Editor | Cassandra Lau
Based on new research co-commissioned by the Martin Roberts Foundation and a 2018 iteration of Achieve – a two day event featuring prominent celebrities delivering talks on health, wealth and happiness -, “millennials are less content in their lives while also being more likely to feel envious towards celebs and social media stars.” Millennials, or Generation Y, are described by Neil Howe, and William Strauss as the cohort consisting of individuals born between 1982 and 2004 (N. Howe, and W. Strauss. Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, 1991).
A total of 2,000 adults aged between 18 and 34 were examined on their attitudes towards health, wealth and happiness, and only 60 percent described themselves as “happy and content in their life”. This is below the United Kingdom’s average of 67 percent, and far behind the number for those over-55s at 73 percent.
What is success?
Though the prior generation – Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964 – have had to witness and adapt to radical changes such as technological advancements, and changing social views, somehow millennials have been hit the hardest with dissatisfaction. There are a few theories developed: first, the definition and meaning of success has been blurred.
According to the survey, 28 percent of millennials said that they do not know what it means to be successful, this is 8 percent higher than the national average. In 2016. Liz Ryan, contributor of Forbes, noted how, “The working world [in the 21st Century has changed dramatically, and the old rules for business success don’t work anymore” and the statement still stands. In previous generations, success was for the most part the ability to put food on the table, and clothes on your family’s backs; however, with increased quality of life and higher living standards, having enough food and clothing seem to be a given. As a result, individuals have had the freedom to create their own goals, and define their own successes. The problem created now is the excess samples of success: health, wealth, marriage, family, career, education, etc.
Moreover, the industrial standards of measurement and comparison seem to have seeped into how people perceive success: with standardised exams to determine our intellect, BMIs to determine our health, and internationally defined income brackets to determine our wealth, it is no wonder there is such confusion over what it means to be successful. This rigid system, limits what success is, and does not take into account of ‘the personal’ which eventually feeds into one’s own sense of happiness.
“Why do they have it all?”
Secondly, people are using this out-dated mode of comparison, to define whether they are successful or not. The survey saw two fifths of younger people envious of celebrities on TV and on social media. This is double the number for 35 to 54 year olds, and almost seven times that of the over-55s.
This major contributor to millennials’ sense of dissatisfaction is due to the rise in technology: through social media, one’s beauty, popularity, and personality can be numerically calculated by the amount of likes, or hearts. This number also defines what the social standards of beauty, intellect, and success are: when compared to celebrities, young adults feel as if the gap to success is unachievable due to their appearance, race, family background, etc, and ultimately begin to grudge, “why do they have it all?”.
“Over half, 52 percent, of 18 to 34 year olds said they believe that money can buy you happiness – this is well above the UK average, 40 percent.”
The media portrays those with wealth to be significantly more well-off in life. Understandably, those who are able to hire makeup artists, photographers, and studios will have better quality photos, but the misunderstanding is that it does not necessarily mean that they have a better quality of life.
Success seems to be socially defined, making certain branches of success unattainable. This is why only 41 percent of millennials said they have achieved or feel on track to achieve what they want in life.
Overall, the survey helps pinpoint the issue the generation is experiencing, but it seems to lack definition in terms of class, gender, and race which could help narrow down the cause of such low satisfaction.