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Gen Y Feeling Stress? Get a Grip

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We Canadians born in the 1980s are extremely lucky. Our technology is magic, and people didn't use to self-actualize around the globe like many of us. We didn't grow up in the shadow of the World Wars or the Depression. We like to share our good lot, and activism in general has never been more mainstream. The absence of war is a recent phenomenon, practically unheard of. As a consequence of these favourable circumstances, we live in a decadent bubble where grief exists (even Eden had that tree) but it's inflated. Our status is commonly measured against the preceding generation, a very hunky dory period, but I seek comfort by looking elsewhere, not just for easy solace but as a real measure of overall how lucky we are. A brief tour of hell holes across time and space will place our grievances, however real and however warranting attention and improvement, in a happier context.

Both an Abacus and a Sun Life poll showed that 90 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 18-24 experience "excessive stress" from economic instability and underemployment. How they define "excessive," is anyone's guess, but it's a misleading relative term. After reading a novel I thought undoubtedly described a day in hell, it turned out Ivan Denisovich went to sleep in his gulag fully content: "they hadn't put him in the cells; they hadn't sent his squad to the settlement; he'd swiped a bowl of kasha at dinner..." My guess is 100 per cent of Canadians of any age would find even one minute in the life of Ivan Denisovich "excessively stressful." Say what you will about debt and the cost of living, it's a welcome concern next to gulag problems.

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During cold winters in my old, impossible to heat apartment with that expensive electric radiator (where my good friend now resides...he's about to suffer some), I used to drink tea in a sweater and read Varlam Shalamov's Kolyma Tales to feel warmer. Shalamov spent 17 years in a very remote work camp just south of the Arctic Ocean for having the temerity to describe Ivan Bunin in public as a "classic Russian writer." Of course today this freedom allows for a disgusting amount of writing about mobile gourmet food and chic fabric made by slaves, but however painful this decadent schlock is to read, writers now can indulge their imagination to an extent only dreamed about elsewhere, without worrying about imprisonment or being killed for their views. We are not forced to write about factories and farms. Yes, the publishing industry is at a crossroads, but samizdat is blissfully unnecessary. When our generation talks about hardships, and especially the much abused word "freedom," it ought to be tempered against these considerations. This didn't happen so long ago and it's still happening in places today.

As for our generation suffering economic woes for events not our doing, let's remember that everybody enters a world already made. Sixteen million died in the First World War even though only one man assassinated Archduke Ferdinand. Those who died for it weren't responsible for the web of treaties and allegiances that caused the war. The notion that the world should be set up for us is perhaps more evidence of our notorious entitlement. "The world doesn't owe you a living, it was there first." If we're going to lament over being tied to events beyond our control, it's only fair we account for past generations that fought for the various liberal causes we enjoy today, with special mention to those who kept us from speaking German under the Third Reich. Improvements are necessary, they always are, but by and large past Canadians have got the big things very right.

Indeed. Compared to the despotic large-scale murderers in power elsewhere, our politicians are acceptably corrupt and inept. They might line their pockets and fail to bring our hopes and dreams to fruition, but it's only because humans at the trough aren't immune to corruption and governing honestly and effectively is very hard to do. Solons are rare. Russia's secret police kidnapped and executed dissidents in the night, and, in an appalling show of chutzpah, sent a bill to the family left behind for the bullet. In China, right now, the government kills dissidents. Details are always murky there, and the number and nature of the executions, and possible organ harvesting, are state secrets. More transparency is forthcoming, I'm sure.

In North Korea, again this very second, millions starve while massive towers in Pyongyang remain nearly empty, like a movie set designed to try and trick rare foreigners into thinking they're visiting a plausible society. The tragedy and absurdity is almost equal. Numerous countries today forbid women from driving, and, before a crowd of applauding citizens, bury adulterers and homosexuals up to their heads and stone them to death. Europeans no longer routinely massacre each other, but one by one they're going bankrupt. America isn't sitting too pretty. Africa...umm, yah. Meanwhile, in Canada we're over-educated baristas blessed with fundamental safety and an impossible wealth of natural resources. We should be proud of being more open and pluralistic than places with a similar quality of living -- the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, Australia.

Exhausted from reporting on the insoluble problems in the Middle East (decidedly unsolved since), Mordecai Richler in This Year in Jerusalem wrote he was, "overcome by homesickness for my nearly empty, unspeakably rich, sinfully misgoverned country...I yearned for some Canadian homebrew farce rather than the daily death toll of Arab and Jew." Even our national bullying epidemic, lamentable as it is, is a bowl of cherries next to ethnic cleansing and systematic rape, being killed for your country, getting killed by your country, starvation, local militias armed with AK-47s carried by drugged out children, or other routine abominations.

We're lucky to have the time to worry about the self-esteem of our children, and our adults for that matter, or the discrepancy between the size of our childhood fantasy home and our current urban shanty. Student and credit card debt has serious implications, but the companies are not managed by Tony Soprano.

While of course we calibrate our problems and react to them according to the world we actually occupy, rather than the horrible ones we know about but know we don't live in, there's something to be said for perspective. You are probably surrounded by people offering kindness, financial advice, healthy food and yoga classes.

Our citizens are smart and caring and working on making things even better. If us young adults (my preferred epithet for this generation) were told as children we could do anything, perhaps we can take a deep breath and tell ourselves it's going to be OK.

-- Abacus Data has focused research on the Canadian Millennial. Read more here.

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