Some old sayings are old for a reason — they’re true. Take “money can’t buy happiness.” Every generation puts family, friends and health far above money and wealth when discussing happiness.
And while what drives individual happiness naturally varies from person to person, there are common themes of happiness within each generation. Have you ever wondered why your parents or grandparents value a long-standing relationship and loyalty while your children or grandchildren may put cool experiences above all? Or why Baby Boomers are so optimistic but refuse to relax? At the end of the day, if money can’t buy happiness, what does provide happiness for each generation?
Traditionalist: born before 1946
Traditionalists have demonstrated fierce devotion in every facet of their lives: family, country and even beloved brands. They grew up in the aftermath of the Great Depression and are no strangers to sacrifice. Fiercely adhering to the “waste not, want not” mentality of the era, this generation often made do with very little. Once they began to prosper in the post-war economy, this generation stayed loyal to brands and companies they believed in. To this day, Traditionalists remain fiercely faithful to companies. They are not swayed by the gimmicky or latest and greatest products and gadgets.
What makes Traditionalists happy? — Loyalty
Relationships worth investing in:For Traditionalists, happiness means cultivating long-lasting, loyal relationships that will stand the test of time. They’ve spent a lifetime nourishing connections with friends and family, and continue to look for opportunities to impart their wisdom and values through stories, delighting in that unbreakable bond between their loved ones. As they enter their twilight years, they are devoting time to family and leaving their loved ones with a legacy of loyalty for generations to come. Traditionalists have proven that loyalty remains an essential fiber of their character; they happily give it and expect it in return. Take time to build relationships with this incredibly faithful generation. Not only will the Traditionalists in your life welcome it, but you may learn a thing or two along the way.
Baby Boomer: 1946 – 1964
Boomers rode a roller coaster of change during their youth, witnessing the Vietnam War, the moon landing and the civil rights movement from their living room television set. Despite the dramatic ups and downs during their formative years, Boomers set out to create an impactful change of their own, pushing back against the status quo and raising their voices by protesting the war, picketing for peace and advocating for women’s rights. Recognizing the value brought by their steadfast activism, Boomers forged on with an optimistic view of the future, and the change they could effect.
What makes Boomers happy? — Impact
We can (and will) change the world: For Baby Boomers, the key to fulfillment lies in making an impact. Boomers are setting aside money for their children’s and grandchildren’s futures. Donating to charities and important causes is another outlet that feeds Boomer spirits. Many are excitedly embracing the new trend of global “voluntourism” trips, which blends giving back with traveling the world. Either way, it seems Boomers’ happiness meters are at their highest when they know they’re leaving their stamp on the world.
Generation X: 1965 – 1979
As a generation that grew up when the divorce rate tripled and moms went to work en masse, Gen Xers were brought up to fend for themselves and became independent at a very young age. Lifelong proponents of “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” their independent spirit became an important part of the Xer adult identity. They also grew up in a time when trusted institutions were falling apart. Amidst 24-hour news coverage, Xers watched scandal after scandal unfold – Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Savings & Loan crisis. As a result, they became leery of institutions and armed themselves with a protective shield of skepticism, self-reliance and independence.
What makes Gen Xers happy? — Autonomy
I do what I want: Autonomy is the Xer sweet spot – it is most authentic, natural and gratifying for this generation to thrive in self-sufficiency. Whether it’s in the workplace, at home or anywhere in between, the last thing Xers want to feel is trapped by anything or anyone. The ultimate happiness is gained in autonomy. It’s found by carving out the freedom to do whatever they choose with their time, whether that means spending time with their children, hanging out with friends, or pursuing personal hobbies. The next time the Xer in your life insists on researching how to fix the faucet instead of calling a plumber, realize their independent nature is calling. Remember to give them the freedom they crave or better yet, join them on the ride.
Millennial: 1980 – 1995
For Millennial kids born in the 80s and early 90s, some of the most beloved after-school activities included spending hours avoiding typhoid fever in The Oregon Trail or chatting in acronyms on AOL Instant Messenger. But technology didn’t stop there. It has become an ever-evolving fixture in the lives of Millennials. For instance, social media has given Millennials a unique real-time view of their friend’s lives and experiences, giving them an insatiable hunger for new adventures. What’s more, access to the rest of the world is literally in the palm of their hands via smartphones.
What makes Millennials happy? — Experiences
Forget Prada, bring on Peru: For Millennials, happiness and experiences go hand-in-hand. Whether it’s a local music festival or a global, multicultural excursion, Millennials are believers in the “experience economy.” They gain satisfaction through experiences, rather than things. Their #YOLO (You Only Live Once) motto inspires them to make the most of today, and that doesn’t mean a fancy car, but doing something interesting. As Millennials enter their prime earning years, their insatiable craving to find happiness through the experiential doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. While it’s easy to think of this generation as a bunch of kids who just want to have fun, embrace and inquire about their love of experiences – and don’t expect them to slow down just because they’re growing up.
Generation Edge: born after 1995
Gen Edgers are young and under the researcher’s eye; it isn’t certain what will define their happiness. Observations indicate they are self-reliant, resourceful and enjoy learning how to conquer new things.
What appears to make Gen Edgers happy? — Learning
Seventy percent of Gen Edgers watch more than two hours of YouTube content each day1, making it the favorite website for this generation.2 What are they watching? They’re filling those hours with DIY content, personal video blogs and social commentary. In fact, many Edgers are taking advantage of free online content to teach themselves how to write code, how to change a car’s oil and everything in between. So, the next time you see Edgers staring at a screen, don’t assume they’re just watching a funny cat video, they may be doing what seems to make them happy – learning.
While money certainly doesn’t equate to happiness, for each generation, it represents a way to invest in the things that matter most. Loyalty. Impact. Autonomy. Experiences. Learning. As the generations move through different life stages, they will continue defining their parameters for what living a joyful, happy life looks like.
1 Market Wired. (2015, March 30). Deep Focus’ Cassandra Report: Gen Z Uncovers Massive Attitude Shift Toward Money, Work and Communication Preferences. [Press release].
2 eMarketer. (2014, February 24). Teens Press Play on YouTube.
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Traditionalist, before 1946; Baby Boomer, 1946-1964; Generation X, 1965-1979; Millennial, 1980-1995; Generation Edge, after 1995
This information is prepared by an unrelated independent third party, BridgeWorks, and is provided for informational purposes only. Waddell & Reed, Inc., believes the information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but does not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided.