When I was 5 years old, my biggest aspiration was to be 16 years old, have a car, and have a boyfriend. In my mind, there could be nothing greater. Flash forward to age 16, when I had both a car and a boyfriend...and I was miserable. Extremely miserable. I was stuck in a small town that I hated, my boyfriend was a crazy compulsive liar, and my car--a 1989 Plymouth Acclaim-- got me from point A to point B but that was about it. It wasn't exactly all glitz and glamour as I had imagined.
Now, rewind a little bit to age 11. In an especially angsty diary entry in which I was ruminating on how mean and awful my big sister was and how unfair everything in my life was, I solidified my plans for the future. My life goal, I wrote, was to live in an apartment in San Francisco, watch as much MTV as I wanted, have cats, be a newspaper reporter, and play sports with the neighborhood kids in my spare time. Weirdly enough, I have no recollection of thinking that while growing up, but here I am...living in an apartment in San Francisco, watching all the MTV I could ever want. My roommate has a cat. I'm not a newspaper reporter, I don't really like sports and not many people trust me with their kids, but three out of five is still pretty great.
So you are probably wondering what it is like to have realized your childhood dreams before age 25. Again...it isn't quite as I imagined it would be. I am happy, but not because I have unlimited access to True Life and Cribs. All of the things that I wanted as a child, from the car to the boyfriend to the apartment have their downsides. Gas is $3.00 per gallon. My rent is tantamount to extortion. And boys...lets not even go there. The cat is the only thing that I'm still as thrilled about now as I was back then. My point is that no matter what we achieve in life, we will never be completely satisfied. It's human nature.
Still, many of us, especially those of us in our twenties, seem to think that happiness is something that we earn, something that is just out of reach. Every promotion, pound lost, relationship milestone, whatever it is, brings us one step closer to eternal bliss. We deserve it, we are putting in our time, surely we will be rewarded sooner or later. But what if we aren't? What if life doesn't work like that?
I read an article a while back titled “Welcome to Your Quarter Life Crisis”. Writer Kate Carraway asserts that persistent dissatisfaction is unique to our generation: “Unrelenting indecision, isolation, confusion and anxiety about working, relationships and direction is reported by people in their mid-twenties to early thirties who are usually urban, middle class and well-educated; those who should be able to capitalize on their youth, unparalleled freedom and free-for-all individuation. They can’t make any decisions, because they don’t know what they want, and they don’t know what they want because they don’t know who they are, and they don’t know who they are because they’re allowed to be anyone they want.”
When I read that, I was SO relieved. There is a reason why we can never be totally satisfied, and it's our parents' fault for encouraging us to be whatever we wanted! My generation has it so rough because we have too many options! Poor us! Then I read that quote to my aunt, one of the wisest women I know, and she laughed and told me that everyone feels like that in their twenties, and it isn't specific to any one generation. So much for the “Quarter Life Crisis”...
I still think that the feelings described in the article are legitimate though. And I think the problem is that we are constantly looking outside of ourselves for happiness. Face it, the world is a cruel place. The only person you can truly depend on is yourself—everyone else is too unpredictable. This doesn't have to be a bad thing though—it just means finding out how to be happy without outside validation. I'm not certified to be giving psychological advice (I know, shocking) but in my experience, this is key.