Happily Ever After Syndrome

ideal future, generation gap, happy ending, teen dreams, hopes, career

When I ask audiences to describe the next generation many throw out words like dreamy, idealistic, optimistic and fame-hungry. Recently, I was hosting a teen focus group on the idea of ‘ideal futures’ and one 14 year-old participant said:


“Honestly, I think my future is going to be me waiting for my happily ever after.”


I asked her why she used the word ‘waiting’ instead of the word ‘working.’ After all, I pushed her, happily ever after doesn’t just happen. This started a flurry of conversation around the idea of a happily ever after syndrome where many teens and their peers idealistically hope (not work) for everything to work out in their favor. We outlined how this plays out for our youth:


1. Wait Not Work


Is there a path to a happily ever after ending? Teens say that there must be and it looks like their lives—going to specially picked out schools, taking AP and honors classes, playing three sports and building their resume in grade 5. This is a lot of work, but many of the teens in the room felt like if they do what they are ‘supposed’ to do and wait—this magical happily ever after will come.


2. But, What Does It Look Like?


I asked this girl, “Ok, you are waiting for your happily ever after. What does that look like exactly?” She looked at me blankly and then burst out laughing. “Well, I guess I never thought about it. I guess,” she paused, waving her hands wildly, “It’s some kind of perfect place where everything works out for you.” I think that many of our teens and twenty-somethings (me included) believe in this notion of ‘a perfect time’ where one day everything will work out, every drawer will be cleaned, chores won’t have to be done and money problems aren’t there. The more I talk about this with my peers I realize we do have this notion in our head—but like happily ever after, I don’t think that exists.


3. Born With the Expectation


One of the most important parts of this happily ever after expectation is that many young people feel they deserve this perfect ending. Whether that is from the praise they were given from day one or the grueling high school schedule many teens go through, the expectation of an ideal life is tremendous. I have learned working with teens that they have the dangerously false belief that they have already worked hard enough in their short life and somehow it is going to get easier from here. Many older generations would argue that teens and twenty-something’s today have a whole lot of work coming!


What can we do? How do we help teens understand that the best part of life is doing work we love and that there is no perfect landing place where nothing ever goes wrong? I don’t know–I am just realizing it myself. The most important part of the happily ever after syndrome is talking about it. After the focus group I have spent many hours talking to other teens, twenty-somethings and adults about the phenomenon and gained great understanding for my own life. I hope we can talk to the teens in our life about what they do expect from their futures and without killing dreams, help them be grounded in their hopes and desires for their purpose.


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4 Responses to “Happily Ever After Syndrome”

  1. Dr. Robyn Silverman
    September 26, 2011 at 6:08 am #

    I was chatting with a teen about this notion recently, Vanessa, and one of the dangerous fall-outs from this attitude is that risky behavior will some how “work out” without a problem- and may in fact help them to find this happily ever after.  The conversation circled around teens having sex and, as this teen told me, some of her friends believe that if by chance they get pregnant, it will be fine, because they can just go onto the show 16 and pregnant and all will work out.  I think many teens have always had a tendency to experiment and take risks– but reality TV, the internet, and some other newer factors have changed the game and the perception of what is, indeed, reality.  Who needs to work when you can just be famous?  Of course, there are many teens who stay grounded– and I think this has to do with strong role models and getting involved with your passion early.  I talk about S.P.A.R.K. in the asset chapter of my book, Good Girls Don’t Get Fat, and I truly believe that those teens who develop their assets early and have the support to realize their dreams and passions, connect work to joy and creating (actively) the future they really want.

  2. Chris
    September 26, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    This is something we need to consider, that specific work can help you achieve a specific goal. I myself forget this and get totally sidetracked. Most of the time I and I am sure others really just think in the back of our minds that things will just work out and be amazing to boot.

    I am not sure how I am going to help my 4 little kids learn this and avoid the entitlement mentality that goes on in the youth of today.

    Thanks for your post Vanessa.

  3. Jeanne Mock
    September 26, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    This is definitely a real thing, and a real problem. The newest generation just believes that everything will just work out for them, and they may not even have to work for it. I’m not really sure where this idea came from… “you can do anything you put your mind to” seems to be their motto, but maybe that phrase just doesn’t talk enough about working?? Who knows!

  4. WMW
    September 29, 2011 at 9:43 am #

    It also might be growing in to the maturity that defines “Happily Ever After” more simply, as a healthy body, onging sense of optimism and loving relationships, not necessarily material success or not having to work too hard…

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