The Real Reason Generation Y Is Unhappy

An article from the Huffington Post entitled “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” has been all over Facebook of late and it has a lot of Generation Y-ers up in arms. As a member of Generation Y myself (a generation defined by the article as being born between the late ‘70s and mid ‘90s) I felt compelled to see what the article had to say. To my surprise I largely agreed with its message, but still took issue with it. The problem, in my opinion, wasn’t with what the article said about my generation, but what it didn’t.

For those who haven’t read the article, the gist is that Generation Y-ers are unhappy because they have unrealistic expectations. Having been told their entire lives that they’re special, Generation Y grew up with an inflated view of themselves and the belief that they not only deserve a well paying job, but a fulfilling one as well. When they finally got into the workforce and found reality a lot less rosy, they became unhappy. Or, as the author says, “Happiness = Reality – Expectations.”

There’s more to the article than that, including an explanation of why members of Generation Y think they’re special (short answer: their Baby Boomer parents, having found their lives easier than that of their parents, made their kids believe their lives would be easier, too) but hopefully you get the idea.

Looking back now that I’m in my thirties, I have to admit I fit the profile. When I was a kid I thought for sure that I would grow up to be a famous pop singer or something equally awesome, and though I adjusted my expectations a bit as time went on, I still expected to have an exciting and rewarding career.

What I found upon graduating from college was that it was difficult to find a good job, and when I did eventually land one in my dream field of music, things weren’t smooth sailing. The record business was in crisis, and there were layoffs, cutbacks, and a restructuring of the company into something almost unrecognizable from the one I originally joined.

Since then I’ve worked in a couple other fields, and done well in both, but my life hasn’t been the easy ride I imagined it would be. I worry, for example, about not being able to put enough money aside for the future (college tuitions, retirement, etc), and have grey stress hairs in what should be my totally awesome pop star hair. Would I be happier if I’d started out with more realistic expectations for life? Probably.

Here’s where the article loses me, though. The author — likely a Baby Boomer still attached to the idea that things are destined to improve from generation to generation — sums things up by saying that Generation Y “can become special by working really hard for a long time” in this “world which is bubbling with opportunity.” In other words, if Generation Y-ers are unhappy with their lot in life it’s because they’re lazy and just need to learn how to do some good ol’ fashioned hard work.

The reality, though, is that the troubles of Generation Y aren’t so simple. Laziness is an easy explanation, but inaccurate. I, and the majority of my peers, are incredibly hard workers. Unfortunately, hard work isn’t rewarded as it was in our parents’ generation. Baby boomers could join a company back then and know that if they worked hard they’d have a steady job until the day they retired. That isn’t so today.

Mine is a generation that started their professional lives during an economic downturn (as opposed to the bustling ’70s/’80s/’90s), that must expect to switch careers at least two or three times, that is saddled with re-paying student loans vastly larger than any previous generation (for a degree with less value than ever before), that can’t depend on social security to be there for us when we reach retirement age (at a time when less and less jobs offer pensions), that will have to deal with the national debt run up by previous generations, and many, many more problems.

It may be comforting for older generations to think Generation Y members are unhappy simply because we’re not willing to work hard enough, but that’s not fair to us. The reality is that we have a lot of very valid reasons to be less than totally happy, and while blaming our lot on our “specialness” makes for a good article, it hardly tells the whole story.

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