When was the last time you felt completely happy? When you weren’t thinking about anything else - just the moment you’re in, the people you’re with, and that sweet feeling of being utterly satisfied.
Recently and regularly? You’re one of the lucky ones.
What if I was instead to ask you, when was the last time you felt like you should be happy, but instead you find yourself feeling…numb. Sure you can appreciate the moment, but somehow you struggle to connect to it on the level you know you should be.
If you instead relate to this, you’re not alone. I’ve felt the same way. And even though I know I should be feeling more, somehow I just can’t.
Welcome to the hard truth of being a millennial.
Millennial. A word thrown around so much by advertisers, marketers and media alike that it’s become a buzz term deserving of a scorning eye roll. A word associated with the struggle to get on the housing ladder, the struggle to find good jobs, and a shit load of debt.
DEFINING THE MILLENNIAL
But what does being a millennial really mean, and why are we all so permanently dissatisfied with how our lives are shaping up?
By definition, a millennial (or Gen Y) is someone born between 1981 – 1997. Our parents – the baby boomers – grew up through the glory years of escalating economic growth, so much so that their philosophy of ‘work hard and you’ll get what you deserve’ really paid off. Unfortunately, this same philosophy does not apply to being a millennial. You see, our parents made the somewhat misguided (but well intentioned) mistake of telling us repeatedly throughout our childhoods that we could be whatever we wanted to be. We were told we were special, talented, and that our futures were bright, filling us with a sense of optimism for what adult life would bring. Our expectations were sky high.
As it goes, life doesn’t work like that. You see, what our parents did right in their former years was understand that a successful, prosperous life takes years of hard graft (a mentality instilled in them by their parents, the GI Generation, who grew up during the depression and fought in WWII). They understood that you don’t just graduate from school or university and walk into the job of your dreams. Your dream job could take ten, twenty years even to come to the fore. A happy, meaningful life takes work, and it takes time.
But us millennials, we’re impatient. We’ve grown up in a world of instant gratification, where you can binge on a Netflix series, order the most obscure cuisine to your home, and ask Google absolutely anything, all with just the click of a button. So alongside growing up with a misplaced sense of optimism, we also want everything now. Good, meaningful jobs. A solid relationship. A home of our own. Savings in the bank. We’re thrust into the world, many of us with good grades or a great degree, full of expectation and hope, and what we thought would happen – instant success – doesn’t. The job market is a complicated, competitive beast. House prices are through the roof. Online dating has become the new norm. And as it turns out, we’re not so special after all.
What has this left us with? It’s a bleak picture. A generation of young people left feeling fundamentally unhappy, disappointed, and with crippling self-esteem issues. Friends suffering with depression. Partners struggling with anxiety. An abundant sense of loneliness, and a disconnection from the world. Sound familiar?
A SOCIAL MEDIA WORLD
And then of course, there’s social media. Our best friend, and our biggest nemesis. At last count, Facebook had 1.86 billion monthly users a month, Instagram 600 million. The aim of these social networks is to connect us with each other, and yet in reality, it’s having quite the opposite effect. Instead of building and fostering relationships, our addiction – because trust me, it is an addiction – to social media, is making us miserable. Research has even proven that people who spend more time on Facebook suffer higher rates of depression than people who use it infrequently.
The problem is that what us millennials care about most is our personal brand – the image we want to portray to the world. We publicly share our biggest triumphs, our amazing friendships, our incredible travel experiences. We want other people to know just how happy and sunny our lives are, because our feeds are flooded with similar posts from our peers. But the issue is these lives are curated – a highlights reel of only the best bits. They don’t show the breakups, the long hours at work, the times you were looked over for a job promotion, or the friendships that have drifted apart. Social media depicts only what you choose to show, so we end up thinking other people are living these incredible lives whilst ours are just a little bit shit. It’s false, it’s damaging, and it’s ruining our illusion of reality.
“If we only wanted to be happy, it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, which is always difficult, since we think them happier than they are.” – Charles de Montesquieu, writer/philosopher
You want to feel real, genuine happiness? It’s simple maths:
Happiness = reality – expectations. When the reality of someone’s life is better than they had expected, they’re happy. When reality turns out to be worse than the expectations, they’re unhappy.
It’s obvious on paper right? So why do we struggle to put it into practice? How can we shift our expectations whilst still wanting to achieve the very best life has to offer?
The answer – be present, and patient. Happiness isn’t something you can download or order from an app. It takes time, and effort. It means investing in relationships – real, face to face relationships – and opening yourself up to other people. It means finding comfort in silence, without the need to reach for your phone. It means looking around you as you experience the world, enjoying a magical sunrise just for the beautiful simplicity of the moment.
And it means putting down your phone and living for the now – not counting the clock till going home time, or living for the weekend or the next big holiday. Life happens whilst you’re not looking, in the seemingly endless days, weeks and months of monotony. It happens when you go for drinks with your friends and everyone’s preoccupied snapchatting their fancy cocktail, or when your boyfriend tries to cuddle you and you shrug him off because you’re watching some mindless Facebook video. And it happens when you’re exploring a foreign city for the first time, but your main concern is finding wifi to check your emails.
So my advice to you – and to myself – is simply this: make 2017 your year of living in the present. Forget what you think you should be doing, and instead find happiness in just being. Things will work out sooner or later, so have faith and enjoy the ride.
What does it look like when you travel whilst consciously living in the present? We challenged Canadian Instagrammer Mirae Campbell to just do that, whilst travelling on Contiki’s City to Slopes trip in Japan. The results are quite simply breathtaking – SEE THEM HERE.