More on youth and happiness

More on youth and happiness

By Jennifer jarvis

Standard-Times correspondent

August 26, 2007 6:00 AM

Editor’s note: The Standard-Times ran a five-part series this past week on what makes young people happy, based on an AP/MTV nationwide poll. Today, we turn to a forum of local youths to see how they feel about the many questions raised in the poll. All but one lives in New Bedford.

Tiarra Velez, 17, strolled into the conference room dressed in a casual shirt and jeans. She avoided the coffee laid out for her and asked for orange juice instead while she chatted with her peers.

In typical teenage fashion, the conversation turned to shoes. She recalled how she had saved $5 a week for seven weeks to buy a pair of white shoes she wanted.

“I took care of those sneakers like they were the most beautiful things I’ve ever had,” she said with a grin.

Despite the lighthearted subject matter, Miss Velez expressed considerable wisdom for her years about responsibility, patience and the value of a dollar.

She wasn’t alone.

Ten young adults gathered at The Standard-Times earlier this week to offer a local perspective on the nationwide AP/MTV poll that asked 1,280 people ages 13 to 24 what makes them happy.

Ranging in age from 15 to 21, the young people in the S-T’s focus group spoke candidly about how money, family, school and other issues affect their happiness.

One of the most striking findings of the national poll was the disparity between whites and minorities in their overall happiness. While 72 percent of whites said they are happy with life in general, only 56 percent of blacks and 51 percent of Hispanics said the same.

That finding doesn’t surprise Angel Diaz.

“I’ve just never seen it on paper before,” said the 17-year-old, who is of Puerto Rican descent.

Although some participants perceived their white peers as happier because they have more possessions, others said they didn’t need a lot of money to be happy.

“I think that if you have enough, it’s not really about having more money,” said Mitchell Garner, 21, a senior at New Bedford High School. “I’m fine with being stable.”

Poverty, several of the youths pointed out, does not breed happiness.

Monica Gomes, 16, also a senior at NBHS, sees poverty in stark terms.

“There’s a lot of people who would kill for money because they’re poor and they have hardly anything,” said Monica, a senior at New Bedford High School.

Alex Tatlock, 21, said he is originally from Honduras, but was adopted as an infant and now lives in Boston. He only recently met his Honduran family.

“They’re poor as dirt,” he said. “It was a huge mind blow, because I’m adopted by a white family, middle class, in America. You know, (we) don’t really have a lot of worries, compared to a Third World country …”

The focus group backed up the findings of the AP/MTV poll, which said males were more likely than females to say they wanted to be rich.

‘so say now you’ve got yourself a girlfriend,” Angel Diaz said. “You’re the man in the relationship. You’re gonna go out and spend all kinds of money because that’s your duty.”

He said many young men today want to be rich to fulfill what they see as their obligation to be the breadwinner.

“The man makes the money, he brings home the bacon. It’s just always been like that.”

Still, many of the female focus group members expressed a desire to make enough money to support themselves, rather than relying on a man.

“My mother was a single mother, raising me and my sister, and I see how she raised us and how we really struggled to get by,” said Tiarra Velez.

As she was growing up, she promised herself she would get a high-paying job in a medical field so she could support her own family.

“I want to be able to get by in life without struggling and worrying about last month’s bill about the electric,” she said. “I couldn’t care less about money, but I want enough to get by.”

Financing an education was also a source of stress for some of the young people.

“That’s going to be a major issue,” Joshua Santiago said. A senior at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School, the 17-year-old plans on attending college a year from now and knows money will be tight.

Education itself, however, was a source of happiness for many of the forum participants, reflecting the AP/MTV poll that found more than half of young people say school makes them happy.

“I really do enjoy school, just learning and being with my friends,” said Rachel Campoli, 15, a sophomore at Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth.

School can also be a means of escaping a bad home life, the youths pointed out.

“They don’t say it straight up that they like school, but a lot of kids do because I think that’s the only place where they can see all their friends and just talk and just be a young kid,” said Joceline Rocha, 19, a junior at UMass Dartmouth. ‘sometimes when you go home you don’t have time for any of that or you’re caught up in strife.”

Eight of the10 local youths said Mom or Dad topped their list of role models, as did nearly half of the people surveyed for the AP/MTV poll.

“My mom has been my foundation in my life,” said Mr. Diaz. “I’m a mama’s boy. I’m real proud to admit it.”

Tianna Wixon, 15, named her grandmother as her hero. She and brother David, 17, have lived with their grandmother since they were in preschool.

‘she’s been there for me,” Tianna said.

For David, it was his great-grandmother, who died in March.

‘she used to take me to the mall, everything,” he said.

A common theme among many of the focus group participants was the belief that momentary pleasures do not make for an overall happy life.

“I used to drink and do drugs,” said Mr. Garner, as the room grew silent to listen to his story. “I felt like I was happy.”

He joined a gang and went out partying and drinking constantly, he said. The drugs helped him forget any worries he had in his life. But it came at a cost.

“As I was doing it, I was hurting people that loved me,” he said. He thought of his baby brother and knew he didn’t want the same life for him.

‘so I decided I’d stop drinking, I’d stop smoking. First, I got out of the gang.”

He said the short-lived happiness of his former life is nothing compared to the genuine fulfillment he now gets from being a positive role model.

“I can interact with more people. I can do more things with my life,” he said.

Mr. Tatlock said he could relate to Mr. Garner’s experience.

“We need to focus more on long-term happiness,” he said.

He said he had done time in jail for drug and assault charges, but left that life two years ago and hasn’t looked back.

“I’ve just become happy with myself,” he said. “I’m making myself happy in a positive way.”