We are a nation of great technological and financial successes built upon disappointed souls, and despairing spirits. A major study recently published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, claims that “adolescents reported greater happiness and life satisfaction than their predecessors, and adults over age 30 were less happy in recent years.” The study shows that people start losing their satisfaction with life around age 30. Are we raising our kids in a way that they turn out to be unhappy and disappointed adults?
The analysis concludes that it is all about unrealistic expectations.
We tell our kids they can accomplish anything on which they set their mind. We teach them that they are in control of their lives, and that their success in life is limited by how high they can dream. And we convince them that they are built for greatness, measured by success in sports, fame, money, and recognition.
But this is not reality! Nor is it true.
We are told as parents that we should focus on our kids’ self-esteem with such priority that our whole parenting is centered on pumping these kids up, and making sure they are winners in this competitive world. If they can’t do it naturally, we even medicate them so that they can “win”! Individualistic traits are encouraged at the cost of not knowing how to sacrifice and to give for the sake of others. We teach them how to jockey for positions, and how to advertise their best gifts, or even the gifts they may not have.
We are surprised when this leads to a narcissistic culture.
But what happens when the dreams prove to be unrealistic, or when life’s cruel blows shatter their plans? Or when, no matter how much the person tries, the outcome is not as rosy as s/he had hoped for?
While previous research had claimed that people become happier and enjoy greater satisfaction with age and experience, this new study shows that that trend had reversed by the 2010s. Teens and twenty-somethings—who are still dreaming and being promised a great life—are happier than their predecessors, but people 30 years old and older are far less satisfied than previous generations. It appears it is around age 30 that reality sets in!
The researchers, while not sure why getting older is more disappointing than ever, believe that this downturn in life-satisfaction among today’s adults is the lasting effect of an overly optimistic youth, which has been conditioned for a different life than reality offers. “It’s the natural, if unintended, backfiring of a childhood filled with messages like, You can be anything you want to be!” You can read more about this study at this link.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that plenty is wrong with this picture.
We live in a fallen world, a life filled with struggle, shattered lives, pain, and evil; a life set to humble us, and to bring us face to face with our own insufficiency, impotence and lack of control. This is a life that is bound to disappoint sooner or later. I am not advocating for a life without hope and optimism. I am questioning whether our hope and optimism is anchored in reality. I believe in optimism and uplifting dreams that are centered on a sacrificial and suffering God, who came to this earth in Christ, to give us hope that cannot be taken away by our circumstances and personal failures. I believe in a hope that is content with life as it is providentially given by God, a life impregnated with meaning and opportunity to bring us closer to God and further away from our own narcissistic desires. A life, where our sorrows and pain find different meanings than highlighting our failures: “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). This is a life that bears fruit, not necessarily fame and riches, but love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).
Maybe we ought to teach our kids to hope for and dream of a kingdom where sacrifice is rewarded, humility triumphs over pride, and unconditional love brings joy and freedom; where “many who are first will be last; and the last, first” (Matthew 19:30).