Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gen Y: If you're unhappy and you know it...

Just look at the generations before you

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People often make suggestions about what I should write.

So it was this week that a young Red River College journalism grad -- who is off to Toronto and an intern position at Vice, an avant-garde multimedia organization -- offered this suggestion prior to her departure today.

"Why don't you write about happiness?" said 23-year-old Kristy Hoffman.

What, I thought to myself, could I possibly impart to anyone about happiness? It was only a few days later I understood why Kristy might have asked the question.

She, like nearly a million others as of Friday, had seen a posting on Huff Post College that sought to explain why members of generation Y -- people in their late teens to mid-30s -- are fundamentally unhappy.

That article was preceded days earlier by a Maclean's cover story titled The Broken Generation... Why our best and brightest are so troubled. It detailed a sense of hopelessness and depression among students on Canadian campuses.

That trend seems tied to rising tuition fees, plummeting job opportunities and the weight of debt that brief contract positions and unpaid internships can't begin to service.

But the Huff Post piece suggests there is something more fundamental involved in this wave of sadness that extends to even well-paid, young urban professionals.

The story -- titled Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy -- begins by offering a simple formula for what makes someone happy or unhappy.

"It's pretty straightforward -- when the reality of someone's life is better than they expected, they're happy. When reality turns out to be worse than the expectations, they're unhappy."

The point being that gen Y members have unrealistic expectations for their lives and careers, hence their unhappiness.

But, of course, they're not entirely to blame for being delusional, as the article brands them. They are, after all, the sons and daughters of what I call the Privileged Generation, boomers like me, who -- unlike their own Great Depression-era parents -- grew up with limitless expectations in a time of limitless possibilities. We boomers would pass on to our children those same prospects of a prosperous future, but often without the work ethic and need to pay their dues that go with success.

Which explains why gen Y's has become known as the Entitled Generation. They want what their parents have, and they want it now.

But the Huff Post story argues the children of boomers were taught to believe that not only would they go on to have fulfilling careers, but also that, "I am unusually wonderful and as such, my career and life path will stand out amongst the crowd."

By way of backing up that hypothesis, the blog quotes University of New Hampshire Prof. Paul Harvey, whose research has shown Gen Y has "unrealistic expectations" and "an inflated view of oneself." And that "a great source of frustration for people with a strong sense of entitlement is unmet expectations."

Which, again, looking back at the simple formula for unhappiness versus happiness, explains why so many of Gen Y apparently are unhappy.

But indulgent parents, I would argue, aren't the sole source of Gen Y's generalized narcissism. The unreality of reality TV and the onset of social media where everyone can be famous -- even if it's only in their own minds -- has contributed.

Of course, it's unfair to brand, stereotype, or diagnose an entire generation. There are lots who want to work hard and want to make a difference in the world. Or just make a difference with their family.

Kristy Hoffman -- the young woman who asked me to write about happiness -- never felt entitled. Her hard work and talent is what got her the opportunity in Toronto.

As a parent and a member of the Privileged Generation, I empathize with the reality of Gen Y's world, where there are fewer good jobs, even fewer careers for life. And where, often, just to get by, they have to work long hours for low pay. But they will survive and find happiness in their own way.

After all, they are the grandsons and the granddaughters of the Greatest Generation. People who had far less, but had much more.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 21, 2013 B1

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