Why is Generation Y unhappy? It’s the economy, stupid.

At the Energy Exodus earlier this summer

If I read one more piece like this, I’m going to scream.

No, my generation isn’t unhappy because we’re entitled special snowflakes who want rainbow-barfing unicorns on our lawns. We’re unhappy because we’re facing crushing student debt, a terrible job market, the downgrading of most stable jobs to contingent work, falling wages, and widening inequality. We’re unhappy because we’re working longer hours for less pay–or getting our hours cut to the point where we can barely survive. We’re unhappy because so few of us have health insurance or paid sick days.

We’re unhappy because we’re coming face to face with the reality that we might never be able to afford to own a home, or have children, or many of the other things we want to do. We’re unhappy because we see our dreams and opportunities vanishing before our eyes. We’re unhappy because we look around and see so many of our friends struggling–so many bright, talented people faced with shitty options. We’re unhappy because we’ve learned first- or secondhand that intelligence and hard work don’t guarantee being able to pay the bills, let alone personal fulfillment.

Not to mention that we live in a world where our government shamelessly spies on us, where corporations have more rights than people, where there’s a mass shooting every few months, where the environment is being destroyed at a stunning and possibly irreversible rate.

Of course, this isn’t to say we’re all unhappy. Happiness is a lot more complicated than jobs and money and ambition. Happiness is also about friends, family, community, art, music, dance, nature. It is entirely possible to find happiness in the midst of suffering and injustice–people always have. There is so much love in our world, so much beauty, so much connection and fierce resistance and hope.

Generational divides, too, are more complicated than many make them out to be. Millenials aren’t a stereotype, and nor are our Boomer parents or our Greatest Generation grandparents–or our Gen X friends, or anyone else who doesn’t fall into the millenial/boomer/gg taxonomy.  We are all shaped by our times, by our opportunities, by the social and economic landscapes we navigate–but we’re also so much more than the sum of our years. We’re all human. We all have our struggles and our passions. We all have our stories.

There’s very little I hate more than the idea that people my age are “entitled” for wanting a good life. For wanting meaningful work, a  living wage, and benefits. For wanting flowers on our metaphorical lawns.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting flowers on our lawns–in fact, there’s everything right with it. There’s everything right with wanting to, as poet Veronica Shoffstall puts it, “plant your own garden and decorate your own soul.”

There’s nothing wrong with believing that you are special. Special doesn’t mean superior. It doesn’t mean better-than. It means unique, having worth, having something to offer. We all have our own talents, our own important things to share with the world. All of us.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling betrayed by a world that promised us good futures and then gave us late-stage capitalism. There’s nothing wrong with complaining, with speaking truth to power, with saying “this isn’t fair and it isn’t ok.”

In fact, there’s everything right with it.

We all deserve–yes, deserve–to be free from poverty and chronic financial stress. We all deserve good jobs, or financial support if we can’t work. We all deserve health care, freedom from extreme debt, freedom to live our lives. That’s the social contract I believe in, and if that makes me an entitled Gen-Y yuppie, so be it.

9 thoughts on “Why is Generation Y unhappy? It’s the economy, stupid.

  1. Thank you for writing this. It helps to read that it’s okay to want meaningful work and a living wage and so on and so forth. That it doesn’t make you entitled, it makes you *human*. I also appreciate the reminder that it’s possible to be unhappy about the economy but happy in other areas of one’s life. Thank you for the permission to be complex.

  2. Yes! Thank you! I’m so tired of hearing older people tell me things are as easy and good as ever and it’s just laziness keeping people down and struggling.

    They live in a fantasy world and don’t want to acknowledge that they indeed had it easier.

  3. Pingback: The post-employment economy and its discontents | Tutus And Tiny Hats

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