I recently had the pleasure of discussing life with my roommate, Anna, over a Folk Art lunch. Anna is an analytical thinker--a pharmacist; however, she's always craved new and creative things. This is where we align as great friends. When in college, Anna's mindset was considerably more practical than mine when it came to choosing a major. In this moment, her happiness was a secure future with a well-paying job. Following this goal, she successfully graduated with a PharmD and now works at a major company treating hundreds of patients a day. She has a steady, comfortable income. She also works long shifts on her feet without a lunch break. She deals with rude patients who are ultimately mad at their insurance company, doctor, or themselves for being dependent on a drug, but Anna is the bearer of bad news. Her company is so structurally managed that every task is timed by a computer--with no regard to patient consultation time or a simple bathroom break. The silver lining: she is paid well. Anna is a twenty-something who has the luxury of living wherever she wants in the city. She can shop at nice shops and treat herself to dinner at the week's hippest restaurant. She's also saving. After a mere three-years, she's beginning to wonder, is she really happy?
Contrast this to my life. At 18, I was a starry-eyed art major ready to change the world. I wanted to learn in a liberal arts environment where I experienced criticism and solved problems on my own terms. I thought that with this ability, I could find a job at a museum, arts organization, or educational institution. I'd successfully spread my love for the arts because I cared about the way our society experienced culture, and I cared deeply. After graduating with a masters jobless, moving home to "volunteer for more experience," and grinding through a spreadsheet of job postings, my starry eyes faded. A few months in without opportunities--stars were nonexistent. I took a low-paying job in an unrelated field. I was honestly thrilled because someone had taken the time to interview me. After being told that my degrees and internship experience were not applicable in my salary negotiation, I felt as if I had made all the wrong moves. I was a young person on a mission to do something that mattered, and it seemed like the system had failed me. I can't tell you how many times I thought "I should have just majored in business." Soon I began to feel like it wasn't the system. I was the failure. I certainly was not happy, and little has changed as I continue to search for a paying job that suits my talents.
Yet, after a few years watching my business peers move from cubicle to cubicle just for a higher paycheck, I wonder if their menial, but handsomely secure, jobs make them happy? Certainly some people are meant to be in these 9-5 roles, right? But what if you aren't? And what is the stigma making creatives less worthy of compensation? Overall, has my generation been born into a time when our expectations of happiness are simply the expectations of our Baby Boomer parents'? Or are we just spoiled idealists? If it's the former, at what point do we realize that appeasing our elders might not be the way to our own happiness or the happiness of future generations? If it's the latter, how do we fix ourselves?
If a secure, salaried job with health insurance and a big house was the definition of success for the previous generation, how will we define success and happiness for ours?
How can we all be happier?