Unemployed, at home – and happy

Rick Lagrappe is 19, without a job and living at home in Shawnee, Okla. But he’s far from bummed out.

Rick Lagrappe is 19, without a job and living at home in Shawnee, Okla. But he’s far from bummed out.

Lagrappe described himself as a “very happy” person in an MTV poll of 1,100 young people released Tuesday, and he wasn’t alone.

The poll showed that 73 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds were generally happy with life, compared with 66 per cent in 2007, even though more of them, including Lagrappe, think they’ll have a harder time finding work, buying a house and raising a family than their parents did.

“It’s just me. I’m a happy person,” said Lagrappe, who has little cash and has been pressed into service to care for his six-year-old sister.

One reason for Lagrappe’s positive state of mind: he’s “very happy” with his relationships in his life.

The findings aren’t out of line with the Canadian Community Health Survey of 2008, which found that 91 per cent of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with life. The highest rate of life satisfaction, at 94 per cent, was among those aged 12 to 19.

Compared to 2007 results, the MTV poll, of young people from 13 to 24, showed respondents are less happy with the amount of money they have. Fifty-nine per cent said they’ll have a harder time buying a house, compared to 41 per cent in 2007, and 48 per cent said it will be harder to raise a family, compared to 36 per cent in 2007.

Being happy despite financial worries could be a good sign, said Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in New York City and a lecturer at Harvard Medical School.

“Maybe that’s not terrible,” he said. “Maybe we’re in a transition from a time where we think material objects are going to make us happy.”

A recent AP-mtvU poll of college students also found a big increase in happiness among students. Seventy-four per cent said they were happy, up from 64 per cent in 2008. That’s despite an increase in the numbers who reported being stressed by finances and job prospects after graduation.

Part of the reason for the disconnect between happiness and the new economic reality could be the definition of happy, Rosenfeld said.

“It’s much too simple a term, and I think our teenagers and young adults are far more complicated,” he said.

People may also be afraid to describe themselves as unhappy.

“Often in America, being unhappy is akin to being criminal,” he said.

Or, maybe, young people have lowered their expectations and find that it takes less to make them happy.

That’s the case with 24-year-old Courtney Silvay of Clearwater, Fla. She described herself as “somewhat happy” even though she has experienced daily stress in her life.

“I think I’m lucky to have a job at this point,” said Silvay, who works in marketing for a hospital.

She’s abandoned luxuries and sticks to the basics: food, shelter, auto maintenance. “I’m lucky that everybody in my life, including myself … they’re doing OK, they’re doing well. But everybody is kind of on the brink of losing a job. It’s not totally devastating, but it’s a scary thing,” Silvay said.

In some cases, kids are happy, because, well, they’re still kids.

Sixteen-year-old Michael Waggoner of Katy, Texas, credits his good attitude with the reason that he’s very happy and that stress rarely bothers him. “I don’t worry about things too much, and if I do, it’s just temporary,” he said. “Not too many bad things have happened to me.”

ABOUT THE SURVEY: The MTV Living Insights survey was conducted March 3 to 9, 2009 and involved online interviews with 1,106 young people 13 to 24 years of age throughout the United States. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points. Comparisons to 2007 are from the AP-MTV Poll, also conducted using the same methodology. The survey was conducted over the Internet by Knowledge Networks, which first selected the respondents using traditional telephone and mail polling methods and followed with online interviews. People chosen for the study who had no Internet access were given it for free.

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