A Harvard-led study powerfully confirms not only that young American adults are miserable — but also admits that many of the virtues, behaviors, and connections long championed by conservatives are missing from the lives of our young people.
Well, well, well … how the tables have turned.
Last week, a friend of mine sent me an article from The Harvard Gazette entitled, “Why are young people so miserable?” Knowing that I have spent the last four years of my life writing, researching, and speaking out on this very issue, and also knowing I have endured a fair amount of hysterical criticism from progressive voices telling me I am a right-wing, religious zealot, and that I should not be teaching in a classroom, this interview from a Harvard researcher was supremely satisfying to read.
The author of the study, Tyler VanderWeele, was admirably blunt and eloquent throughout the interview: “Across every dimension of well-being that we looked at — happiness, health, meaning, character, relationships, financial stability … those who are 18 to 25 felt they were worse off.”
The interview is a powerful and sober testament about a generation gone awry. It should be noted that if VanderWeele’s interview had been published by The Daily Wire, or any of our fellow conservative publishers, he would surely have been mocked and marginalized by the left as just another howling curmudgeon crank who longs for the glory days of a less diverse and more religious America. But this interview enjoys the imprimatur of the Harvard brand and thus will be taken more seriously among liberals.
And serious it is, even if the article absolutely buries the lead.
Towards the end of the interview, VanderWeele makes a powerful observation. He notes that surveys from twenty-two years ago showed that young adults 18-25 used to be much happier than people in middle age. Middle age is typically the least happy and most stressful part of life — often filled with endless obligations to work and family, confronting the harsh chasm between youthful hopes and middle age reality, as well as taking care of elderly parents and doing so with limited time and money.
But now, in 2022, it is the youngest cohort of Americans who are sinking in misery. And why is this? Of course, VanderWeele must tip his hat to a panoply of economic and social policies, but in the end, he explicitly admits, “study after study — ours and others’ — have indicated that family life and participation in religious communities contribute across these aspects of flourishing. And participation in both of those are down substantially.”
And it is here where conservatives can authentically celebrate — or, if we’re being snarky, can scream, “WE TOLD YOU SO!”
Yes, traditional family life creates a paradigm for rearing children that confers an endless list of emotional, economic, and moral benefits.
Yes, if we allow our young people to become thoroughly immunized to the blessings and possibilities of spiritual life, they might just fall prey to the nihilistic individualism that deifies consumerism, relativizes morality, and celebrates hollow sexual romps facilitated by Tinder and other “dating” apps.
Yes, if you teach American history and civics from a smug and self-righteous perch of presentism that interprets our history as a long parade of pernicious people from the past who should have known better, instead of a noble but imperfect striving for human justice and the maximization of human liberty, then our young people might not understand why they should be thankful for their country and the institutions that they did absolutely nothing to build and preserve.
The most fascinating and endlessly ironic nugget in the interview was VanderWeele’s admission that 18-25 year olds also feel “physically” unwell. Surely, the young should feel physically better off than middle age and elderly Americans. But they do not. He hypothesizes that they feel a “physical threat from the pandemic, more than others.”
The irony is seething — young Americans often preach a dogmatic scientism in regards to environmental concerns and yet when it comes to the actual threat posed to their age group by COVID, they continue to demonstrate irrationally high levels of fear. Anyone who travels will notice that young American adults seem to wear masks more than any other age group. A further layer of irony is that a Harvard-led study is revealing how physically unsafe young adults feel when it was Harvard that was one of the first major institutions to shut down in March of 2020, and did it yet again during the surge in late 2021.
There is a colossal tragedy in all this, of course, something that should pinch our souls and shake us out of our collective national slumber. By allowing our young people to wallow in misery, by removing the fixtures and totems of young life that allow us to dance with delight and experience the splendorous joys of simply being young and alive, we have exchanged nectar for vinegar.
We have robbed a generation of that precious and fleeting segment of life where everything seems possible, where love is still mysterious and friendship is rapturous, where unread books still possess enchanting treasures and the future seems to pulsate with high sounding words like grandeur, potentiality, and magic.
At this brief but special juncture of life our families have yet to come to fruition, our professional dreams have yet to take flight, and the enormity of our spiritual lives have yet to come into focus. Our lives at this point seem to brim with vastness. But that is not what our young people see today. They feel lonely, empty, friendless, and sad. They are anxious and largely ignorant about the meaningful connections that make the human walk a joyous journey to take.
Let’s not dunk too hard on Harvard. Let’s celebrate their research and use it to help our children out of the caves in which they are trapped.
Jeremy S. Adams is the author of Hollowed Out: A Warning About America’s Next Generation, recently released in paperback. He has taught American civics for 24 years in Bakersfield, California and was the 2014 California Teacher of the Year (DAR). You can follow him on Twitter @JeremyAdams6.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.