Life's Not Really That Bad, Dr. Helen


Dr. Helen Smith is a forensic psychologist in Knoxville, Tennessee "who enjoys commenting on popular culture, politics and psychological issues."

Not long ago, I caught her attention with a short post I wrote for CNBC entitled: College Freshmen: Life Sucks.

Dr. Helen, as she is known on her blog, did not much cotton to my style of writing; in fact, for someone who "enjoys commenting on popular culture" she did not seem to enjoy it at all.

The article I wrote is a vaguely amusing parody of the nature of college life—matching, in mock serious tone, a New York Times article that had just been published about the unhappiness of university students.

Dr. Helen was not amused by this.

In response to my article, she posted on her blog the following indignant rejoinder:

"This is called growing up, but in our youth oriented society, where the self-indulgent rule and the self-sufficient are suckers, it's no wonder these college freshman are so miserable. Maybe if the rewards for being a grown-up were greater and the rewards for acting like a self-indulgent teen well into your 30's were less, we would see fewer miserable college freshman."

What to say? Let's begin with a definition of our own.

Dr. Helen: This is called irony.

Where I live—in New York City—irony became popular in the late 1950's—in a neighborhood downtown known as Greenwich Village.

Irony is a very useful tool for a writer: It reflects the contrast between the literal meaning of words and the author's actual intent.

(For example: In my article, I wrote "Yes, as the great 20th Century philosopher Ally Sheedy once observed: 'When you grow up, your heart dies.'" Ally Sheedy is a wonderful actress—but, since actors don't actually write the words they speak on screen, my remark was ironic.)

You see, Dr. Helen, I'm gently teasing you a little right now: That's how the irony works.

But, to be fair, the whole irony thing may make more sense when you live in New York.

If you're ever in town, I'd love to take you to dinner.

I'll explain it all to you then. Hopefully, we'll have a few laughs—presumably at my expense.

If you have the time to spare for a short session, we might even address why I am—as you say—still "acting like a self-indulgent teen" well into my thirties.

Perhaps New York does that to you, too.


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