Who are millennials and are they really more mindful?
The terms ‘mindful’ and ‘millennial’ are thrown around so much today that it’s hard to know what they really mean. In one sense, that might not be so important – meaning can shift depending on context – but this lack of clarity also produces a lot of very dubious marketing and brand speak. Suddenly every product is for millennials.
Generally speaking, a millennial is considered to be someone born after 1982 and before the year 2000. Of course, it doesn’t end there. Millennials – and I, at 32, count as an old one – are accused of being narcissistic, more concerned with their Instagram followers than the state of the world. Older generations scoff at us for being overgrown children.
These criticisms miss the point. Millennials have come of age in economically straitened times. Housing costs are prohibitive. There are fewer jobs, more job competition, and less job security. My baby boomer parents both held public sector jobs, with good benefits, for over 30 years. They were able to buy a house in London. These things are no longer possible without the help of inherited wealth – something London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, has admitted to me.
SIGN OF THE TIMES
It should come as no surprise, then, that anxiety and stress levels are high among millennials. As The Rhythm Method – two guys in their twenties – put it on their recent single, Party Politics: ‘Welcome to the Peter Pan generation/and we’re all Captain Hooked’.
In an age of security and freedom, the kids of the 60s and 70s could afford to lose themselves in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Today, the end of the night always comes bittersweet. As a result, many millennials are far more sober than their predecessors, more concerned with maintaining health and sanity in a world that seems short on both. Mindfulness – a practice that allows us to focus on the moment, with meditation being seen as key to this process – is part of this. Studies suggest that mindfulness helps people with depression, stress and anxiety.
My own conception of a ‘mindful millennial’ doesn’t necessitate meditation, although of course that can be part of it. We can also reject being labelled. Paying attention to the moment, trying to resist instant gratification, not allowing our culture to feed on our anxiety or turn us into rabid consumers: these traits are all part of what I would consider being mindful in the millennial age.
Like any theory or practice, being mindful is both a product and reaction to its times. If the dominant emotion of the social media age is FOMO – the fear of missing out – then mindfulness is its antithesis.
A survey by the group Inkling found that 68% of British millennials feel as though technology will play a bigger role in their health and wellness in the future than it does now. Yet, today, there is a good argument for suggesting that technology is detrimental to our mental health.
Thanks to social media, we know much more about each other’s lives than we ever did. Instagram feeds clogged up with enticingly carefree holiday pictures, suggested Facebook event pages to which your friends have all been invited, tweets from the frontlines of hedonism: wherever you look people are having a great time and they’re having it without you. Being mindful can act as a guard against this kind of FOMO.
As the author and psychotherapist Adam Phillips argued in his book, Missing Out: In Praise Of The Unlived Life, being able to bear our frustrations about missing out can help us find out what we might truly be missing in our lives. Being mindful in this way is notably relevant to millennials. Even as an older millennial, the idea of owning a house – particularly in London – is a remote one. A quarter of those who responded to Inkling’s far-reaching survey of millennials said that owning a house was something they worried about.
In austerity Britain, 53% of millennials would rather spend money on experiences than on possessions. The political reality we exist with has made us more outward looking, in some ways. I feel more left wing now than I did as a teenager. I feel, as some of my friends do, that this is a response to the way in which neo-liberal capitalism has failed us. It’s more important to millennials that brands are ethically sound. Of course, brands know this, and the money they spend on PR often goes to this end.
The NHS – a pillar of the post-war social democratic welfare state – is the issue that most concerns millennials in the UK, with three-quarters of those surveyed ranking it top. Affordable housing comes next. For a period after the Second World War, these two issues were protected and championed. Now they are under attack. And so there is a political element to being mindful – a concern with the world and a desire to engage with it. In uncertain times, we reach for what keeps us calm.
Around 13.8 million people make up mindful millennials (also known as Generation Y) in the UK
70% of young people consider a brand’s ethics and values when making a purchase
The top three things Millennials want their generation to be remembered for are: the development of technology (40%), improvement in gender and LGBT equality (39%), and improvement in race relations (33%).
Read more: Andy Puddicombe on Headspace, life and bringing mindfulness to the masses