Why the youth no longer have the monopoly of exuberance

Youths protest along Changamwe Road in Mombasa. They claim a Chinese construction company has sidelined them by employing only foreigners. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

Someone complained to me that every age group has its share of exuberance. He suggested the youth only portray more exuberance but have no monopoly of it.

I tend to agree. Exuberance, the great feeling that life can be good and opportunities and prospects are endless is distributed across all ages and maybe even generations.

Some nations are more exuberant than others. We could even design an exuberant index. Even children have their exuberance. With no worries, they can afford to be exuberant.

Just watch them play. Their dependence on parents and the rules mute their exuberance.

The youth’s exuberance hinges on the forthcoming independence.

They will soon earn their own money and be free to take what is forbidden like alcohol and cigarettes.  Don’t we keep reminding them they are not 18? The fact that their mental and physical strength is at their apogee adds to the exuberance.

They rarely visit hospitals unlike children or the elderly. In the middle age, the exuberance is attenuated by more responsibility from child-rearing and workplace competition and the need to save for old age. The reality of life that it never turns out the way one expected farther mutes the exuberance of the middle age. As students, the youth were equal but in the career world, differences emerge.

The hard reality turns irrational exuberance to rational exuberance. The thought of finally growing old after middle age coupled with regrets or success of previous stages in life leads to a new kind of exuberance, the midlife crisis. This group wants to be young again, buying sports cars, getting into new relationships and behaviours that mirror the youth.

Become monotonous

And why not? Children are out of diapers and economic freedom is a reality. Career has become monotonous and even relationships. Why not seek new exuberances?

Divorces, mpango wa kando are common around this time. 

The elderly, after midlife enjoy their exuberance too. But it much depends on how they lived through previous waves of exuberance.

If one was successful through earlier stages, the old age is a source of great exuberance. They take pride in the achievements in life from bringing up the next generation to creating an inheritance. There is exuberance in seeing your grandchildren or great-grandchildren or feeling satisfied with your life and ensuring continuity.

There is exuberance in watching the sunset at your balcony or watching children chase butterflies or playing around. Attending graduations, weddings and other ceremonies are the pedestals of the newly found exuberance. The promise of the afterlife adds to exuberance. For those whose earlier stages were not full of exuberance, the same applies to later life.

Regrets follow when it’s too late to do anything about it. In traditional societies exuberance of the elderly was assured, the many children had time to take of you; you were valued for your wisdom. Today, the families are smaller and children often live far away leading to muted exuberance in old age. Nursing or old people’s homes are trying to keep exuberance up, but can’t replace the family. 

It seems exuberance is closely correlated with physical stamina.

The exuberance seems to lag or follow economic power. The exuberance of the youth comes before earning power. The exuberance of the middle age peaks as earning power peaks. The exuberance of the elderly comes after getting power.

Government policies

We must add that exuberance curves are different depending on your social-economic status.

The rich and affluent go through different exuberance curves compared with the poor. Our cultural background feeds into exuberance.

Do you have a good social support system? Even government policies like pensions can affect your exuberance. Have you noted exuberance is also regional, with some communities feeling life is better and can be better? Why do we all want to visit Nairobi or become Nairobians? 

Exuberance can be inherited, noted how some families are successful across generations? The family name becomes a source of exuberance. There is some exuberance from being a Kenyatta or Kennedy or Gandhi.

Check the foreign names we give our children. Some counties package their national exuberance and use it to catalyse their economic growth.

Media can be a powerful conveyor of exuberance. How do American movies portray Americans?

What of other nations? What do we show the outside world? Why do we aspire to visit the US and not Russia?

The surprise win by Donald Trump was about rebuilding the American exuberance. Boris Johnson and other Brexiteers are also trying to create a new kind of British exuberance, possibly an echo from the empire’s heydays. Economists prefer to call exuberance the “feel-good effect.”

And it can be captured by national statistics. When we expect the economy to improve, we consume more and create plenty of jobs. We could hoard money when we are not exuberant and lead to recession.

My talk with most businessmen in Kenya seems to suggest the state of exuberance is low and next year’s GDP growth could be lower. One worrying trend in Kenya is that the level of national exuberance seems to go down from one generation to the next. Parents seem to have been happier than their children.

We hear too often of the good old days when jobs were in plenty.

-The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi

The Standard
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