‘the Best of Times, the Worst of Times': Making Sense of Young People's Wellbeing?

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 09:45
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Mark CIESLIK, Northumbria University, United Kingdom
This paper draws on recent empirical research that explored the different ways that individuals experience wellbeing across the life course (Cieslik, 2016). I focus here on the lives of young people and contradictory research findings that suggest that many western youth are experiencing a wellbeing crisis whereas others suggest they are resilient and have mostly positive experiences of growing up. The former position suggests that structural changes to youth transitions (such as precarious routes through work and welfare) have eroded the wellbeing of young people. Whilst the latter shows that the majority of young people in western societies are usually happy most of the time. I argue that one way to make sense of these contradictory positions is to employ a more nuanced, process based conception of wellbeing (Eudaimonia) acknowledging that wellbeing is an ongoing collaborative process as well as a measurable, subjective experience (Cieslik, 2015).

I examine the different networks and practices implicated in young people’s leisure showing how their wellbeing can oscillate from good to bad events framing their (un)happiness. Often their educational and employment experiences were problematic, threatening their wellbeing but many were also connected to supportive networks and activities that allowed them to flourish. Their accounts of happiness therefore involved disappointments as well as stories of overcoming these challenges and developing creative, nourishing pursuits. This processual approach to wellbeing is one way of offering a more insightful analysis of young people’s lives that avoids the traditional divisions between cultural and transitions approaches in youth research.

 Cieslik, M. (2015) ‘Not Smiling but Frowning’: Sociology and the Problem of Happiness. Sociology 49(3) 422-37.

 Cieslik, M. (2016) The Happiness Riddle and the Quest for a Good Life. London: Palgrave.