. We are the standard bearers of any banner that anybody wants the right to fly. LGBTQ / undecided / asexual / whatever else that’s between consenting adults and doesn’t hurt people, self-identify and we will respect you. We’ll attentively learn your acronym – we love learning your acronyms. And if other people diss on you, we tell them to go suck an egg.
Because we think everyone should be allowed to live their lives however they want to and with all the equal rights they are entitled to by virtue of being born a human being. If you don’t, that means you’re a bad person.
But we totes love you too, you know. In our hearts. Want some of our kale salad?
7. Following Your Passion is not a new idea. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Joseph Campbell is a world-famous professor of Comparative Mythology and author whose books and documentaries are all about how the same ideas have been passed on thousands and thousands of years from prehistoric societies. He gives one piece of advice to the world over and over, which he says has been passed down to us from ancient times: “Follow your bliss.”
It means exactly what you think it does: the wild and crazy idea the “Why Are They Unhappy” article accuses us of inventing and following unrealistically. It means not settling for a path that does not fulfill you emotionally and mentally and, yes, spiritually. It means finding the thing that makes you truly happy, truly yourself, and going after it in spite of inconvenience or disapproval or difficulty because you will be glad you did.
And this message, says the late Professor Campbell (he was born in 1904 and passed on in 1987), is at the heart of the adventure and self-discovery quest that is at the heart of all human stories. In his book The Power of Myth, he explains his source for “Follow Your Bliss” are the Hindu Upanishads: philosophical texts written around the 6th Century B.C.E.
Figuring out the calling of your heart and going forth to seek it out is the opposite of a new idea: it is the foundation of the human quest for as long as we have existed. If people from other generations gave up on it already I would say that might be the answer to why they’re unhappy.
(As for the point the article makes about the phrase “Follow your passion” not showing up on Google research until 20 years ago: remember the idea won’t always appear in the exact phrase, or the same language, or even necessarily be in a phrase at all. And also remember that before 20 years ago, we didn’t have the habit of cataloguing and storing all of our ideas and trends for Google to find since Google was invented, like, 20 years ago…)
8. In conclusion, I am one of the crotchetiest Millennials around, though I blame this on my special space-age superbrain. Nevertheless, even I am filled with hope and goals and perseverance, alongside my love of LOLcats. And I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone convince me or my generation that I am “unhappy.” Or that I am lazy or unrealistic or flighty.
If anything, we are innovative, we are optimistic, we are adaptive, and yes, we are special, in spite of the planet you just handed us. We are part of it and we’re gonna try to make it special too.
But remember, “generation” is just a perspective, one arbitrary way to parse the data. In real life, we are all people. Some of us are like this, some of us are like that, and we’re all gonna do the best we can with the skills we have. If someone asked me in an interview whether I thought I was special, I would say we are all special in our own way. And the world right now is beating to our particular pulse: our voices, our songs, our ideas, our skills and art. So we should all be glad how special it is.
Some of my Millennial peers are raising babies. I don’t have any yet. But I’d like to think that when I do I’ll teach them hope and tenacity and kindness and, however they decide to follow their bliss, I will never patronize them for believing they are special and living like they are. In fact, I will beat that idea into their heads everyday, along with the hard work and creativity that they will need to succeed in our changing world and live up to their special nature.
Because: I believe that the children are our future.