Around two years ago, the article ‘Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy’ popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. Knowing that I was a member of Generation Y and wondering what ‘yuppies’ are and why they, or perhaps we, are apparently ‘unhappy’, I clicked into it and read it. At that time, I thought the article made so much sense. The use of simple graphics and easy language to argue an otherwise somewhat heavy-handed topic made for a flow that was straightforward to follow, which probably contributed to my thinking that it was one of the truest thing I’ve ever read.
The other day, it appeared again on my Facebook newsfeed. I was bored, so I clicked the link and I read it again. This time, I found myself disagreeing with many of the points raised in the article.
(I just did a quick Google search and this article has gotten pretty wildly circulated since I first read it, with reposts on The Hustle and The Huffington Post. It’s even gotten quite a few reactions, understandably from other Gen Ys, of which I will be contributing to with this blog post.)
Here are some arguments, in order of their being, well, argued, in the original article that I’d like to contend with.
The definition of happiness
To set the context for the article that’s basically focused on why Millennials are unhappy, the writer, Tim Urban, defines happiness. Fine, that’s a solid way to start.But this is the definition that Urban has set out.
In my opinion, this is true in the scenario that you are a high schooler who didn’t study for a big test but really should’ve. Before taking the test, your expectations are low – at best, I’ll get a 50%, you think. But the test ends up being pretty easy, and you realize you remember surprisingly more from class than you thought you did. You end up with a 70%. Since happiness = reality – expectations, happiness is a solid positive 20%, so you’re happy. Okay, fair enough.
Except we’re not all high school students who didn’t study for a test. Most of the time, we don’t have concrete expectations. I spent five months studying abroad last summer, and just being in a new environment with new people doing new things made me happy. It wasn’t because reality exceeded my expectations. My expectations were vaguely that I would enjoy myself, and I did. Happiness isn’t an equation; it just is.
Therefore, the assertion that Millennials are generally unhappy is unfounded. It’s merely based on the above flawed equation whereby we have higher expectations than our elders, Generation Xs and baby boomers, and therefore are unhappy when reality falls short of them.
We’re delusional because we think we’re special
Also untrue. In fact, the competition to do get good grades at school, which later translates into the competition to secure a prestigious and high-paying job, is precisely what makes us realize that we’re just not diamonds in the rough. How can we all possibly think we’re special when we know only one in the eight of us sitting in this interview room will have a chance of landing this job? Perhaps this might have some truth among the younger Millennials, but as they grow older, they will realize for better or for worse that while they might have talents that not everybody shares, they are in no way ‘better’ than everyone else.
And while parents likely do coddle their children more, enrolling them in special interest classes because they can afford to do so and to keep up with the trend of other parents doing similarly, the article makes it sounds like parents are putting their children on a pedestal and showering them with endless praise. I don’t know what it feels like to be a parent, but just from the perspective of a human being, it’s hard to be positive and encouraging all the time. I doubt there are many parents out there who really raise their children with the mindset that they’re better than everyone and can do no wrong.
We’re taunted by our peers’ presence on social media
This third point perhaps resonates with some semblance of truth, but it’s still not quite there. We’re not stupid. We know social media is all but a facade; I mean, I wouldn’t put up a picture of me in bed by midnight on a Friday night, because I know that would make my life look boring and pathetic. Whether or not that’s true, I’m aware that I only present the side of myself I want other people seeing, and everyone does, too.
Australian Instagram star Essena O’Neill made that pretty clear back in October 2015. Deleting most of her Instagram pictures and re-captioning the ones that remained with confessions such as ‘it took me 3 hours to put on my makeup here and the whole rest of the day to get this shot’, she announced her departure from the limelight and how she finally realized that she was living a lie.
That’s one reason why Facebook is, as titled in this article, ‘losing its edge among college-aged adults’ – because we know it’s not real life. According to the American Press Institute, almost 80% of Millennials cite ‘seeing what friends are talking about’, i.e. the news stories they’re sharing, the blogs they’re following, as the main reason they use Facebook. Just over 40% use it to ‘share content’, and the rise in the numbers paying attention to their privacy settings shows that Millennials just aren’t interested in sharing their lives on social media, likely because they know it’ll never be a true representation of themselves.
In my opinion, Urban’s first mistake was the assertion that we’re unhappy based on an ‘equation’ of happiness that’s way oversimplified, and subsequently connecting our ‘delusion’ and vulnerability to being ‘taunted’ by social media to it. It’s a coherent and well-written article, and while the conclusion of how we should keep our ambitions and focus on ourselves instead of those around us are fair, there’s still much to contend with.