No generation has likely been particularly overjoyed with the ones they’re sandwiched between. There must have been prehistoric grunting about the ineptitude of the latest batch of young ’uns and their slipshod approach to mastodon hunting (to say nothing of their fire-making technique). I’d also bet that the Greatest Generation was considered anything but by their teenaged offspring when it came time to borrow the family car or get a haircut.
Lately there’s been talk on opinion pages about Generation X having the right to a particular brand of grievance. My compatriots and I are a mere two-thirds the population size of our Baby Boomer parents, as well as the Millennials who followed after us. We’re getting squeezed out, so the thinking goes, by more boisterous attention-getters on either side and, according to Money magazine, being ignored by marketers and money lenders, who see better opportunities in the Boom/Mill complex.
My first reaction: So what? I’ll go about my business just fine, thanks, and I’ll somehow find a way to survive without being the target of people trying to take my money. Then I realize—what a classic Gen X response. We’re the latchkey kids who took solace in the sweet anesthesia of early MTV, rode through a couple of recessions before the Great one (as a result, we’re nothing if not experienced at moderating our optimism), then got called slackers by the very Boomers who had suddenly decided to get serious after blithely exploring the wonderlands of recreational drugs and soft rock during our childhoods. (Gen Xers complain that the Boomers ate the last of the low-hanging fruit, and we’re right.) No wonder we don’t have much use for being pandered to—we never had a chance to get used to it in the first place.
Every generation charges the one that comes after with fecklessness and insubstantiality—the things that come with youth…because they’re younger. As for the charges that Millennials are self-absorbed, I can’t say I’ve seen a lack of narcissism in humanity in general. The clichés always break down as quickly as a used Yugo. Reading the accounts of Allied war crimes committed in Europe after winning World War II tends to temper our uncomplicated admiration for the generation that indeed rescued civilization. And the Millennials’ open-mindedness and embrace of change makes their elders look like two stagecoach drivers arguing over the future of the Pony Express.
The most relevant concept here is the U-curve of human happiness—according to researchers, happiness for people around the world takes a downhill slope from our 20s until approximately our mid-to-late 40s, when it bottoms out and begins heading upward again. This means that Generation X (for variety, let’s use a more interesting sobriquet: Gen13, for the number of American generations since the Revolution) is right at the basement of that happiness U-curve—if some of us are complaining about being left out or unappreciated, bear with us. We’ll all be feeling better in five or 10 years.