Co-Written by Brianna Henriquez and Kerry Webster
With the constant stress and rising anxiety levels our generation faces, it’s no surprise that some teens feel that happiness is difficult to come by. Finding happiness has not only become more challenging with the circumstances unique to millennials, but also more complex as new revelations of mental health have come to light.
In a culture that advocates for individuality and achievement, it’s ironic that our society is still centered around material wealth and conformity. In fact, these basic elements can, at times, be the root of unhappiness. However, looking on the bright side instead of fixating on the stressful aspects of life can enable teenagers to create happiness and peace of mind for themselves.
Between academics, sports, and social life mental health can slide to the back burner for some students. In the U.S., 20 percent of young people are affected by some type of mental illness that makes their daily life harder than most.
One of the biggest lifestyle changes that a person can make to stay happy and healthy is to participate in some type of physical activity. In a study published by researchers from Penn State University, more physically active people reported greater general feelings of excitement and enthusiasm, compared with less physically active people. Junior Abby Haraburda has loved horses since she was young. To Haraburda, riding horses provide a major source of happiness.
“I compete, but I also ride as a stress reliever. Just going to the barn or spending the day riding or working with horses after a hard day or week improves my mood and can totally turn my day around,” Haraburda said. “Just being around them make me a more happy and positive person.”
Gratitude provide various benefits for the human body: it improves physical health, psychological health, sleep and self esteem. Senior Jessica Lincoln is a huge advocate for spreading happiness and making everyone feel welcome.
“Personally for me, it all comes with PEER. That’s something I am extremely grateful to have because all of these people want one thing,” Lincoln said.
Gratefulness is also one of the big ways an individual can continue living a healthy life. 365 days of Gratefulness is a popular trend that consists of taking a picture every day of what you are grateful for; after the year, you look through your photo albums and remember all the little things. According to a study conducted by Harvard University, taking 10-15 minutes every day to meditate and do some deep breathing is proven to help decompress.
“Make sure you have people around you that are healthy and are giving off positive attitudes; spirituality or meditation; and making sure you have a hobby or physical activity,” Lincoln said.
Helping others is also one of the steps someone can take to become happier. It doesn’t matter where in a community a person dedicates their time, it is simply the act of helping others that makes a person feel better.
Sophomore Briton Graber volunteers at Very Special Arts (VSA), a program where people with and without disabilities come together to learn about the arts through production. While she loses some of her own time to aid others, she receives a sense of purpose and belonging within her own community as a result.
“I could be having a really bad day or something and be really frustrated or angry, but then I go to VSA,” Graber said. “I’m surrounded by people who have true reasons to be frustrated or angry, yet they are some of the happiest people I’ve ever met.”
Take a Break
One unique factor affecting the happiness of teens is the prevalence of social media. With easy access to everyone’s activities and interests, it can make one feel inadequate or like they’re missing out.
Because students can easily see what peers are doing on social media, teens who are introverted and would normally be okay with staying at home and being by themselves can feel insecure.
Statistics show 56 percent of people are afraid of missing out on events, news and important status updates if they are away from social networks. However, when teens detach themselves from social media, they become more productive and overall happier.
A 2012 study by the mental health advocacy group Anxiety UK found that 60 percent of people said they felt the need to completely switch off their phones and computers in order to have a proper break.
Senior Deryn Young, along with many teens looking to disconnect, took a break from social media and technology and noticed how her outlook on life changed.
“I’ve sort of distanced myself from technology…the rewarding feeling I used to get from immediately doing things on my phone, I get now from being outside,” Young said. “Once I made small changes to my daily routines; like walking to school or to the grocery store, I definitely felt better.”
Joy to the World
Everyone knows the phrase “money can’t buy happiness.” And, while it’s clear that happiness is only a feeling and certainly intangible, recent studies have shown that money can in fact buy happiness, though only to an certain extent.
The field of welfare economics (or happiness economics) is devoted to finding the balance between wealth and well-being. Economists and psychologists work together to find that specific goldilocks zone of income in relation to what they call “life satisfaction.”
Since the Great Depression, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been the primary way of calculating a country’s well-being. Economists had come to the consensus that the greater the production of a country, the greater their success.
Recently, though, economists have come to question if monetary success actually equals happiness. Throughout history, material wealth has been the primary determinant of a country’s well- being. But, in 1968 presidential candidate Robert Kennedy criticized the use of GDP as a sole indicator of a country’s overall success. Kennedy said, “It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Simply put, Kennedy argued that GDP leaves out everything that makes a nation a nation. It dehumanizes people and condenses lives into one number, disregarding the actual quality of life the citizens of a country have.
Bhutan, a kingdom resting on the edge of the Himalayas came to this exact realization. Bhutan put happiness over economic output. The kingdom has gone so far as to create “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) rather than GDP.
The rest of the world has a lot to learn from Bhutan as it now leads the world as the first country to adopt GNH as opposed to GDP. Money does enable a high quality of life, but a more holistic view may change the way we view success. According to the World Happiness Report, Norway is ranked number one, based on an accumulation of personal freedoms, GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, generosity, and trust.
However, Forbes, an economics magazine with a western focus and materialistic view, made its own happiness ranking. For example, Forbes ranks Nepal in the lowest 20 countries by the criteria: “no basis for economic growth; very little internet connectivity, yet 96 percent feel hard work pays off.” It raises the question: why is low internet connectivity a qualification of happiness? If materialistic views and technological progress are the only measures of happiness, then those countries with less goods but high spirits will be left in the dust.
In a world more connected and accessible than ever, millennials are left to wonder what other than economic prosperity defines happiness. Underscoring this is Bhutan’s original legal code. It defines happiness as the first priority stating: “If the government cannot create happiness for its people, then there is no purpose for government to exist.”