Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Future of Youth Happiness

Last year, MTV approached the futurist research and consulting firm Social Technologies to help them answer a question: “What makes 12- to 24-year olds happy today and going forward into the future?”

“We had some basic ideas,” says futurist Andy Hines, who headed up the study. “We figured that friends and technology would be important to this group. But how did they feel about religion, their parents, fame, and money? We began reading everything we could on the topic, and then the real research started.”

MTV also enlisted the Associated Press to add a quantitative component to our qualitative findings. Their researchers polled 1,280 more youths in the 12-to-24-age range, and in late August 2007, published a series of press releases based on this data. Here’s what they found:

The findings

Hines says that like most people, today’s youth pursue happiness through a combination of three strategies: the pleasure of the moment, relationships with family and friends, and the long-term search for meaning and purpose.

“But when we probed more deeply we discovered that, more than any generation before them, today’s young people recognize happiness is something that can and should be worked toward,” he says. “In short, we found they have a very practical approach to happiness.”

Specifically, he found they pursue this practical approach in the context of what they see as an uncertain and rapidly changing world. They realize they can’t go it alone, and are highly reliant on friends and, perhaps more than is often recognized, on family and on spirituality or faith.

Consider faith “For today’s youth, it is not about ardent conversion to a religious cause. Instead, they see faith as useful for making sense of the world, and embrace it for that reason. Same with family: this is not about a wholesale return to traditional family values; it is a practical recognition that family provides security and direction that help along the road to happiness.”

Consider family “Initially, we postulated that youth might be looking to shoot down helicopter parents who hover over their every move like Secret Service agents. To our surprise, while they do find this annoying, it is only mildly so and largely tolerable. In fact, they told us they appreciate the concern and believe parents are looking out for their best interest.”

Consider fame “Do youth want to be famous? Absolutely, the youths we interviewed but they recognize the odds are not in their favor. Celebrity life is appealing, but they are content to fall back on a more “normal” life if fame doesn’t work out.”

Consider technology “The key word here is tool, for it is a means, not an end,” Hines notes. “Moreover, because they are completely comfortable with it—it is a native language for them, not a second language like for the rest of us—they are comfortable building relationships via technology. Perhaps a quarter of youth makes little distinction between F2F and virtual relationships, and that percentage is likely to grow. But this doesn’t mean human contact is not important—au contraire.” In fact, technology is not replacing “physical” friends, Hines insists. it merely opens up a wider range of social options. Sure, a small percentage of kids overdo it, using the online world to escape from reality, but most see it as simply part of their daily routine.

The bottom line

After months of research, Hines says the essential finding is that youths are taking a more practical, proactive approach to happiness than previous generations. “On the surface they may come across as overly concerned with cool—or perhaps as cynical—but family, friends, and faith are hardly the stuff of rebels,” Hines says. “Yet they also want to make a difference. And I wouldn’t bet against them.”

Matt Catapano, senior director of programming at MTV, agrees. “What we loved about the study is that we were taking a snapshot in time,” Catapano explains. “If you look at young people overall, you see that they are incredibly optimistic about who they are, where they are going, and what their future holds. That’s a constant to being young. They will always be impulsive, indestructible, impatient, and want to have fun.”

He confides that the findings have proven significant to MTV’s directors. “We have shared the report with every department at MTV, and also bring it out when we spend time with our salespeople and advertising partners,” Catapano adds. “It now is helping our advertisers refine their campaigns, and the report is even influencing the shows we decide to put on MTV.”

For more information, visit

No comments: