Generational Warfare: Rethinking Happiness And Success

Last week I wrote that traditional measures of success are self-destructing, leaving millennials with little more than splinters to guide our daunting transition to adulthood. I suggested that instead of keeping these crumbling metrics, we should measure our success–as a country and as individuals–by our happiness.

This seemed to strike a chord with my peers, many of whom vehemently agreed. At the same time, many older readers had a different perspective, writing something along the lines of “that’s some cute generational angst you got there hun, I remember when my generation had that too.” Before you accuse me of generational warfare, let me tell you why both sides are right.

Though seemingly contradictory, the idea that my generation is growing up in a profoundly transformational time and the idea that every generation has this feeling are both true.

The Lost Generation certainly had their share of transformation, with the tragedies of World War I followed by the cultural and economic boom of the 1920s. With the burdens of both the Great Depression and  World War II on their shoulders, it’s no wonder that the generation after them stayed “silent.” Then the demographic bulge of the Baby Boomers came around and went about making some radical changes, from the  Vietnam protests to the civil rights movement and the social experimentation embodied by Woodstock. Gen X, or the “MTV Generation” had it’s own type of rebellion and the dubious honor of being the first generation not to do better than their parents.

So dear generations above us, we’d like to acknowledge that you all had your fair share of challenges and massive cultural shifts. That being said, we’re still special.

First and foremost, we’re special because we’re the generation most likely to use our smartphones in the bathroom. Though that may sound like a rather shitty reason, think of what that represents: we’re so connected that we can’t even disconnect to take a dump! In 30 short years the internet has transformed the world, revolutionizing everything from media to government to what we do on the toilet.

With this great power comes great responsibility and Gen Y has certainly gotten a lot of that. Remember that “c word” that Americans aren’t supposed to talk about anymore? Well, we haven’t forgotten, and neither have many of America’s marketing agencies who are quick to recommend that companies step up their social and environmental commitments in order reach our generation. According to the same survey, over half of us “feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world.”

This is where the happiness factor comes in. Research has consistently shown that employees who believe that what they do on a daily basis  makes a difference are happier and more productive. And this idea isn’t limited to the white-collar elite, companies from Southwest to Trader Joe’s and Costco have all found that by investing in their workforce and empowering employees to take control over small decisions, they are more profitable and their employees are more dedicated. Just imagine if more companies began to take on this practice, investing in their workforces and challenging their employees to take on some of our society’s most pressing problems. How awesome would our world be?!?

Every generation leaves its mark in different ways. I have high hopes that my generation will take the splinters of success handed down to us and create a new, more constructive form of capitalism that creates real value and fills our lives with meaning.

This article was posted on Forbes, 2/1/12