Parents affect happiness … but not as expected

Everyone knows that parents can affect their child’s happiness. A loving upbringing is more likely to yield a happy person.

However, there is another way parents can affect happiness: by expectation setting. Most people compare themselves to others. And it is only human to compare yourself to your parents. My theory is that people who surpass their parents tend to be much happier than people who don’t. If that is true, it is good news and bad news for my generation (Generation X).

The bad news is that our parents (baby boomers) may be the richest generation in US history that will ever be. They were born at a time when the U.S. had 50% of the world GDP (now it is 22%) and lived in a time when things kept getting better economically. They are now consolidating these gains and hurting future generations by continuing to push govt debt and piling on future IOUs (with Medicare, social security, and deficits). So it is unlikely that Generation X will surpass boomers economically. But if you are one of those people that do surpass your parents (and there are a sizable number of us), you’ll likely be very happy (especially since many other people do not) … and this is especially true if you surpass your parents at a young age.

The good news is that selfish side of the boomer generation was really bad for their family life. Almost 50% of married boomers got divorced at least once. That’s a staggering statistic. It will be extremely hard for Generation Xers to have a worse divorce rate. More likely is that our generation will have, on the whole, more meaningful family lives and exceed our parents in this way.

Next time when you see someone who is very happy or very sad, look to see if they have surpassed their parents or not. And while one can argue cause and effect relationships, you’ll find often that this parental happiness theory holds true quite often.

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