Rick Lagrappe is 19, without a job and living at home in Shawnee, Okla. But he’s far from bummed out about life.
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 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds were generally happy with life, compared with 66 percent 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 to spend on gas for his car and has been pressed into service to care for his 6-year-old sister – the “beast.”
Lagrappe graduated from Dale High School in May with plans to join the Navy. But at 6 feet tall and 240 pounds, he says he's too heavy, so he's thinking about applying for a job at a nearby casino. First, he has to babysit his sib Angelina while his mother has surgery on both knees.
“I’ll have the little one here at home, and I’ll be taking care of her until Mom recovers,” he said. “I wish I could do more, though.”
One reason for Lagrappe’s positive state of mind: he’s “very happy” with his relationships with his family and friends, according to the poll.
Compared to 2007 results, the poll, which included young people ranging in age from 13 to 24, showed respondents are less happy with the amount of money they have – 36 percent to 31 percent, with 53 percent saying they believe it will be harder to find a job than it was for their parents, compared to 30 percent two years ago.
Fifty-nine percent said they’ll have a harder time buying a house, compared to 41 percent in 2007, and 48 percent said it will be harder to raise a family, compared to 36 percent in 2007.
Of respondents ages 13-17, 75 percent said they were happy, up from 65 percent two years ago and 72 percent of those polled from age 18 to age 24 said they were happy, up from 66 percent 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.”
The bad economy, he said, might have young people realizing “we were addicted to purchases we didn't really need. … Maybe we will think more about the relationships that matter to us, the values.”
A recent AP-mtvU poll of college students also found a big increase in the percentage of students at four-year colleges who reported being happy with the way things are going in their lives. Seventy-four percent said they were happy, up from 64 percent in 2008. That's despite an increase in the number of students who reported being stressed out 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.
And, in this country, people may be afraid to describe themselves as unhappy.
“Often in America, being unhappy is akin to being criminal,” he said. “Everybody's supposed to put on a happy face. I don't find teenagers to be unhappy, but I do find them to be quite concerned about the future, quite concerned about finding their place in the world.”
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 in the past three months.
“I think I'm lucky to have a job at this point,” said Silvay, who graduated in 2005 from the University of South Florida and now works in marketing for a hospital.
To save money, she’s abandoned luxuries such as pedicures and highlighting her hair and sticks to the basics: food, shelter, auto maintenance.
“I'm still able to do some of the things I want,” Silvay said. “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.”
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 4 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.