Happiness and YA

When I was a teen, I believed I would be happy if I would just fall in love, if I would have a boyfriend, if I would find that perfect someone. I wasted a lot of time not being happy because I didn’t have those things.

So much time lost.

But this is older-me talking, and older-me knows many things I wish younger-me would have realized.

I read an article yesterday (thanks for sending it Lauren) about thinking beyond the things we desire. Actually, the article is about suicide. At one point, it makes the point of questioning the things we focus on. Instead of focusing on dying, why not focus on what you could do with your life. If you had three months to live, what would you do? Would this liberate you in some way?

I imagine older-me having the following conversation with younger-me:

OM: What’s keeping you from being happy?
YM: I don’t have a boyfriend. No one loves me.
OM: *shakes head* So many people love you, but would having a boyfriend really make you happy?
YM: Yes?…yes.
OM: How would having a boyfriend actually change things? What’s really keeping you from being happy.
YM: …I suppose I am.

What if, in our writing, we can help young adults realize this? Realize there’s more to life than what they see on the surface?

I have seen a change over the last years– more YA books are available that show teens having real relationships that go beyond the surface, are about girl’s learning how to love themselves without a boy loving them first (or vice versa!), that have teenagers who learn how to think for themselves and are proud of doing so.

At the same time, there are still so many characters who are bound by certain things they believe will make them happy. If they can just date the popular guyif they can get into the right school…if they can…

But what if we can get away from that? What if instead, we can help teenagers understand that “No one is in control of your happiness but you…” –Barbara De Angelis

Learning this truth, that we control our happiness, is a sort of freedom. And maybe in our writing, we can help others see it too.

Do you know of any books that send the message that we are in charge of our own happiness? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

**As a note, I am in no way commenting on depression here, or any sort of chemical imbalance. That is a different topic entirely.

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3 thoughts about "Happiness and YA"

  • Kiersi says:

    Great post, Juliana! I think this is something all YA writers forever will and do struggle with: real characters who are honest to their age group, but who do something meaningful. Because, like you point out, the 16-year-old versions of ourselves WERE obsessed with those things. Do I have a boyfriend? Do the popular girls like me? And even if they seem silly or trivial to us now, they were so important to us then.

    I love YA books that show both: this is what so many teenagers think, and this is how one particular teenager learned that there was more to life.

  • Best article I’ve read in a while.
    Even out 22-year-old selves are still not totally free from these silly priorities, but at least we’re closer to the truth than before.

  • Jess Byam says:

    I love Kirsten White’s Paranormalcy series for this very reason. Yes, Evie does have the boyfriend, but that’s not what makes her happy. She is happy because she makes decisions for herself and doesn’t let anyone else decide her own future or happiness for her. I also love Evangeline from Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock. She knows what she wants and won’t even let love stand in the way of doing what is best for her people.

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