There has never been a better time to be alive. Here in the West, we enjoy levels of prosperity, comfort and security that previous generations could only dream of. Yet despite this unprecedented progress, it’s far from obvious that we are any happier than our ancestors. One in eight of our children has a mental health disorder; one in six of us is on antidepressants; and the number of teenage suicides in England and Wales has jumped 67 per cent between 2010 and 2017. Forget baby boomers, millennials, Gen X, Y or Z: we are all Generation Sad.
What can be done about this epidemic of joylessness? Many argue that we can actually learn to be happy. By practising mindfulness, we can detach from our negative thought patterns. By focusing on gratitude, we can increase our feelings of contentedness. And by improving our listening and empathy skills, we can build stronger relationships with the people around us.
But critics argue that this emphasis on our subjective state is not the answer. Rather than tracking our moods with apps and obsessing about how we feel, we need to think beyond ourselves and address the deeper structural problems in society which inflict misery on millions – such as poverty, inequality and the loss of community. Unhappiness is a social problem, which requires a major shift in our politics not small-scale schemes in emotional engineering.
So who has the answers to help Generation Sad? Should we focus on transforming ourselves or transforming society? To discuss these questions, on February 5th 2020 Intelligence Squared brings together the comedian Ruby Wax and the singer Will Young, who have both involved themselves in mental health campaigning, along with social critics William Davies, and Ashley Frawley.
Will Young image © Steve Schofield.
Speakers are subject to change.