Op-Ed, Opinion

How to be happy in a society that seems doomed

Happiness, that undefinable thing that everybody wants and no one can seem to get enough of. A recent article from the New York Times argues that these days, happiness is getting harder and harder to come by. The author, Laura Holson, points to the angry politics of the Trump era, the impending doom of global climate change, the tiresome economy that is ever on the brink of collapse and a gloomy 24-hour news cycle as some of the contributors to the present-day happiness slump. These aren’t just observations. Holson cites figures from the World Happiness Report that objectively show declining numbers in U.S. inhabitants’ perceptions of well-being and happiness.

But there have always been troubles plaguing the nation; each generation has dealt with their own crises. What, aside from these enumerated external factors, makes our generation less directed towards happiness? I’m sure you could have guessed it: social media. Quick tweets and Instagram uploads have “hastened a cultural shift toward instantaneous gratification.” Are you happy right now? Are you happy today? No? Then it may be that you’re not happy at all. That is the Generation Z mentality. We do not allow ourselves a wide enough tunnel of vision, and such a narrow perspective can make the world seem like a really gloomy place.

Another factor is our generation’s “lack of togetherness.” Holson explains that social media (in addition to reducing our happiness viewpoint) has swapped real-world gatherings with virtual, cyber-space communities. We don’t congregate together in person anymore, don’t see true faces and hear true voices, don’t feel real touch. We lack true connection; we lack physical proximation.

I can’t say whether these times are actually any worse than those our nation has seen before; I can’t say whether we are really any less happy than the average U.S. citizen in the 1950s or any other time period for that matter. What I can say is that perception shapes reality. So if we believe happiness is at an all-time low, then that mentality will figure into our generation’s actuality.

Our nation is not, however, post-happiness. Though the WHR reports that happiness levels have been on the decline, that isn’t to say that our generation is done with being happy. It is, merely, a pursuit. It means it’s time for a major attitude adjustment.

So how we do get happy? Well, I’m no self-help novelist, but here are just a few practical tips for increasing your happiness:

  • Get efficient: You may have heard of that oh-so-popular “treat yourself” mentality. Certainly, this can bring you a moment of joy, though it’s likely fleeting. Holson writes that spending on time-saving purchases, such as delivery services, is more satisfying than impulse buys like that tub of ice cream from your last grocery trip. More free time means less stress, so get efficient.
  • Get reflective: Change your thinking, eliminate that tunnel vision. What’s something good that’s happened to you today? This week? This month, even? What do you have to look forward to? A concert date, a beach trip with friends, Thanksgiving break next month? There’s always a reason to be happy.
  • Get involved: Not to sound like that peppy welcoming-committee girl, but seriously, why are you sitting alone in your room every night watching Netflix and scrolling through Twitter? At least invite over some friends if you want to stay in. Human interaction is a clear facet of happiness, so join a club, form a study group, go to a party, call your mom (yeah, I said it). Reach out— it’s time to connect.

Experts might tell us that happiness is a thing of the past, but I think with enough work, our generation will experience what it means to truly be happy— even in a time like this.

Riley Cunningham is a junior majoring in history.

October 9, 2019

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Riley Cunningham


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