There’s kind of a freedom to being young in this millennium. It’s not worry-free per se, but there are fewer worries than there once were. Partly it’s because all of us feel somewhat global.
Get yourself a Twitter account and you can meet people from around the world. There are no barriers. And then because there are no barriers, people stop obsessing so much over celebrity and fame and success. Some people have it, other people don’t. The ones that don’t aren’t necessarily worse people, and now they have ways to see that themselves. So there’s not quite so much bitterness.
There’s also the little fact that all of the wisdom and knowledge of centuries now finds its way regularly to Facebook. I think a lot about the concept of enlightenment, and about what it means now that every thirteen-year-old sees the Desiderata on Facebook, how nearly every high schooler I know has flirted already with Buddhism and Eastern ways of thinking that were foreign to rich white suburbs ten years ago. In the context of the rest of history, all of us see more wisdom by the time we’re passing our teens than most people in the world had ever seen in a lifetime.
Happiness, say all those philosophies, is not something to achieve. It is a state of mind. You can be happy with nothing at all, or with everything. And in modern society there is a way to cheat even that old dilemma, because so much can be had for so little. Anybody my age can, for a small price, own a recording studio, or a graphic design studio, or a printing press. We have the freedom to realize whatever visions we’ve got. And with those freedoms comes a humble thought: We don’t have time to learn everything there is to learn. There is too much to experience.
But is that a bad thing? Is it bad to say I will spend ninety years constantly seeing new things and being fascinated? That I can spend my entire lifetime in that childlike state of awe the generation before me seemed to think was such an impossibility to achieve?
Money is worth less now than it ever was. I can live off of a very little amount without sacrificing much of my lifestyle at all. If I’m willing to break the law, piracy lets me access essentially the history of music and of cinema and, soon, of literature. I have a library vaster than any that ever existed at my fingertips. Even if I’m playing it legal, the mix of Hulu and Lala and iTunes means I can have most anything without paying, and what I do pay for is very cheap.
You even see it in the fashion trends. Is it a coincidence that hipster culture thrives off the Salvation Army and cheap local fashion stores? This is a rebellion against fashion that costs a fortune to obtain. Of course, modern technology means that sales hunting lets people approach high fashion without much of a budget, which again wasn’t as possible ten or twenty years ago.
I don’t have an American Dream in the Gatsby sense. I find that I’m living the life I’d have wanted when I was younger. I expect to enjoy life more a year from now, or ten years from now. I don’t know if the whole world will see such enlightenment; I doubt it will any time soon. But within these small, enlightened pockets, happiness is here, without us really having to look for it.
[My particular situation: I’m nineteen years old, studying at the University of the Arts in
Philadelphia. So the people I live and interact with tend to be
somewhat fringe, somewhat obsessive, somewhat bizarre. It’s a school of
outliers, in other words. And while I haven’t been there long, there’s
certainly a feeling of frenetic happiness that’s nothing like what I’ve
seen in the past.]
* This is a response to query on What makes you happy? What is your American Dream? (Hacker News) and the accompanying video Call for submissions for a documentary on the pursuit of happiness.