As an observer of cultural change and generational difference, I took notice when High On Life posted a video in which a group of millennials encourage the 575,000 subscribers to adopt their core principles. These principles are shockingly opposed to what psychological research and common sense dictate is healthy for young minds.
The video is a tribute to the three colleagues—Charles Ryker Gamble (30), Alexey Lyakh (30), and Megan Scraper (29)—who slipped and fell to their death on July 2, 2018, while swimming in a pool at the top of Shannon Falls in British Columbia, Canada. The three celebrity vloggers (an abbreviated version of video bloggers) were renowned for documenting extreme travel adventures and posting them to the High On Life YouTube channel.
The speaker in the video praises their deceased friends for what they stood for and encourages followers to remember and embrace their values and aspirations: positivity, courage, and passion to live the best life possible. At first blush, these seem perfect—just what every parent wants their kids to embrace. But upon further examination, it becomes clear that the group’s principles pose a real threat to young minds.
Followers are encouraged to adopt two principles that are particularly dangerous.
Principle #1: “Everything that makes up your world is there because you attracted it with your own thoughts.”
Uh, no! How about all of those external influences that affect a person’s life every day, influences that are typically beyond an individual’s control? Take families, for example. Do children attract the parents they want via their developing brains inside the womb somehow? And how about parents; do they will the perfect children into existence? If that were they case, then there would be no standing jokes about avoiding family reunions or surviving Christmas at Grandma’s house.
And how about situational circumstances? Do people have flat tires because they forgot to think about driving a car with four, fully inflated tires all day? And while a person can take all reasonable precautions to avoid dangerous situations, sometimes evil people invade others’ lives and hurt them. This happens not because victims have negative thoughts about their own safety. This happens because evil exists in the world, and sometimes good people get hurt.
In all likelihood, this principle is based on the Law of Attraction, which states that “similar things attract each other, so positive thoughts bring positive things and negative thoughts bring negative things.” If that were true, all a person would need to do to get what they want is focus on the desire (the promotion, the money, the love interest, etc.), and voilà—it would be theirs. Some say the concept originated in Ancient Egypt, while others say it is rooted in Buddhist teachings; regardless, what ignited new interest in the idea was a documentary released in 2006 called “The Secret” followed by a book and DVD by Rhonda Byrne. Although wildly popular (the book is available in 50 languages with over 20 million copies in print), scientists have unequivocally disproved the law.
Principle #1 threatens young minds for at least three reasons:
- The principle is dangerous. Young people must know that just because some adventure looks exciting on YouTube does not mean that they should reenact it. There are abundantly more factors that should come into play when working through the risk versus reward decision-making process. In any potentially dangerous activity, is the Instagram photo worth loss of life and collateral damage to family and friends?
- The principle is self-serving. When people believe that focusing on their own needs and desires will bring them the best life, it leaves no room to look outside the self or to see the world through other people’s eyes. It fuels hyper-individualism, which breeds the kind of division and hate that brings progress to a standstill.
- Adopting this principle means assuming there should be no life struggles. Young people must know that every person faces difficult times. But that is okay, because they can find the strength to persevere and overcome.
Principle 2: “Listen to your emotions and choose to feel good.”
Yes. People should listen to their emotions. But before deciding to feel good, consider the possibility that feeling bad might be the better choice. People often need to work through pain in order to find closure and put traumatic events behind them. Choosing to ignore painful emotions can cause anxiety and depression, as well as physical illness such as heart disease, digestive issues, headaches, insomnia, and autoimmune disorders.
Another downside is that if people chooses to feel good, that typically means they choose to be passive. Some situations require action! It is the negative emotions, such as disappointment and frustration, that lead to problem solving and issue resolution.
It follows that one should not only listen to emotions, but also interpret them before deciding how to react. Imagine a scenario in which you have been treated unjustly. You feel mixed emotions. You are angry at the people who mistreated you and at yourself for getting into the situation. You are thankful because you have family to support you. If you follow principle #2, then you choose to feel thankful. However, putting aside the anger prevents you from seeking justice, learning from your mistakes, and helping others get through similar situations.
Sometimes it is best to put emotions aside and make a decision based on reason alone. For example, what if you were deciding what breed of dog to buy as a family pet? Maybe you had a German Shepherd you loved growing up and you hate small, yappy dogs. Now you are married and living in a condo with your wife and baby. That is the time to put aside emotions and create a rubric.
List all the breeds you like along with the characteristics you want in a dog. Assign each characteristic a weight (.2 or .5 and so on) based on how important it is to you, making sure the total of all the weights equals one. Finally, rate each characteristic for each breed; then multiply the weights by the ratings. The result is an impartial evaluation of which breed is best for your family.The result is an impartial evaluation of which breed is best for your family. In this sample rubric, the Westie wins!
Principle #2 threatens young minds for at least four reasons:
- The principle is dangerous. Avoiding difficult feelings leads to risky behaviors. People (especially young people) who do not work through their emotions tend to adopt risky coping strategies. These strategies include excessive use of alcohol, prescription drugs, and screen time, as well as sexual promiscuity.
- The principle is intellectually limiting. It paints the world as black and white—people can choose to feel good, or they can choose to feel some other way. It does not take into consideration the complexities of emotional intelligence, also known as EI. EI involves “being aware that emotions can drive our behavior and impact people (positively and negatively) and learning how to manage those emotions—both our own and others—especially when we are under pressure.”
- The principle promotes passivity. As future leaders, young people must be equipped to analyze emotions and be willing to take action when necessary.
- Adopting the principle assumes a person should always feel good. Young people must accept that in the course of their lifetime, they will experience the pain of loss, loneliness, disappointment, and so on. But that is okay, because it is important to feel those emotions. Pushing through them makes individuals stronger and more secure in who they are. People who work through their pain can empathize with others and help them power through life struggles too.
Based on the tribute video, the High On Life message to subscribers is that people are free when they can live in the moment. The channel tells viewers that living in the moment means being free from past regrets or anxiety about the future, free from controlling rules and regulations, free from the trappings of capitalism and materialism, and free to do whatever feels good.
Yes. Practicing mindfulness is a useful strategy for reducing stress and anxiety, but it is not what makes a person free. What makes a person free is the following:
- The life-long pursuit of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom
- The confidence and ability to communicate effectively face-to-face with people of all perspectives
- The capacity for selflessness and generosity
- The willingness to stand up for one’s principles and morals
That’s hard. Freedom is hard. And young people by and large are looking for an easier path forward.
The challenge is to inform young people through education, training, and dialogue that the more difficult path (the path that requires thought, reflection, hard work, and perseverance) is the richer life.
A richer life is totally worth the effort!