Vain generation?

If you are a college student – congratulations. You have more education opportunity and career prospects available to you than members of your parents’ generation. Oh, you’re probably more self-absorbed and conceited than they were.

That assertion is based on the work of professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University and W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia. The two researchers examined the responses of 16,475 college students who responded to questions in the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006. They say the number of students with above-average NPI scores increased 30 percent over 24 years. The trend is disturbing considering the effects of excessive hubris.

As Twenge relates, narcissists “are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over controlling and violent behavior.” Ultimately, narcissists tend to lead a less-than fulfilling life.

Confidence is an essential seasoning in a well-balanced personality. A healthy degree of self-assurance enables us to look future employees in the eye when we tell them about our capabilities, and it can be helpful in developing social relationships. But just like salt, if it is used too liberally, it can ruin even the most delectable entree.

Narcissism is no new phenomenon; it existed long before the disorder’s namesake Narcissus became enamored with his own reflection in the spring at Donacon, and history is replete with anecdotes of epic megalomaniacs. King Darius, who fancied himself a god, ordered soldiers to whip the sea when a storm stalled his invasion of Greece. And, in more recent history, Lee de Forest, the self-proclaimed father of radio, tried unsuccessfully to commission his wife to author an autobiography titled “I Married a Genius.” Stories such as these illustrate the imbalance individuals face when they can’t reconcile reality with their inflated egos.

Each of us needs to find that golden mean between self-effacement and self-exaltation. Only when we strike that balance are we able to attain the truly happy life.

The above staff editorial ran in the Daily Universe of Brigham Young University. It was made available through U-Wire.