MTV/AP/Social Technologies Study Finds Today's Youth Pragmatic in Their Pursuit of Happiness

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What makes 12-24 year olds happy? That was the question MTV hired the futurist consulting and research firm Social Technologies to answer earlier this year.

What makes 12-24 year olds happy? That was the question MTV hired the futurist consulting and research firm Social Technologies to answer earlier this year.

The important new study led to surprising findings about this group.
"Youth will continue to perplex adults in their pursuit of happiness," explains Andy Hines, Social Technologies' director of custom projects, who led the study. "They will exhibit a careful mixture of idealism and aspirations, tempered with a grasp of realities and practicalities."

Hines and his team found youths will pursue four pathways to happiness:

1. Transitional Tradition

BFF. Friends are and will continue to be the most important relationships contributing to youth happiness. 80% of the youth polled said that having lots of close friends is very or somewhat important; 23% said that when they go out with friends, they stop feeling unhappy.

Parents Needed. Despite minor annoyances, youth will continue to depend on their parents as a vital source of security and happiness. Nearly half of the respondents mentioned at least one of their parents as a hero.

Religion à la Carte. Youth will increasingly seek happiness via spirituality and faith. "I'm not religious, but having spiritual life is important," said Steven B., 21, of Atlanta. "There needs to be a purpose for life. If I didn't have it, I don't know where I'd be."

My Family Commitment. A resurgence of interest among youth in traditional family structures will gain momentum. 90% of respondents said they think it is likely they will be married to the same person their whole life.

2. All About Me

No Body's Perfect. Body image and traditional routes to good health will be important aspects of happiness for many youth. "At my school, skinny is what everyone's trying to be," said Vanessa A., 13, of Philadelphia. "People make fun of fat (but) also of the skin-and-bones look."

Money Matters. Money is increasingly seen by youth as a means rather than an end. Relative wealth and status are more important than absolute. 73% said the kind of stuff they have makes them happy. 69% said they want to be rich -- but 51% said it is not at all likely or not too likely that they will actually be rich.

Almost Famous. Youth, especially younger people, fantasize about fame, but are savvy enough to know it is unlikely, and most will settle for a good career. "I want to be famous or a skater or a basketball player, but I don't think it will happen," said Nik O., 12, of Phoenix. Zachary G., 13, of Philadelphia said: "In the future, I want more peace and just a better life… a good job, and to take care of the kids."

3. My Life, My Time, My Way

Take Control. Youth will take control of their own happiness. 91% said they have goals for the future (81% have career/work goals, 64% education, 62% family, 63% money, 48% travel, 17% sports, while 12% hope for fame).

No Challenge Too Extreme. Youth see few obstacles in their pursuit of happiness that they cannot overcome. Concern for the future causes stress for only 20% of the 13-17 year olds polled, but 40% of those 18-24 years old feel concern.

Unplugged Meltdown. Technology will stress youth… only when it's unavailable. "I'd be stressed if I didn't have a cell phone," said Cole M., 15, of Atlanta.

Uniquely Generic. Growing youth individuality and self-expression will be tempered by the need to fit in, rather than rebel. 83% said they'd rather be their own person than fit in with their peers. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they are happier in a group. We sensed a rebellious streak, but it was clearly not too far outside of peer group or family norms.

4. Virtual Community

Tech Me. Technology will be important for staying in touch as well as for the pleasure of the moment. 37% of the youths polled said they play videogames to stop unhappiness. 61% said technology helps them make new friends. In the 24 hours before the survey, half of the respondents said, they sent a text message; 71% said they received one.

Virtual & F2F. Youth will make little distinction between face-to-face and virtual friendships. They will have many friends they may never meet in person. 62% of youths polled have used social networking sites like MySpace and FaceBook; 53% have created their own profiles on such sites; 33% said they have friends online they've never met in person.

The bottom line: In the end, the research showed that it is a popular misconception that today's youths are self-absorbed or indifferent to social issues, explains Social Technologies' Traci Stafford Croft, who traveled to three cities (Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Atlanta) with MTV's staff to interview about five dozen 12-24 year olds. The Associated Press then surveyed another 1,280 youths to flesh out the initial findings.

"Any apparent indifference might reflect the fact that they have a good grasp on reality and are simply being practical about what they get upset about or involved in," Croft says.

Hines concludes: "This generation is not likely to march in DC to protest the war in Iraq. But they do care about the country, the environment, and the planet. They are just showing it in a way that is different from their parents and grandparents."

About Social Technologies:
Social Technologies is a global research and consulting firm specializing in the integration of foresight, strategy, and innovation. With offices in Washington, DC, London, and Shanghai, Social Technologies serves the world's leading companies, government agencies, and nonprofits. A holistic, long-term perspective combined with actionable business solutions helps clients mitigate risk, make the most of opportunities, and enrich decision-making.

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