Newborns and young children are experts at seeking their own happiness and it is a beautiful thing. Later though, changes are thrust upon kids during the formative “middle school years.” Culturally, there are the bar mitzvahs, sweet sixteens, or other celebrations that act as an artificial gateway to adulthood. Presumably, the recognition of this period in a child’s life marks a transition to self-direction. A thinking person would then presume that there would be some focus on positive pursuits, perhaps even happiness. Instead, there is a push for kids to become little adults and start acting that way. Success in school is a kid’s job. Add in spending all free time perfecting sport or piano and doing stacks of homework to fill the days, evenings and the weekends. These daily activities consume the lives of these smaller grown-ups. The irony is that adults who moan about the “daily grind” begin pushing the same grind on kids in their formative years. Pursuing the grind so early creates bitterness toward life, and the more that is piled on in a negative way, the more likely the pursuit will be toward anything but happiness. Adolescents are not small adults, but they are morphed into that image and mindset.
There is more thrown at these young learners during the transitional years. Along with the pressures to begin a path to “success,” comes the first major introduction to groupthink. Cliques form in school with the in-crowd versus the “nerds” or the greasers/burnouts, the potheads, skate-boarders or whatever labels have been applied throughout the different eras. The cliques that form this early in life are really made up of the happy and the unhappy. Just consider for a moment the behavior of the teens involved. Certain students participate in major activities, go to the parties/dances, join social or educational clubs, play sports, etc. The others loiter around the hallways or school yard, maybe in neighborhoods, isolate themselves playing video games or in the tech world, or even roam the streets. Such others may complain about how they “will never be noticed by (or date) a cool guy,” speak of how “the prom queen ignores me” or “I am too dumb to debate or go to the good college,” or whatever the learned alibi of the day may be. We have heard ‘em all in our own lives, we’ve seen the television shows and movies depicting these well established collectives, and we’ve read the novels endlessly telling stories of the awkwardness of adolescents. These people are never taught that America is about the pursuit of happiness; they are corralled into groups that foster bitterness and “only-ifs.”
The almost unbelievable fact is that adults continue this learned unhappy behavior throughout their lives. It is impressed in their minds so firmly that it takes hold like an addiction. On a recent season of the reality series, Survivor, the whole show was premised on the concept of two groups, the “Davids” versus the “Goliaths,” opposing each other. The groups assumed not only the names, but also the actual roles. These independent adults continued their “unaccepted by the cool kids” mantra as if they had traveled back in time. It’s astounding how this learned failure to pursue happiness can be accepted by so many people over years or even decades of life. The use of the formative years to instill ideas of groupthink and tyranny of the outcast truly is tragic. But in no uncertain terms, these years transform an early life defined by the pursuit of happiness into a perceived grind that not only defies such pursuits, but provides excuses and alibis to those who fail to put to use the gift that the Creator gave us. The serious, responsible (and unhappy) adults teach impressionable minds how to be equally serious, responsible, and as unhappy.