“I feel like I’m at a crossroads and don’t know where the fuck to go,” one of my friends texted me on a Monday morning, “I’ve been here at this crossroads for quite some time.” This is not an uncommon feeling among millennials in their twenties — I’ve had similar conversations with many of my friends and acquaintances. The fact that we’re not alone does help, as it’s nice to know that we aren’t unique to this feeling, but why are we all feeling so exhausted, frustrated, and hopeless?
To start, we have inherited a bad socioeconomic climate from previous generations. Millennials get a bad rap for being lazy, entitled, and selfish — but who was the generation that raised us? “The Boomer’s sociopathic need for instant gratification pushed them to equally sociopathic policies, causing them to fritter away an enormous inheritance, and when that was exhausted, to mortgage the future,” states Bruce Gibney, in his book, A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America, “When consequences became troubling, Boomer leadership engaged in concealment and deception in a desperate effort to hold the system together just long enough for their generational constituencies to pass from the scene.” The baby boomers’ penchant for making others clean up their messes, has left us with an unstable economy and the looming threat of climate change.
On top of all that, the cost of living is rising in many major cities around the world, and our salaries have struggled to keep up. Millennials are also finding it harder and harder to get a job, which, when coupled with their enormous student debt, has them living at their parents’ homes well into their twenties. According to Pew Research, “Millennials are also the first generation in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations (Gen Xers and Boomers) had at the same stage of their life cycles.” A university degree is no longer an asset, it’s the bare minimum of what is expected from employees. Therefore, millennials are more likely than their parents to pursue post-secondary education — the prices of which are soaring.
Growing up with advanced technology is another potential factor of psychological strain. We have everything at our fingertips. You want information about something? Google it. You want to hook up? Go on Tinder. You want to connect with a friend? Text them. You want instant validation? Post on social media. You want food? Order it from an app. We’re so used to things being instant, and because of that, we think something is wrong with us if we’re taking a long time to achieve our goals. We struggle to put in the work if we aren’t seeing immediate results. One very frightening example of this is the rise in plastic surgery among teens. According to the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 229,000 cosmetic procedures were performed on patients aged 13 to 19 in 2017 — an 11% jump from the previous year.
The prevalence of social media in our daily lives isn’t helping either. You no longer have to wonder what people are doing — they will show you. Social media broadcasts everyone’s happiest moments, which can make it seems that everyone is living their best lives, when in reality, everyone is struggling with their own problems. It seems like we are constantly connected, so why are so many of us feeling disconnected? The truth is, many of us find it easier to talk freely over text messages or online. We are forgetting about the power, and in fact, the necessity, of face-to-face communication. Social media has led us to become more socially isolated, making us one of the loneliest generations. This doesn’t mean social media is evil, we just haven’t figured out how to navigate this new landscape.
Lastly, another important piece of the puzzle is our shift in thinking. Due to globalization, millennials are more exposed to the happenings of the world. We are also travelling more than any previous generation, and thus have realized we want more out of life than just working a 9–5 office job, owning a big house, and having the ideal 2.5 kids. We refuse to accept our fate as corporate drones, and we refuse to listen to advertisements telling us we need x, y, and z, in order to be happy. We see many more possible life paths than previous generations. This, however, leads to the phenomenon of overchoice, which causes a paralysis in the decision-making process. The more choices we have available to us, the less confident we feel about our decisions.
So, back to the original question, “why are millennials so unhappy?” — well, the honest answer is: I don’t know. It could be all, or some, or none of the things mentioned above. However, despite the challenges we face, we’ve done amazing things. Inheriting a bad socioeconomic climate has led us to become entrepreneurs and independent thinkers. Growing up with advanced technology has helped us stay informed on important issues. The prevalence of social media has given us a platform on which we can speak out about injustice. We are a generation of strong, smart, and socially-conscious individuals, and we’re going to change the fucking world.