By Valentine Sergon
Sometimes I really can’t wait to be a thirty-something. Every day there is a tidal wave of articles, lists, and charming videos about how fantastic it is to be a twenty-something—either that or, you know, how lazy and disappointing we all are. With all this information floating around, how can anyone actually live their Millennial lives free from the pressure to live up to—or defy—the world’s expectations? I certainly can’t. And it’s driving me crazy.
There are two narratives that seem to be dominating the discussion about us youths, our happiness, and our heathenish and brilliant ways. The first, admittedly, has always been around: The Unicorn—the one you’re not sure even exists. You know who I’m talking about, that vile Facebook friend who cannot seem to stop updating everyone about the jobs and opportunities that people literally hand them as they walk to Whole Foods; the person who went to your exact same school (or, even more fitting, didn’t even burrow into debt for that piece of paper) and somehow made her first million (dollars!) at that no-name tech company in the months that you’ve been frequenting Noodles & Company with high school friends. But this isn’t the depiction of twenty-something life that bothers me; there will always one-horned wonders and I know that it just isn’t my destiny to eradicate Dengue Fever—at least not before I’m twenty-five.
The narrative that’s beginning to haunt me is the one about the Free Spirit.
A few days ago, I was watching a slimy (and wonderfully addictive) reality show where someone revealed that their greatest fear was waking up one morning unhappy. Now, to be clear, I recognize that no one wants regrets and that we all want to be happy. But for that to be your biggest fear? I still cannot articulate why but this intensely disturbed me.
My first thought was: Damn. Not only do I have to focus on making myself and my parents proud, on learning to support myself, on maintaining loving relationships… I also have to worry about whether or not I am making myself happy? Maybe it was the residual symbolism of the New Year but I started to be really concerned that, if happiness was a choice, I was not choosing to be happy and that’s crucial… right?
I called a friend of mine in a slight panic and relayed my thoughts.
Perhaps I got some clarity in speaking my thoughts aloud because both my friend and I could barely contain our rapid-fire reaction:
“Happiness?!” we scoffed,
“What about meaning?”
“What about responsibility?”
“Never mind that that person probably a warm house to sleep in, people to love and food to eat…”
And on and on we went until we exhausted our indignation. To be fair, I agree generally that the intention to be happy is critical in actually attaining anything near happiness; however, for people with very real and inescapable duties—be it to their family, to their community or anyone outside themselves—prioritizing personal happiness can seem… selfish. Even if it’s not and even if, in a perfect world, everyone should be entitled to that selfishness while they’re young.
Which is why I struggle to relate to the Free Spirit: the guy who has the time, the funds, and the freedom to spend nine months in Iceland before depleting his savings to support himself while saving the Cameroonian rainforest.
To me, these narratives seem to describe two different ways for millennials to find Happiness, be it through tangible success or through limitless adventure. Self-righteousness aside, the conversation I shared with my friend was so heated because it forced us to ask ourselves: if we do not neatly fit into the categories that supposedly represent us, how will we define and find our own Happiness? And why aren’t we Happy now? I used to console myself that I would be Happy when I got my first job, and then it was my first job related to my field, and now it’s once I achieve the endless changes I’ll need in order to become Myself 2.0.
Maybe it’ll come with my first down payment on a car, or my first adult relationship, or when I finally begin shopping at thrift stores for the cool finds—and not because I can’t really afford not to.
I sure hope so; because if happiness isn’t a clearly marked milestone with cutesy party favors declaring that “YOU HAVE ARRIVED,” well, then I’m shit out of luck.[divider] [/divider]
Valentine Sergon originally wrote this article for Flux, an online forum for those of us encountering adulthood. She is a restless soul who grew up in Maryland, studied in California and desperately wants to go Everywhere. An abject failure at the art of small talk, she hopes to one day develop subtlety and master Arabic. She is an avid lover of indie movies, spoken word poetry, K’naan, and shameless public dancing.