The Happiness Recession – young people and relations in the era of social media

The Happiness Recession – iGen and Happiness

An article published in The Atlantic re-opens the discussion started by J.M. Twenge with her text “iGen”: the use of smart phones increases the levels of anxiety and depression among young adults. And they discover that friendship is not able to substitute couple’s life and religious practice.

Americans ask themselves the reasons that make today’s young people less happy than Millennials. According to the data collected by the General Social Survey, in 2018 the percentage of young people aged 18-34 that has declared being “very unhappy” reaches the 25%; males are even more unsatisfied than females (22% of young boys declares being “very happy”, as opposed to the 28% of young females). With an article published in The Atlantic, W. Bradford Wilcox and Lyman Stone, researchers of the Institute for Family Studies ( criticise the thesis, which is a bit simplistic, according to which young Americans are more unhappy because they have less sex (another unquestionable data).

It rather seems that the causes are that every time it is more difficult, for young people, to be involved in a stable relationship, to get married, and the almost endemic absence of religious practice. Friendship, companionship, a big totem of this generation, doesn't seem to be able to fully satisfy the expectations of the young people.

These reflections follow the analysis carried out by M.J. Twenge, teacher of Psychology in the San Diego University, in her text titled iGen Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – And What That Means for the Rest of Us (Atria Books, 2017). Twenge focuses her attention on teenagers aged 13-18 and, by using a considerable quantity of data and researches, some of which she made personally, she describes how the young Americans of today are more pragmatic, attentive (even in an excessive way) to differences, aware of the difficulties and of the precariousness that they will find in the labour market. Their weakness is the ability to manage the relations and interactions; they’re absorbed by the monitor; by what they find inside it and by a new relation with their mother and father. Nowadays adolescents have less sex, they smoke less, they use less heavy drugs, but they sleep less (the ultraviolet rays of the screen inhibit the will to sleep), they read less (or almost nothing) and they study less: what do they do? They spend an average 4 hours on the Internet. They have less occasions for group socialisation (attendance to parties, the typical places of socialisation, and to religious ceremonies is collapsing), they get the driving license later (mum and dad carry them) and they share with their parents activities that previously used to be dedicated to leisure time with peers (shopping, vacations, cinema). They are psychologically more vulnerable, the suicide rate and the psychological pathologies connected to stress, anxiety and depression are increasing considerably.

A generation that, like never before, has been given physical protection and security, but that faces a huge challenge in its ability to build human relationships, learning to put down the phone and look each other in the eye.