The Millennials – The world is ours?
Today’s society is characterized by individualism. Most people make decisions based on an individual basis; they prioritize their own interest. Recent research shows that the Millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 2000, are more narcissistic than previous generations (Twenge et al., 2008). According to the National Institutes of Health, a narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times more prevalent among the millennial generation compared to other generations.
At the same time this generation experiences higher levels of emotional discomfort. Over the last decades there has been a dramatic increase in the levels of anxiety and depression amongst young adults. Teenagers are twice as likely to have looked for professional help concerning their mental health and college students were 50 percent more likely to have experienced mental stress (Twenge, 2014).
At first sight, this seems contradictory. We prioritize ourselves, we choose ourselves above everything else, yet never before have so many of us felt uncomfortable with ourselves.
An often-heard explanation for the discomfort of Millennials is that they grew up with an inflated sense of self and endless possibilities, which led to a lack of frustration tolerance, unrealistic expectations and an unwillingness to compromise. Assuming that this is true, that Millennials have the wrong attitude, you might expect to see higher levels of dissatisfaction but it still does not explain the increase in the levels of anxiety and depression.
It is my belief that the culprit of the observed increased mental health problems among Millennials is today’s society; both economically and socially. From an economical perspective it is important to note that the Millennials grew up with the idea of job security – if you had a college degree you would be guaranteed a job and the rest would work itself out. Given the currently high unemployment rate among this generation, it is save to say that was a deception. A lot of college graduates are faced with high debts resulting from their student loans. The insecure career perspective leaves them worrying about how to pay back their debt; no wonder anxiety levels rise.
In addition, Millennials are also challenged a great deal on a social level. Today’s society provides a continuous flow of information. Due to the digital technology there is a lot more social pressure; a lot of people feel forced to be connected and share constant updates. The high speed of the information flow also makes people feel pressured to keep their work pace on a top speed level. Needless to say, that a continual feeling of having to be on top of everything leads to extreme stress. If this stress is not addressed in the right way, i.e. if people do not switch off on time, they easily become susceptible to mental health problems.
The uncertain economic outlook is a tough pill to swallow, especially for a generation that is used to being fully in control. Add to that a non-stop flow of information and increased social pressure and of course you will end up with people that are coping with emotional instability.
So should we just accept the fact that we are victims of today’s society and give up or should we shift our focus?
Even though you cannot change certain circumstances, you can change the way you respond to these circumstances. If you feel that you are in control of the way you handle certain situations, you will also feel less anxious and stressed. In view of that the majority of the Millennials prioritizes their own interest, they are in a position to completely focus their attention on what they can control. Accordingly, if we start by shifting our focus on the right things, e.g. our attitude and outlook, the world might be ours after all.
Twenge, J. M., Konrath, S., Foster, J. D., Campbell, W. K., & Bushman, B. J. (2008). Egos inflating over time: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of the Narcissistic personality inventory. Journal of Personality, 76(4), 876–901.
Twenge, J.M. (2014). Generation Me – Revised and Updated: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before.