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The Book

The Happiness Lab

One Teen’s Journey to Find Meaning, Balance + Place in this World 

Why are American Teens so Sad?

      1. Heading up the list:

 2. Social media use
3, Lack of real social connections
4. The world’s stressors
5. Overbearing parenting

High schoolers are the saddest they’ve ever been – in the United States, possibly the world.  

Social media use, lack of real social connections, the world’s turmoil, and overbearing parenting are the top four causes teens cite for their unhappiness, according to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), but it is something even more elusive.
In my own life, my parents are loving and have given me every opportunity to succeed: this book is not about them. Rather, it's about the greater forces at work in society and in the world.

First and foremost, many teens are forced to grow up fast, have more exposure to the world, and take on adult-like stress to perform, produce, and repeat – day after day.  

There are continuing distractions everywhere, at a time when we are asked to focus harder. Nearly every minute of every day is mapped out for us. If we do take some time to decompress, a helicopter parent usually asks, “Why are you just sitting there?”

While it’s hard to assess how many teens truly struggle each day, 44 percent of high schoolers persistently feel hopeless or sad according to new research from the CDC. Staggering. The same research in 2009 revealed 26 percent. 

And while sadness is a normal part of life, I am among the generation that never knew life prior to social media, perfectionism, school shootings, COVID, George Floyd, vaping and fentanyl, climate disasters, active shooters, domestic terrorism, overbearing parenting styles, cancel culture, etc. 

We are the quarantine generation – for two years, we sat, staring at the four walls of our bedrooms, while trying to focus on online school. It sucked. No one yet knows the long-term impact.

We didn’t make this world; it was handed to us.

I am Drake Alexander Piscione, and I am a Gen-Zer, who was sad and lost.  In a dark place.  I was caught in the middle between the expectations of my parents, teachers, community, and….in pursuit of happiness, my definition of happiness.

As high schoolers, we think all the time about what success and happiness really mean. We explore all the different facets of the American teenage experience, trying to figure out what will bring us joy and fulfillment. Is it money? Being an influencer? Consumerism? Love? A certain body image? Good grades? Getting into a selective college? 

For me, the question that lingered in my mind was: Will getting into my top-choice college make me happy? I spent so much time and energy focusing on getting into an Ivy League school, thinking that it would somehow bring me the happiness and success that I desired.  

But as I went through the college admissions process and learned more about myself, I began to realize that happiness and success are far more multi-layered, and something that I had to actually work at.

I had been following the path of fitting in and it wasn't until my senior year when I became aware, very aware. Something was off. Not right. I had high-functioning depression, where I could get up every day, be successful at school, sports, and work. But, something was definitely off. Over a six-month journey that continues today, and through a lot of hard work, I slowly pulled myself out…. of this very dark vortex.

My multilayered journey started here.

In my junior year of high school, I scrolled through the course offerings for senior year, and my eyes landed on this class:

        “This course challenges the norms of societal expectations on American teens. In doing so, the course will survey philosophies and religious paths that emphasize the practice of happiness rather than its pursuit. These include the classical Greek philosophy of Stoicism, elements of Hinduism, Taoist philosophy, and, in particular, lineages in Buddhist practice and philosophy. We also examine literature from positive psychology as well as elements of indigenous and Western religions. The course encourages students to try out different contemplative trainings and to reflect on their effects.”

Knowing that I was applying to an Ivy League school for Early Action, I asked my college counselor for guidance. She pushed for me to take, yet again, another AP class. "Drake, if you want to get into a top school, you have to take another AP.  This will look better on your transcript," my counselor insisted. 

But the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS class was calling me. 

So, despite the pressure to play it safe and follow the conventional path, I took the risk.  

It was a decision that changed my life. 

The teacher of PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, Mr. Brown, had battled with severe clinical depression, and was passionate about using his experience to inspire others to combat what he describes as an “alarming mental health crisis for kids.”.  

With Mr. Brown's guidance, I began to slowly understand that my own struggles and hardships could be turned into opportunities for growth and positive change. The class and the required activities gave me a newfound sense of purpose and direction. Or at least a roadmap for pursuing my own happiness, and  I have been journaling and documenting my journey since the very first day of class
It is not always easy, but I am determined to keep moving forward. I realize that happiness is a journey, not a destination. It's something that we have to work on every day, and it requires effort and commitment. 

I made such progress in Mr. Brown’s PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS class that he encouraged me to collect my experiences and write a book from my perspective.  Of course, being a Gen Z’er, I was all in – this felt like my passion, and I wanted to not only capture my thoughts on paper, but to also leverage my connections to build out a multimedia platform, so that other teens can learn from my experience and find their own path towards happiness as well.  We need this book!  

Welcome to The Happiness Lab, a memoir about understanding, embracing and achieving happiness, written by a younger person for younger people (and the people who love and support them).  Through personal reflections and suggestions that have helped me, I dive into the journey of finding meaning, balance, exploring topics like mental health, school-work-life balance, relationships, physical and spiritual wellness and much more.  
This book will be one part travelog, as I write about local and even a few global experiences that have deeply impacted how I think.  Being able to see new places or experience familiar places in new ways has made me question what I want out of life.  There isn’t just ONE way of living or studying or working – it’s a message that I see all around me, and one that really hit home when I traveled. The book will demonstrate how I incorporate daily experiences, observations, and other learnings from my neighborhood into my daily life. I go into great detail on how I jettison toxicity out of my life, and how I’ve been able to identify and work towards my own goals, practicing self-care, developing passions, and building meaningful relationships that inevitably became a roadmap to happiness.  
Each section of the book is based on a season of the year corresponding to and symbolizing the characteristics that help shape The Happiness Lab –  seasons that bring out Mindfulness, Renewal, Joy, and Wisdom. 
Winter (mindfulness). The darkest period of my life, where I needed to go through the struggle, unlearn most everything that was expected of me, and seek mindfulness. 
Spring (renewal).  As I start to renew who I truly am, I work on relationships, look at intentional communities, and garner an ecosystem of people I find connection with.
Summer  (joy).  I bring play back into the mix of my life, learning how to have fun again.
Fall (wisdom).  I incorporate a strong sense of purpose in life, and try not to concern myself with what others expect of me.  

Another teen’s path to happiness might look vastly different from mine, but what I know is that you have to break down everything you know, and question what makes you happy and identify what brings you despair or pain.  You have to turn off the noise, and sit in silence before heading down a different path of cognizance.  You have to map out your personal passage to happiness, balancing many elements of life (school, work, play, friends, family, paying forward).  Then you have to practice the balance daily, knowing that some days will be difficult and completely off.  All of this sounds like a great idea on paper, but this book will be real, and will offer guidance and tips that I’ve learned so far.  I’m not an expert:  I’m just a teen struggling with many of the same issues that others face in their lives, and I hope that by being honest, readers can relate and find inspiration.  

Within the pages of The Happiness Lab, I will help readers understand the importance of meaning and balance with four main goals in mind:

Personal growth.  I will share what I’ve learned about developing positive personal habits, or improving oneself in some small way each day.
Relationships.  In order to foster positive and meaningful interactions with others, I’ll include keys to building strong, supportive personal and professional relationships.
Health and well-being.  Goals related to being present through meditation,  exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and managing stress.
Career Path.  Finding a meaningful career and not simply one that is expected.
The writing style of The Happiness Lab is akin to the Gen Z mindset of the Tik-tok generation. The personal reflections are broken into selective days over the course of the year, composed in very short chapters that are in a conversational and relatable tone. I will weave The Happiness Lab prescriptives throughout the entries, and I’ll include exercises at the end of the book, to make the book more useful to readers.  Because these topics are of great interest to me (and because I’m living with them right now), I’ll explore universal themes of teen pressure, societal expectations, and self-discovery in a coming of age story.   

Again, I’m just a teen who stumbled across a new way of thinking in a high school class, but I found it was profound.  As I read books aimed at an adult readership (which I very much enjoyed, and which were eye-opening to me), I couldn’t help but think that younger readers also needed their own versions of books that could encourage exploration and give them some time for reflection and understanding in their lives before jumping into all that comes next: the treadmill of college, job and adulthood.  I’d like to share this approach – that it’s OK to step off the beaten path and to find yourself, to learn some new techniques for managing stress, and to forge your own path.  

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