Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Generational Happiness

There was an article in the newspaper featuring an extremely flawed survey comparing the relative "happiness" of various generations. Since I'm technically in the slightly more unhappy Millennial generation (although towards the older end which identify more with Generation X) it got me thinking. Mostly about how the basic premise of the survey is flawed.


Happiness is very subjective and hard to quantify. The study was comparing the relative happiness of generations with extreme age differences. Happiness to someone who has lived on this planet for 80 years is going to be significantly different than happiness to someone who is 21 and still living with their parents. Happiness to someone who has young children, or none at all, is very different than someone who has teenagers or even grown children leaving the house.

However, I think many people assume that anyone older than they are must be less happy. Aren't they upset that their health may be failing, or their physical stature diminished, or their mental capacity decreasing?

What is the difference in generations? Is it truly that the younger generation is that much more self-centered or immature than other generations when at a similar age, or is it simply the fact that they are still young.

Self-help books have traditionally been the best-selling non-fiction genre for years (although these books do get lumped in with the Bible and inspirational literature, so that could be a reason for their chart-topping status). I'm not saying that inspirational and self-help books are what make the older generation happier, however, something does.

Many psychologists have realized that happiness is on a sliding scale. The unhappier that you've been recently, the more you can appreciate the beauty of the world around, the relationships that you do have, the success that you have found. However, if you stay unhappy for a long time (or are depressed) it can be much more difficult to try to get back to your stasis point. Everyone has a stasis point for happiness, but this point does move over time. The study that was published begs another question in my mind, does the happiness point actually move up over time, or only appear to?

I hypothesize that the happiness point does actually increase over time. Why?

I've mentioned on this blog before that, as humans, our lives are missing the point unless we continue to grow and develop over our lives. Granted, there will be moments of stagnated growth or even falling back. However, in general, we should be pushing forward on an emotional and spiritual level. As the yogi would say, we are always at our practice.

Obviously, the older adults have been "at practice" more than we have. Maybe we still see them as foolish because of decisions they've made in the past, maybe we even worry about their possible dementia or lessened mental faculties. The truth is, however, that they have gained something we still strive for: wisdom and life experience.

When my husband and I were bemoaning our cross-country move to our in-laws (while we really were happy about moving, we worried about the logistics of the move with two small children), they said that we would look back and it would seem so easy because we had already done it, and so much more. Only 6 months later, I already can see that truth. I now have the wisdom gained from that experience, and can also see how easy it really was compared to what many others have gone through.

The more we grow on this planet, the more we open our eyes to the troubles of others around, the more we experience ups and downs and come through the other side, the more we help others and allow others to help us, the happier we become. Happiness doesn't happen in a void, it isn't stationary, and it can be improved. Not by improving your image, your status, your body, or even your actions, but by simply experiencing life.

So, rather than getting frustrated at your latest setback or your most recent downward spiral, take a deep breath, and look forward to your old age. How will this most recent experience change you? Will you let it hold you back, or will you use it to grow?

Also, if you are truly depressed, please seek help from a trained counselor, your physician, and other members of a medical team. I suffered through months of "down times" and finally went to see a doctor. I quickly learned that I had a severe B-12 deficiency. Depression is nothing to feel ashamed of, or ignore, just make sure that you get treatment from someone you trust, including full blood work. If I hadn't had one of the best doctors in Louisville, they may not have run the second blood test to separate iron deficiency anemia from B-12 anemia (it requires two blood tests, and the first can be masked by a high iron count).

On a final, more humorous note, can I really just complain about this fictional separation into generations for a second. Man, who do these people think they are, ya?
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