Updated: Oct 14, 2019
The world is easier to live in today than it has ever been. Many of our parents and grandparents fought for our freedom, traveled across the world to give us better homes, or worked from nothing to share with us the life they’ve built today. We should be grateful for a life built on their accomplishments. Because of them more people than ever before have their basic needs met. The average western millennial has plenty of clean water, food, shelter, and material resources. Our medicine gets better everyday. Our technology gets smarter everyday. Our lives become easier everyday. We have been born into a life of abundance. Relative to our neighbours in less developed countries, we are remarkably lucky and most of us know that.
So why is our generation so unhappy?
If you’re reading this, chances are you have everything you need to live a happy, healthy, fulfilled life. Your basic human needs were covered for you at birth. Yet most of us are filled with anxiety, stress, or dis-ease. We wander through life on autopilot as if a haze clouds our senses. Many of us work incredibly hard to reach materialistic goals, running on the verge of burnout everyday. Or we feel stuck, constantly thinking about our future in fear that we won't be successful. Our minds seem to operate at light-speed, so fast we can’t keep up. We try to eat healthy, exercise, work a good job, and have a great social life, but it feels like there just isn’t enough time in a day.
So we distract ourselves with things we don’t need. We consume everything on a massive scale; food, clothing, water, energy, and technology, well beyond what previous generations intended. Technology constantly bombards us with stimulation and information. We think that we know how to relax by socializing, drinking, watching the newest hit Netflix series, but really we are just distracting ourselves from the stress and anxiety of our fast-paced lives. The more we consume, the more distracted we become. Hence, mental health has become our greatest problem and most of us know little about how to manage it.
In my teens I was a perfect example of this. I was born into a successful upper-middle class family. I had plenty of good friends, a good education, and no physical health concerns, but I struggled with moderate-severe anxiety. I was very concerned and scared of what my peers thought of me. I made every decision in fear of my future. I tended to latch onto the things in my life that I thought made me happy; my family, friends, girls, and food, which distracted me from the thoughts running through my head. I developed a heavy dependence on marijuana to sleep at night and eventually panic attacks started. I couldn't understand why. I had everything I needed and more. Why was I so unhappy?
When things became bad enough my parents showed concern and I went to see a mental health specialist. A highly intelligent man with a big heart and a mild manner. By talking to him, I became more aware of my dependency on the material things in my life and my own self-limiting beliefs. Hearing some of my thoughts out loud put them in a new perspective. After a couple sessions with him, he recommended I try some breathing exercises and guided meditations. I realized that using simple breathing techniques I could stop my panic attacks before they happened. Through meditation I could concentrate my mind and let my thoughts fall into the background. Living mindfully allowed me to focus on being happy today instead of being fearful of tomorrow. I no longer needed to distract myself with the things I had and could resolve my problems from within. Little by little, I became less anxious and my emotions stabilized. He set my life on a completely new course.
It was nearly 10 years ago that I first saw that therapist. Occasional meditation sessions became a complete yoga practice and I am now a registered yoga teacher. The journey has been long, but I will save that story for another time. What I can say for now is this:
We can have all the external resources imaginable (wealth, power, family, friends, food, technology...) but if we don’t know how to manage our internal resources (mind, body, and spirit) we will never be happy, healthy, or fulfilled.
So why is our generation so unhappy? We are looking in the wrong direction. We are so blinded by the material world that we forget there is an entire world within us. We think that our happiness is driven by the external things we have and the circumstances we’re in. Really, it’s all about how we perceive life internally. We use material things to distract ourselves from mismanaged habits and tendencies we’ve created inside. What we need to do is get rid of the clutter of material things in our life and focus more on our internal experience. The less material things we have, the more awareness we bring to our internal experience, and the more clearly we can see our true Self.
Our generation has the potential to do incredible things, but it depends on whether or not we can move past our materialistic needs and on to our psychological and spiritual needs; our sense of connection, our self-esteem, and ultimately self-actualization. For this, we will require much more than material things.
It’s time for our generation to wake up, to see our true Self and our world clearly, and to start looking for happiness within ourselves instead of in our materials. It’s time to start looking in the right direction. It’s time to look within.
Thanks for reading. Wishing you well,