Mark Dolliver’s Takes: Dissecting Happiness

Young people evoke more mythology per capita than their elders, so it’s handy to have quantitative data about their real attitudes and behavior. We get some from an Associated Press/MTV poll of 13-24-year-olds, fielded by Knowledge Networks. One key finding: Young people realize (appearances to the contrary) that their values will shift as they age. Eighty-three percent agreed that “the things that bring people happiness are different when they are older,” vs. 16 percent saying sources of happiness “stay the same for all of their lives.” As for themselves, 62 percent think they’ll be happier in the future, 4 percent think they’ll be less happy and the rest expect to stay as is.

The chart shows a hierarchy among activities that contribute (or not) to 13-24s’ happiness. Their enthusiasm for music helps explain why illegal downloading is a big deal. And their indifference to magazines shows why shoplifting at newsstands is not a national crisis. Despite growing up in the era of celebrity-mania, 71 percent don’t want to be famous. Money is different: 70 percent want to be rich. Eleven percent think it very likely and 37 percent somewhat likely they’ll fulfill this wish. One factor that’s less a source of angst than you’d guess is personal appearance. The 19 percent who worry “a great deal” about their looks were outnumbered by those worrying “not too much” (20 percent) or “not at all” (9 percent).