Despite being a millennial myself, I cannot avoid being amused (or rather frightened) as I observe the strange mentality of my generation regarding the meaning of life. Even though youngsters have a self-image of being braver and freer than their parents and teachers, it is undeniable the current generation cannot really decide which direction their lives should be headed.
For example, few friends of mine concluded their first subject choice at university, deciding to change the subject of their studies in the second year. Fewer have plans to work on the same project for more than 5 years (the current concept of “long-term”). Indeed, if we observe the modern cartoons children are watching, it is noticeable the storylines are not straight – there are substantial changes on every episode. Even the cartoons cannot bear a routine anymore – if there is no action, millennials will not watch it.
The truth is we seek movement and loud activities to distract us from the frightening silence of the soul which asks us what is the meaning of our lives. Millennials were born in the postmodern age, in an environment full of criticism toward the past and little ideological substance of how to build the future. Even if it is poetical to proclaim Nietzschian ideas about the superman, not bound by any moral rules, it is unbearable to face it in the silence of a routine.
This need for movement made society change its focus from “why” we do things to “how” we do them. We could say it has embraced the mistaken belief that the meaning of life is to be effective. Being effective is good, however, it alone cannot be the meaning – it is a way of doing things, not a reason for doing them. For instance, nobody will say in our funeral “he was an effective man” and we ourselves will never truly believe we had a happy life because of it.
The focus on being “effective” can be seen in all aspects of modern life. Now we must have “goals” and fight to achieve them: for our diet, our physical activities, our relationships, our finances, our career, and even our hobbies (who has not heard how they should open a YouTube channel about some hobby they have).
We are immersed in a “coaching culture” where everyone must have goals: to be effective in every aspect of our lives. Check the list of bestsellers and you will see how books like “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” are becoming increasingly common.
It is natural that anxiety will be endemic in a society like that. For the vast majority of things that happen in our lives do not depend on us. We can thrive to influence our future but destiny can play on us. That is something the Ancient World knew very well – the tortuous ways of destiny and the inevitable strike of fate. However, in our world, where people focus on “being effective” and not on the meaning of their lives, it sounds even more terrible and causes the anxiety we feel on a daily basis.
To solve this terrible feeling our society feels, and especially the millennials, we should cultivate more moments of silence. It can be a challenge in a world where our phones and computers fight for our attention with many alarms and notifications. It can be a challenge in a postmodern meaningless environment. But it is better than running from meaning during our whole lives expecting people to praise us at our funerals saying: “at least he was effective.”