Generational happiness

11.15.19

Some old sayings are old for a reason — they’re true. Take “money can’t buy happiness.” Every generation puts family, friends and health far above money and wealth when discussing happiness. And while what drives individual happiness naturally varies from person to person, there are common themes within each generation. Have you ever wondered why your parents or grandparents value a long-standing relationship and loyalty while your children or grandchildren may put cool experiences above all? Or why Baby Boomers are so optimistic but refuse to relax? At the end of the day, if money can’t buy happiness, what does provide happiness for each generation?

Traditionalist: born before 1946

Traditionalists have demonstrated fierce devotion in every facet of their lives: family, country and even beloved brands. They grew up in the aftermath of the Great Depression and are no strangers to sacrifice. Fiercely adhering to the “waste not, want not” mentality of the era, this generation often made do with very little. Once they began to prosper in the post-war economy, this generation stayed loyal to brands and companies they believed in. To this day, Traditionalists remain fiercely devoted to people and companies they have supported over the years.

What makes Traditionalists happy? — Loyalty

Relationships worth investing in: For Traditionalists, happiness means cultivating long-lasting, loyal relationships that will stand the test of time. They’ve spent a lifetime nourishing connections with friends and family, and continue to look for opportunities to impart their wisdom and values through stories, delighting in that unbreakable bond between their loved ones. As they enter their twilight years, they are devoting time to family and leaving their loved ones with a legacy of loyalty for generations to come. Traditionalists have proven that devotion remains an essential fiber of their character; they happily give it and expect it in return. Take time to build relationships with this incredibly loyal generation. Not only will the Traditionalists in your life welcome it, but you may learn a thing or two along the way.

Baby Boomer: 1946 – 1964

Boomers rode a roller coaster of change during their youth, witnessing the Vietnam War, the moon landing and the civil rights movement from their living room television sets. Despite the dramatic ups and downs during their formative years, Boomers set out to create an impactful change of their own, pushing back against the status quo and raising their voices by protesting the war, picketing for peace and advocating for women’s rights. Recognizing the value brought by their steadfast activism, Boomers forged on with an optimistic view of the future, and the change they could affect.

What makes Boomers happy? — Impact

We can (and will) change the world: For Baby Boomers, the key to fulfillment lies in making an impact. Boomers are setting aside money for their children’s and grandchildren’s futures. Donating to charities and important causes is another outlet that feeds Boomer spirits. Many are excitedly embracing the new trend of global “voluntourism” trips, which blends giving back with traveling the world. Either way, it seems Boomers’ happiness meters are at their highest when they know they’re leaving their stamp on the world.

Generation X: 1965 – 1979

As a generation that grew up when the divorce rate tripled and moms went to work en masse, Gen Xers were brought up to fend for themselves and became independent at a very young age. Lifelong proponents of “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” their independent spirit became an important part of the Xer adult identity. They also grew up in a time when trusted institutions were falling apart. Amidst 24-hour news coverage, Xers watched scandal after scandal unfold — Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Savings & Loan crisis. As a result, they became suspicious of institutions and armed themselves with a protective shield of skepticism, self-reliance and independence.

What makes Gen Xers happy? — Independence

I do what I want: Independence is the Xer sweet spot – whether it’s in the workplace or at home, the last thing Xers want to feel is trapped by anything or anyone. For Xers, the ultimate happiness is gained in autonomy. It’s found by carving out the freedom to do whatever they choose with their time, whether that means spending time with their children, hanging out with friends or pursuing personal hobbies. The next time the Xer in your life insists on researching how to fix the faucet instead of calling a plumber, realize their independent nature is calling. Remember to give them the freedom they crave or better yet, join them on the ride.

Millennial: 1980 – 1995

For Millennials kids born in the 80s and early 90s, some of the most beloved after-school activities included spending hours avoiding typhoid fever in The Oregon Trail or chatting in acronyms on AOL Instant Messenger. But technology didn’t stop there. It has become an ever-evolving fixture in the lives. For instance, social media has given Millennials a unique real-time view of their friends’ lives and experiences, giving them an insatiable hunger for new adventures. What’s more, access to the rest of the world is literally in the palm of their hands via smartphones.

What makes Millennials happy? — Experiences

Forget Prada, bring on Peru: For Millennials, happiness and experiences go hand-in-hand. Whether it’s a local music festival or a global, multicultural excursion, Millennials gain satisfaction through experiences, rather than things. Their #YOLO (You Only Live Once) motto inspires them to make the most of today, and that doesn’t mean a fancy car, but doing something interesting. As Millennials enter their prime earning years, their insatiable craving to find happiness through the experiential doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. While it’s easy to think of this generation as a bunch of kids who just want to have fun, embrace and inquire about their love of experiences — and don’t expect them to slow down just because they’re growing up.

Generation Z: 1996 - 2010

Nearly half of Generation Z is considered racial or ethnic minorities, making it one of the most diverse generations in history.1 Gen Zers refuse to check boxes to identify as Hispanic, African America, Caucasian or Asian — when they could be all or a combination of any of these races. They are proponents of self-identification and are more accepting of their peers who identify as non-binary, gay, pansexual, gender nonconforming or asexual. Gen Zers have also seen friends grown up in a wide array of family structures — from single parent to multigenerational to households with two moms or two dads. To Gen Z, everything is considered normal. This generation wants to reshape the world into a more inclusive place.

What makes Gen Z happy? — Inclusiveness

Family is who we choose: Growing up as the first digitally native generation, Gen Zers don’t distinguish between relationships with people they have met online and those they know in the physical world. Using social media to express themselves and connect with friends across the globe, they know not to trust digitally altered images and are acutely aware of online bullying. This generation believes family includes the people in your life who are most important to you, and the only essential component of a relationship is love — and it can look a multitude of ways. Believers in changing the world, Gen Zers support their LGBTQ peers and fight discrimination to ensure all people are treated equally. The next time you see Zers staring at a screen, don’t assume they’re just watching a funny cat video, they may be doing what seems to make them happy — making sure there is inclusion for all, including you.

While money certainly doesn’t equate to happiness, for each generation, it represents a way to invest in the things that matter most. Loyalty. Impact. Autonomy. Experiences. Inclusiveness. As the generations move through different life stages, they will continue defining their parameters for what living a joyful, happy life looks like.



1 Dimock, M. (2019, Jan. 17). Defining generations: Where Millennials end and Generation Z begins. Retrieved from Pew Research Center.

2 Parker, K., Graf, N. and Igielnik R. (2019, Jan. 17). Generation Z Looks a Lot Like Millennials on Key Social and Political Issues. Retrieved from Pew Research Center.


This information is prepared in part by an unrelated independent third party, BridgeWorks, and is provided for informational purposes only. Ivy Distributors, Inc., believes the information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but does not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided.